I like mechanical things; clock movements, hay trolleys even old
kitchen gadgets. Computers are boring to me as I don’t understand
them and I suspect those who express their creativity through
computers do so mostly by writing software. Computers are helpful in
education but aren’t my first club out of the bag when it comes to
creative learning. Lincoln logs and erector sets are the first two
toys that come to my mind when I think of creative learning. I’m not
sure many kids play with Lincoln logs or erector sets anymore however
I recently found a gentleman who likes to learn through play and has
passed this habit on to his children.
Greg Bengtson owns the smallest construction company in the world.
He doesn’t build typical structures but instead builds creativity and
knowledge in his kids. I recently found out that Bengtson had built
his own table-top crane with help from his children. The crane is
made mostly from scrap he’d saved over time. It was a project to help
engage the minds of children in the disciplines of leverage and
The crane is built from paired lengths of yardstick with spacers
placed in between the lengths of yard stick to create beams for the
The crane arms and lateral movement are controlled by
hydraulic cylinders made of medical syringes.
The syringes are mounted to each arm and actuated by another syringe mounted to a
control panel. The syringes are attached to one another with aquarium
hose which is used to transfer force and movement from the control
syringe to the syringe acting as a cylinder using water.
I love this project. It has elements of mechanics, leverage and
hydraulics all in one small space. It is small enough so you can see
immediate reaction from the controls and can see all movement without
shifting your gaze.
The greatest element at work is creativity and
perhaps electricity as this was a learning project that must have lit
up minds at the Bengtson household. Greg told me that he used a
small jar of coins as a counter-weight for the crane so that the
whole structure would at least be “worth something.”
The crane was built about five years ago with the help of Bengtson’s
children- Brody, Brianna and Rebecca. It was initially a lesson on
fulcrum and leverage for their young minds however it turned into a
great family project.
Since that time, Brody has begun his own gadget
box and builds from its contents. In the initial demonstration of the
crane, a volunteer sat in a chair while Greg used the crane’s grapple
to grab a foam cup and pretend to give the volunteer some water. I
guess creative learning can come with a little humor.
This Project teaches mechanics, something of which most kids get very
little. Mechanical knowledge once was part of our DNA as it was
absorbed constantly from actions taken on the farm. Most people don’t
farm anymore and mechanics, hydraulics and leverage enter into the
equation of their lives rarely. That’s not the way it is at the
Bengtson household; they have a crane.