The Laboratory Shed

Children are amazing.

Emily Cummins was only four when her grandfather started to teach her how to use scrap bits and pieces to make toys. Armed with a hammer and her own imagination, she went on to develop her skills until she was good enough to win the Barclays Woman of the Year award in 2009, largely on the merits of the sustainable fridge she invented while she was still a student, which is now widely used across sub-Saharan Africa, and which is making a real difference to people’s lives.

And where did this begin?

In a children’s playhouse.

Children today are having to spend more time at home than is normal, and this can be a problem for parents, but it can also be a huge opportunity. Given the chance to develop, children’s imaginations can lead to life-changing prospects; talents can be discovered and nurtured and ideas explored. Children rarely need expensive or complicated equipment. Young children in particular have not come to depend upon technology. They need a little space, they need encouragement, perhaps some consolation when something doesn’t work, and then their own imagination and determination will do the rest.

Do not under-estimate your children.

The little girl scowling over the tin can and the piece of knotted rope may be making a toy aeroplane today, but when it won’t fly she’ll have learned something about aerodynamics that will stand her in good stead when she’s studying it at university before she goes on to invent the world’s first solar powered freight carrying glider. The toddler twins who are shifting the bottles around in the milk crate and challenging each other to count them are building a great foundation for maths when they reach school age. The young lad drawing something weird with a carpenter’s pencil and a T-square, who knows? He’ll tell you when he’s ready. But you can be sure he isn’t wasting his time. Children very rarely waste their time.

Emily Cummins’ grandfather is the true hero of her story. His was the spark that ignited the flame of her imagination. And the setting was his garden shed.

A garden shed can be a magical children’s playhouse. Yes, it’s a place to play, to pretend, to explore and change, but it’s a laboratory too, because experiments take place in a children’s garden shed. Some fail, some succeed, some lead to nothing, others to anything. Just a shed, and a few bits and pieces.

So make it a good shed. Make it a C & S shed. It’s sturdy and safe, and it can stand up to a few hard knocks, because it will certainly have to, during the course of its life as a children’s laboratory. There’s enough light for them to see by as they draw, and shape, and frown over what they’ve drawn and shaped, and then change it and improve it, or start again and do something else. There’s a clear panel in the roof, as well as good windows. A C & S shed has been built by professional Irish craftsmen who probably have children of their own, and who will certainly take an interest in what your children need. It will be installed by people who know what they’re doing, and will take account of the fact that the door needs to be wide enough to allow a prototype nuclear tank to be driven through it. It needs to be easy to clean, too, because clothes may be designed in that children’s playhouse, peculiar clothes that will be fashionable twenty years from now, when this self-same shed will be the back-stage dressing room for the garden catwalk. That’s not a problem; steel panels with a PVC coating are wipe-down easy to clean, both for mothers who are just that bit careful about their children’s health and for teenagers who don’t give a second thought to health, but don’t want oil stains on their designs.

Let your children be amazing. Give them the space, and they’ll do the rest.