April 30, 2020

Allison Duggan

Combating Cabin Fever with Passion Projects

Topics: Learning at Home, STEAM

Passion Projects

Much of the world is spending more time at home, and families are left looking for activities. You’ve already chalked the driveway. The new puzzle you ordered hasn’t arrived yet. And that homemade playdough recipe blew up on the stove and cost you your last roll of paper towels.

If you’re feeling cabin fever and are looking to shake off quarantine burnout, the prescription could be a passion project.

Passion Projects

A passion project is self-chosen, sparks excitement, draws on strengths, and leads to growth. It’s the cousin to project-based learning and can be a fun way to flex those STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) muscles. Getting started takes motivation and problem solving!

Here are some tips to help inspire and support a passion project in your own home, with no new materials required.

Picking a Passion

They’re called passion projects for a reason – pick something you’re really excited about! No topic should be considered too small or too silly. You might know a lot about this topic already, or know nothing at all. The key to choosing a great topic: Make it something you’re wild about. If you’re working as a family, aim for something that excites and engages every person. Maybe you have a shared love for dogs, or all loved that gelato shop from your last vacation (ah, remember those?). If you’re having trouble agreeing as a group, the broader the better. A topic like ‘music’ could include a teenager’s obsession with TikTok and a parent’s thrill of Broadway.

Getting Started

Once you pick the passion, you’re ready to plan the project - the physical embodiment of your passion. A brainstorming session may help you develop ideas that explore your passion. Factor in your physical space and available materials, but remember: with some imagination and flexibility, anything can be possible! If you love the idea of gardening, but don’t have access to a yard or the tools, try working with potted plants. Don’t have those? Create small, cheerful yard signs with toothpicks or skewers, try your hand at making an origami bouquet, or create a non-living terrarium in a glass jar or vase. It may be helpful to do a quick sketch of your ‘finished’ passion project idea, which can serve as a useful reference when sequencing steps and choosing materials.

Creating Materials

No need to panic: Everything you need for a pandemic passion project can already be in your home! Think of it not as buying materials, but creating them. This will take some imagination to see things outside their normal, given function. If younger kids need more support with this, try gathering a ‘materials’ bin for them with essentials like scissors, tape, glue, pencils, and paper, and some extras like old magazines, empty water bottles, or an old t-shirt (as my mother would say, anything you’d be willing to ‘part’ with!) Another way to support your child’s imagination in choosing materials is to have an “off limits” list, cabinet, or room, where you can safely store legacy silverware so it doesn’t get glued to a cardboard box pirate ship.

Say Yes to the Mess

The silver lining to quarantining is that no one is coming by for a visit. Allow yourself and your family to lean into your passion project and transform your physical space! Your living room won’t always look like bomb went off, and while it does, no one will see it but you anyway. Remind yourself that quarantine is temporary, but the memory of your child turning your den into a rainforest is forever. Passion projects can’t be contained to just one day, so be prepared to have the messy meter ramped up, and know that it’s okay.

Passion Projects - Mess

Hitting Speedbumps

One important skill that all passion projects require is problem solving. Don’t let discouragement or frustration dampen your experience! Support your children in problem solving through their projects without directly giving them solutions. Start by listening to their observations on the problem itself and guide them in identifying the specifics of the problem. For example, identifying that this wheel isn’t spinning rather than “this doesn’t work!” Ask open-ended questions such as “What do you need to make it work?” or give them a material to guide them towards a potential solution. Take a strength-based approach by leaning on your child’s strongest abilities to solve the problem at hand. All problems have multiple solutions - give your child the ownership in problem solving. Remember how good it feels to fix something yourself? Even if the solution doesn’t look how you thought it would, you can both enjoy the positive feelings that follow.

Going with the Flow

Your passion project may take you miles from where you thought you were going, and that’s okay! Passion projects are a journey, and not always a linear one. As in life, the important lessons are learning from the journey itself, not the destination. Fueling curiosity, practicing problem solving, and applying core STEAM concepts will all be taking place, whether you’re building the replica skyscraper you planned, or a dumbwaiter in the laundry chute inspired by your building’s 70-floor elevator shaft.


When It’s Done

Passion projects are meant to be fun and exciting! If the mood changes, the project will be done. Alternatively, one passion project may lead to an entirely different one. Whatever brings the project to an end, I think the best way to say ‘goodbye’ to your experience is to share it with your community! If you made something small, like garden signs or dog bandanas, consider leaving some for your neighbors. If your project can’t leave home, share a photo with family and friends, or via social media. If it’s performance-based, put on a themed family night to perform live, ask an audience to join virtually, or send a recording to family and friends.

Projecting your passions may inspire others to do the same. It may also inspire your child to turn your walk-in closet into a rocket ship. Either way, the skills gained and memories made are guaranteed to outlast this pandemic.

Author's Bio

Allison DugganAllison Duggan is a practicing occupational therapist with an expertise in pediatrics. She currently works in the elementary division of The Lab School of Washington in Washington, D.C. In addition to providing good old-fashioned individual therapy services, she co-leads an academic club class which focuses on project-based learning. Never one to exclude an age group, she also practices in adult inpatient acute care occupational therapy. Off the clock, you’ll find her and her dog spending time with family and friends on a trail, in the sand, or watching the game. She loves to create, from paper flowers to refinished furniture, and is always game for game night.

A note from ThinkFun

At ThinkFun, we love it when learning and fun collide. It’s why we do what we do. Every game, puzzle and brainteaser we create is aimed at igniting a spark in a young mind. Still curious? Check us out on the webFacebookTwitterPinterestYouTube or Instagram.

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