You’re never too young to become an inventor. Did you know that Frank Epperson was 11 years old when he invented the popsicle, and Louis Braille was just 15 when he developed the Braille system of reading and writing for the blind?
In honor of Black History Month, this activity encourages your child to focus on African American inventors such as: George Washington Carver who invented peanut butter, among other agricultural achievements; Lewis Latimer who invented carbon filament, an essential part of the light bulb; Madam C.J. Walker who invented a hair growing solution and became the first female African American millionaire; and more recently, in 1989, Lonnie G. Johnson who created the Super Soaker water gun which generated over $2 million in retail sales and became the number one toy in America.
Your child will figure out a way to improve upon a Black American invention and then devise a way to build a three-dimensional model of it. For older children, this makes a great science and history project rolled into one.
What You Need:
- Reference material on Black inventors
- Ingenuity and a few materials to build your child’s invention
What You Do:
- Have your child research a number of African-American inventors and select an invention that he is excited about. The next thing for your child to do is think of a way to improve upon that invention in some way, whether it is making it easier to use, more readily accessible to the general population, more affordable, or more effective. Once your child has conjured up a new and improved product, he can go to work designing and building it.
- For example, your child might pick Garrett Morgan, Sr. who invented the t-shaped traffic signal. How could your child make the modern day traffic light better? Perhaps the signals could have electronic voices and announce instructions as it changes colors, “Stop,” “Go,” and “Slow Down.” Or, perhaps the traffic lights could have built in systems that photograph and track license plates then automatically call the local police department whenever a car runs through a red light.
- Once your child has come up with a way to improve upon the object, help him draw up a list of supplies required to build it. To build a traffic light, your child could use a large shoebox as the frame, colored cellophane for the lights, a flashlight to illuminate the lights from behind, tape recordings of your child’s voice saying “Stop,” “Go,” and “Slow Down” and of an automatic telephone speed dial sound to represent calling the police.
- With all necessary supplies laid in front of him, ask your child to make a prototype of his invention. It may require more than one day to accomplish this, so be sure your child’s workstation is in an area that is out of the way of your normal activities.
- Let your child’s imagination run wild. Who knows, you may have a talented inventor in your midst!