FARMINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Inventing always came naturally to 12-year-old Peter Mok. While a regular summer day for him may include playing lacrosse with his two brothers, Jason and Tai, or reading a book from his favorite series ("Harry Potter"), he's always brainstorming solutions for problems around the house.
This aspiring engineer doesn't accept defeat easily, according to his parents, Krissy and Rich Mok of Farmington.
"Peter's super power is his sheer will to accomplish things," says Krissy. "That's where the engineering comes in — you try, you fail, you figure it out, you keep working at it and you persevere. He taught himself to do that from a young age."
Their home is filled with DIY projects created by the entire family, says Krissy. But Peter caught the engineering bug more than anyone else. So far Peter has created three "Scare Bros," standing scarecrow-like figures made of PVC pipes that hold and dry sport pads, for which he won first place in Farmington's 2015 EXCL Invention Convention. Right now he's working on building a mail holder and a golf-ball retriever.
"I just find problems that I want to solve and I work on it until I do," says Peter.
This summer Peter decided to share his passion with others. With the help of his family, he created Invent the Summer, a website with engineering and invention challenges for children 14 and under.
The project was born one winter afternoon when Peter was bored. He was reading a book, when suddenly he started thinking of ways to turn off his bedroom light from the comfort of his bed. As he was pondering a solution, he thought of another challenge — finding a way to get other kids his age into building and engineering.
That same day, after several attempts, he developed a rope-like contraption to turn the light on and off using a ring, fishing lines and Command strips. And, of course, he introduced the idea for Invent the Summer to his family.
"For me, it's a lot more fun to do things with other people... I knew if I made a website, a bunch of people could do it at once and look at each other's ideas," says Peter.
The free summer-focused program encourages kids to participate in weekly challenges that explore different engineering fields. Each challenge has constraints and original videos from Peter highlighting tips and tricks.
To participate in each challenge, parents or guardians submit simple 1-minute videos showcasing the child's solution. The challenges are available on Thursdays and videos should be submitted by Sunday nights. Videos need to be uploaded to Youtube, Vimeo or Instagram in order to submit through the Invent the Summer online submission form. Challenges are not restricted to Connecticut — participants from all around the world are welcome.
Videos are open for public voting every Monday and Tuesday, and three winners — popular choice, editor's pick and random — are announced on Wednesdays. Prizes for the winners include an Invent the Summer t-shirt or draw string bag. The challenges are meant to provide fun for kids using materials found at home and don't pose much of a hassle for parents, says Krissy.
For example, the first challenge on June 13 was to drop an egg from as high as possible without breaking it. With more than 10 submissions, the Mok family was thrilled to see kids' creativity. The winning solutions were an egg in a plastic jar with cotton balls, pom poms and bubble wrap; and an egg in a container tied to several balloons.
The next challenge explores the world of structural engineering: Kids are asked to design a bridge using only toothpicks and marshmallows. The bridge with the longest span will win.
A summerlong invention challenge, due Sept. 2, encourages kids to find a solution for a problem in their community, something they are passionate about. Videos of their inventions should be no longer than 3 minutes in length, and five winners will be announced on Sept. 10. Prizes for this challenge are still being determined.
"A lot of people can be very creative once they're given the task, but it takes a lot of creativity to find the task," says Krissy.
The Mok family emphasizes the importance of internet safety and privacy. Participants should only use their first names and not display any location-specific information in their videos. Peter highlights safety in one of his videos. In addition, he's also produced videos sharing his wisdom on finding ideas and not giving up.
Aside from being an outlet for Peter's engineering mind, it's been a great family bonding experience, says Krissy. Each member of the Mok family is involved in the project.
Peter, the mastermind, designs the challenges, creates videos and makes the Invent the Summer apparel. Krissy, also known as Master of Mayhem, runs the behind-the-scenes aspects, including web design and planning.
Rich is the graphic designer and coordinates prizes. Tai, 13, channels his passion for drumming to create all the music for the website's instructional videos.
Jason, 8, who his family says spreads fun and happiness everywhere he goes, is often seen in the videos in his Invent the Summer Man mask and cape as Peter's "crash test smarty." Stanley, 15, is the team's mascot and "the best dog ever."
"Everyone has their unique talent to offer," says Krissy. "To get something where we can have a 13-year-old, who is starting to pull away, come back and be excited about something the same way as an 8-year-old is very neat."
Although Invent the Summer is just taking off, the Mok family is excited to see it grow. Plans could include selling apparel, starting a blog and creating a DIY program for older children, says Krissy.
The major focus of Invent the Summer, says Krissy, is to get kids to "... go out and get your hands dirty, make mistakes, do it without your parents and just have fun. Let kids be kids again and get something out of it."
To participate in the challenges and view detailed contest rules visit InventTheSummer.com.
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com