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Modeling with children - encourage the next generation

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By George Zupko
For many of us, modeling is a relaxing hobby we've enjoyed since childhood. I built my first kit when I was nine, the same age my son, Matthew, is now. Forty years later, I still model and I've gotten a little better at it, but now I share my modeling world with Matthew. Helping him discover this wonderful hobby has been almost as much fun for me as it has for him. For other parents who are making (or are about to make) the same journey, I'd like to pass along a few tips from what I've learned working with my son.

Prepare for a change. Children will change your modeling activities a great deal. The first adjustment you'll have to make is time: You'll have much less of it for your own modeling projects. However, getting your child interested in the hobby can be a classic "win-win" situation: You get to model, spend time with your kid, and perhaps introduce him to a rewarding hobby that will be with him for the rest of his life.

Questions. It starts with questions, so you need to be the answer man. Little ones are inherently curious, and their boundless supply of questions will slow your progress. Taking the time to answer them all is important because nothing will kill your child's interest in modeling quicker than "Don't bother me now" or "Can't you see I'm busy" responses. Remember, you want to encourage a healthy interest, not stifle it.

"Can I help?" With his initial curiosity satisfied, he (or she - no reason this should be a boys-only hobby!) will probably move on to the most challenging question: "Can I help?" Your answer should always be an enthusiastic "Sure!" At this point, your patience and ingenuity really come into play. Realize that your offspring shares your innate fascination with all those neat little parts. (Hint: Whenever possible, have a duplicate kit on hand, just in case there's an "oops.")

There are plenty of ways even a small child can help on a modeling project without having to touch sharp tools. My son loves removing parts from the sprue tree by hand. He dry fits some of the parts, and with a few rubber bands, he can "assemble" wings and fuselage halves. Later on, after he's in bed, Dad goes back and does the cleanup and gluing.

A model of his own. After a while your child will want to build his own kit, and this is when the fun really begins. A snap-together kit is the obvious first choice, and it's a great way to get a youngster going without the sticky complications of glue. After a while, however, "Just like the ones you build," will become the refrain, and it's time to find a more challenging kit.

Let the child choose. Set aside some time to visit your local hobby store, and let the child choose what to build - within reasonable parameters, of course. He'll be much more engaged in the project if the subject is his own choice. Don't limit your child - and yourself - to the fixed standards of what you usually build. For example, I'm a dedicated 1/48 scale World War II aircraft nut, but I went along with Matt's choice of the 1/200 scale Spruce Goose for his first glue-together model. I thoroughly enjoyed helping him build that kit, oddball scale and all. More recently, Matt took a fancy to a 1/35 scale Army Humvee. I swallowed hard and went with it. Guess what? I had a ball. My bet is that you'll enjoy the subject your kid picks far more than you thought you would.

Once your project is complete and your little builder starts playing with it - isn't that what we all did with our first models? - the look of pleasure on his face will become one of your most treasured memories. And that is what modeling with children is really all about.

A note about safety: Modeling is not generally a hazardous activity, but it does pose some risks to young hands. Files, sprue cutters, razor saws, motor tools, and hobby knives can be dangerous and should be kept in separate, labeled boxes and stored well out of reach. The gift boxes for pen-and-pencil sets are perfect for hobby knives; as an added measure of safety, the knife blade can be encased in a wine bottle cork.

Meet George and Matt Zupko
George Zupko began modeling at age 9. After his teens, modeling went on the back burner through his college and post-college years, but he returned to the hobby and says he has more fun than ever now. Combining a love of history with the pleasure of building things is what the hobby is all about for George. For his son, Matt, it's about playing with Dad's neat model airplanes. However, Matt is respectful of the "display" models that only "big boys" can handle.

Matt is now a fourth grader, while Dad earns a living at California Pacific Medical Center in San Rafael, Cal., as a security supervisor.

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