Today I’m joined by an inspiring Silicon Valley couple, Ilan and Hillary Frank, two active, working parents with demanding careers in the tech scene, who also make an effort to dedicate as much of their “off time” to making great, creative memories for their family. I was smitten by their fold-away STEAM table and asked them if they’d be so kind to share it with us here.
Hillary refers to Ilan as a “Renaissance man” because he’s able to fix a plumbing issue around the house, bake an unbelievable banana bread, make sure there is a thriving vegetable garden in the backyard and still have time to help the kids with their school projects. She attributes this partly to his childhood on a Kibbutz in Israel – where he had to figure things out and make use of what resources he had around him. Their 3 children are ages 9, 7 and 4 are natural “makers’, who are often found creating new games, baking, playing sports, and exploring in the backyard. In the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, with money earned from selling eggs from their backyard chickens to neighbors and friends, they earned enough to purchase their wii game console.
Ilan and Hillary are clearly big believers in teaching their kids to spot the opportunities in everyday experiences. They encourage their kids to seek any chance to learn from what’s around them and that by doing this, that they’ll discover their own individual talents. They lean towards play-based and project oriented learning and believe that encouraging their kids to embrace the unknown, have fun while trying new things and support each other is the key to strong problem-solving skills for long-term success. The STEAM room is just one element to how this family has set up these opportunities for their children.
Without further ado, let’s find out about their cool space-saving STEAM table.
Can you tell us about your family?
We are a very busy, active and happy family of 5. Our daughter, Talia, is 9 and her brothers Eytan and Ari are 7 and 4. With two working parents – we clearly have a lot going on! We think of ourselves as a family of makers and love that our kids also thrive when they’re building. This “builder” mentality stems from Ilan who was born on a kibbutz and grew up solving problems.
Your folding STEAM table is so inspiring! Can you tell us where the idea came from?
Our children are very curious, love to experiment and are also extremely social kids. We knew that as they grew up, we wanted a space for them that could allow for them to work on projects and play with their friends. We also need a usable guest room for out-of-town guests. At first we considered a murphy bed, but then thought, why not a murphy table?
Prior to making your murphy table (I love that!), where did your children do most of their making?
Our kitchen was the most obvious place the kids were first “making”. Whether it be home-made play-do, lip balm, brownies, art, etc. – the kitchen table was definitely the epicenter of our kids “experiments”. We’d find that our daughter (self-proclaimed “mad-scientist”) would find any opportunity to conduct baking experiments found on YouTube. Our boys would repurpose a cardboard box and make it into a TV that they could use as they put on a show inside it – or a car to “drive” complete with Tesla logo. They are Silicon Valley kids after all.
What impact has the new murphy table/STEAM room made on your family?
This STEAM room has been such a fun element for our kids – and pretty game changing for our family. First – it’s now part of the official “home tour” that they take their friends on when they come for playdates. It’s awesome to see how proud they are of the STEAM room. They should be – they got to use the power tools during the construction of the table! Also – it’s a place for the kids to play and experiment without the worry that their projects (that might span several days) would need to get moved/cleaned up. They can get messy and that’s part of the fun!
Where do you store supplies?
For the most part, the art supplies are inside the storage compartment within the table. They are hidden and out of the way when the working table is up – but completely available to them when working on a project. We also have a desk inside with larger storage bins with larger art supplies.
Do you have any tips for those of us who might want to build a table like this?
The supplies were all sourced from Home Depot with the exception of the thin metal sheet used as the magnetic blackboard sourced from Alan Steel & Supply Company. A miter saw, table saw and electric sander came in very handy.
Keeping a maker space tidy can be hard for many families. Can you share any favorite tips for organizing supplies or cleaning up?
This is an area we haven’t quite mastered in all honesty. Between providing fun storage containers and incentives built around bi-weekly cleanups – we’re still finding serious nudging for keeping the room/table organized and tidy necessary.
If you had to be selective, what three things do you love most about your STEAM space?
- We can store a lot of cool art supplies easily and have access to them when we need it.
- The table converts into the perfect workspace for our kids and their friends – the table top is made of sanded plywood which makes it safe for kids and good for messes (which are encouraged).
- The table folds out of the way when we need to use the room for out-of-town guests staying over.
What three supplies are indispensable to you and your children at this moment?
- Measuring cup/spoons – our kids have discovered recipes for play dough and slime.
- Cardboard – for creating everything from bridges to stages for puppet shows.
- Glue gun – the glitter glue sticks are a favorite
What do you wish for your children to remember about their childhood?
That they felt free to be creative and get their hands dirty and that they can fix anything from software to plumbing.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We are strong believers in making sure our kids are given every opportunity to succeed – and to us, that means that they have the space to experiment, fail, try again and figure things out. That’s what the STEAM room is really all about – setting up the space for our kids to be creative and have fun!. We want our kids to think of themselves as problem solvers and find ways to make something from nothing. They’re having a blast and we can’t wait to see what else will come out of that STEAM room!
This interview is part of Tinkering Spaces, an informative series of interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room, or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.