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The Power of a Prototype

What do you do after you think up an awesome new idea? You take the next step to put that thought into action by creating a prototype – just like our Hall of Famers. A prototype is a physical representation of an invention, showing what is possible. It demonstrates how the invention will look and function, helps to identify any early problems and allows inventors to begin testing their idea. This may sound intimidating, but basic prototypes can be created using simple household items such as recyclables and tape!

You can help your child explore new ways to bring their own big ideas to life and support them on their innovative journey by encouraging their creativity and sharing your understanding of the value and process of prototyping. While your child’s creations may not initially have the technology to work as intended, remember that they are important to your young inventor and reinforce that their ideas have value!


The Prototyping Process

Once a problem is identified, new ideas can arise to solve it. However, nothing will change if we allow our innovative thoughts to remain in our heads. This is where the process of prototyping comes in to help us move that thought from an idea into reality!

When getting started, it will be helpful for your child to put their initial thoughts on paper – they can write, sketch, color and label any design elements necessary for them to build their invention idea.

After any necessary research, you and your innovator can gather common household items, recyclables and other tools to begin constructing a 3D example, or prototype, of their invention. Remind your child that this initial design does not have to function perfectly or look exactly like the final product. A prototype simply allows an inventor to refine their invention before spending the time and resources necessary to develop a functioning invention.

Once your child’s prototype has been developed, it’s time to test it! This will allow for changes, additions or new ideas to present themselves. After testing, improving and repeating the process several times, functional prototypes can be created. These working examples are built to complete the intended goal of the device. From here, any other bugs can be worked out and the invention can be finalized.

While we use inventions each day, we don’t often stop to think how these items had to go through many versions, mockups and edits before the final product ever hit shelves. Next time you use a toothbrush, check the clock or even flip on a light, talk to your child about the process it took for the item to go from an idea to part of our daily lives!


Prototyping at Camp Invention

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we know that prototyping can turn everyday objects into world-changing inventions. That’s why our education team takes inspiration from our NIHF Inductees and incorporates prototyping into our Camp Invention® curriculum every year. Many of these Hall of Famers started by prototyping the designs of their inventions using the same upcycling techniques children learn at our hands-on K-6 summer camp.

Campers practice upcycling by taking recyclable materials and creating something of even greater value – a prototype of their awesome ideas. From plastic containers to empty boxes, these common household items combined with NIHF-provided materials allow campers to exercise their creativity and solve real-world challenges.

Throughout the program, kids learn to expand upon their ideas and make their prototypes more complex, producing an invention that more closely resembles their intended goal. Over time, what started as discarded plastic or cardboard becomes a meaningful product of a child’s hard work and imagination!


Put This Powerful Mindset Into Practice!

Do you want to help your child put this new prototyping knowledge to the test, but you’re not sure where to get started? Check out one of our fun, hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities for inspiration! A few activities that highlight the process of prototyping include Be a Solver, Birds of a Feather and Design a Smart Room-Cleaning Robot.

Want to learn more about the all-new fun you can expect from our 2023 Camp Invention program? Check out our website and save your spot today!

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