Invention Convention Sparks Creative Kids

May 4, 2012

Some young people seem driven to invent. And if that spirit is nurtured it can become the basis for a successful business career.  In the first of a two part series on early entrepreneurship, WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan met some of the state’s very youngest creative minds at Connecticut’s Invention Convention.

Nearly 700 middle and elementary school kids cheered their fellow “thinkerers” at the 29th annual Connecticut Invention Convention – or CIC – here at the University of Connecticut. After much thinking and tinkering, these youngsters – from kindergarten through eighth grade – came up with all kinds of inventions – all-in-one fly swatter, heated windshield wiper, carry-on suitcase with an attached tray-table for food, utensil warmer for cancer patients. The only limit was their imagination. Will DeVries is a fourth-grader from East Haddam.

“I do want to be an inventor when I grow up. One thing I want to invent is a teleporter.”

For now, DeVries’ invention is Earth-bound. His Knife Blockerz – a large, square ring –protects your hand in the kitchen. He says he thought of it because his mother uses a knife a lot – She runs a catering business. Joey Skillin, a third grader in Wallingford, created the Reflecta-Stick. It’s a walking stick wrapped up with reflectors and looks like a candy cane. He invented it after going for a walk with his mother. It was night and drivers had trouble seeing them, he says.

“In the morning when I woke up, I had a dream that I did it and it was an actual product and then I got the idea that I actually could try to make it.”

Skillin’s mother, Helen says that kind of moment isn’t unusual.

“He sits down – sometimes he gets very quiet – and he’s very pensive and you know he’s thinking about it and he’s coming up with a solution. I used to think he’s mad about something but he’d be over there and the wheels are turning.”

Invention Convention president Honora Kenney says it’s important for parents and teachers to encourage kids to become inventors at an early age.

“We have found, by research, that 65 percent of kids by the eight grade have decided whether they are going to pursue a STEM career – science, technology, engineering, math. If we don’t get to them, inspire them early, especially the girls, they will turn from these fields.”

The CIC, a nonprofit organization, trains teachers across the state to enable students to think critically and solve problems creatively. The inventions displayed at this event were selected at the school-level from among nearly 6,000 entries. Tom Doyle was one of more than 200 volunteer judges. He says he’s looking for specific qualities.

“The practicality of the invention, how well it kind of accomplished the task that it was designed to do. How many people it would be designed for – I mean how much of a mass appeal it would have as well.”

One of the winning entries was created by Winsted sixth-grader Lilianna Zyszkowski. Her Pillminder is a pillbox that reminds you when to take your medication. A microcontroller drives touch sensors at the bottom of each compartment, fitted with LED lights. Zyszkowski created the product for her grandma, and is hoping a lot more people will get to use it someday.

“People of all ages can forget your pills. I mean sometimes I even forget to take my Gummy Bear vitamins.”

Winners walked away with a savings bond. But many more kids went home, thinking about a future in science. 

For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan.