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Maker Faire Celebrates the Do-It-Yourself Spirit

 The Mini Maker Faire at Schurz High School encouraged people to try a variety of hands-on activities.
Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire
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IRVING PARK — Nothing against staring at a computer screen all day, but it can't compete with raising goats for excitement.

Enter the Chicago Northside Mini Maker Faire, a celebration of all manner of tactile activities, from soldering a rudimentary circuit board to goat-rearing homesteaders to crafting a Great White shark entirely out of recycled plastics.

Gordon McCall, a fifth-grade teacher at Edgewater's Swift Elementary, summed up the theme of the day: "If you're interested in something, get out and do it."

McCall brought a team of students to Saturday's free Maker Faire, held at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., where the kids scored a huge hit demonstrating their underwater robot.

"Science should be more hands on," said McCall. His students are not only learning concepts like buoyancy and electricity but also problem-solving skills and how to work as a team.

"It builds their confidence," he said.

Though the Maker Faire emphasized, as the name would suggest, making stuff, its participants also promoted creativity, curiosity and resourcefulness.

Like lock picking.

"It's perfectly legal to pick your own locks," said Steve Reese, representing the hobbyist group The Open Organization of Lockpickers.

He and his cohorts provided visitors with a quick lesson and then handed over the tools of their trade — illegal to purchase in Illinois but legal to own — giving novices a turn at tricking open a variety of locks.

Children, according to Reese, are particularly adept at the task.

The purpose of passing along a somewhat suspect skill: "It's more like if you're locked out of your house, you can save yourself a couple hundred dollars," said Reese.

The maker movement is anything if not a big tent. There's room for everyone from crafters to computer hackers, with entrepreneurs comprising a significant segment.

Josie Mineau started Spa Salt Boutique after her daughter was born two years ago. Looking for a way to combine her career as an aesthetician with motherhood, she settled on producing homemade bath salts — she just churned out 250 samples for the Ravinia box office.

"A lot of products you pay for the packaging and not what's in it," says Mineau, who grows her own herbs to include in her blends of salts and oils.

Ingredients like honey and sugar can readily be found in most people's pantries — Mineau envisions coaching customers through the process of making salt scrubs using nothing but common household items.

"It's about getting back to basics," she said.