10 year old launches woodworking businesses during pandemic

By K. Q. THOMAS, Four Points News

As so many parents will attest, keeping children engaged in their education during the pandemic has been challenging. Zoom classes and PowerPoint presentations can suck the excitement right out of learning. 

Liliana Manders, a 10-year-old Steiner Ranch resident, was no different in her struggles to adapt to the current climate. But she and her father, Alex Manders, have parlayed their efforts to juice up her education into a home business and a stint at 2021 SXSW EDU Online.  

Last spring, Liliana was frustrated with her online education, especially in certain subjects. To help combat her discouragement, her dad devised a 31-day personalized lesson plan for her. The goal was to help her discover the connections between her favorite subjects of art and design and her science, technology, engineering, and math curricula. 

Known between the duo as “garage-side” chats, all 31 lessons were delivered on July evenings, using two large white-boards in their garage, while drinking Shirley Temples.

“Liliana has always been an intelligent, creative and artistic person, and she’s always interested in learning everything possible when it comes to art and design,” Manders said. “I decided to teach her anything I could dream up in terms of art history and interior design, and link it back to STEM. 

Manders is a single father and director for Information Services Group. He considers himself a visual learner and an art collector. He developed the lessons during his morning walks around Steiner Ranch. Liliana, who now lives with her dad 50% of the time, used to go to SRE but now is enrolled at Mills Elementary Austin ISD in South Austin. 

If the lessons were successful, Manders reasoned, Liliana would improve in math, gain a more in-depth awareness of STEM in art and design and begin to approach her creative projects with “math eyes”. 

The idea for a woodworking startup flowed naturally out of the lessons. On a camping trip, they were discussing the lessons and exploring ideas for next steps. 

“Liliana was cheerfully sketching chalk drawings in her sketchbook as we were sitting under tall oak trees in our camp spot,” Manders said. “The idea of woodworking just seemed to appear – perhaps given we were outside looking at trees.  

“She jumped on board with the idea of making custom furniture and tables for our house, and the rest is history – she’s been engaged ever since,” he added

Manders and Liliana set up a woodworking studio in the garage. She became obsessed with power tools and wood projects. She started finishing her homework days in advance so that she can play and learn in her garage studio, Manders said.  

The start-up, called Sheltered In Place Design, has a web site (https://sipdesign.co/) and an Etsy site (https://www.etsy.com/shop/SIPDesignsStudio). Sales are currently focused on charcuterie boards and end tables in a mid-century modern style. 

Along with learning about design and woodworking, Lilian has been picking up business knowledge. She is investing some of the revenue in new resources and paying her father back for an initial loan for materials. 

Unfortunately, the Central Texas storm and power outage in February caused a pipe over the garage workshop to burst. Hundreds of gallons of water poured through the ceiling, ruining all of Liliana’s materials, projects and products for Etsy.

“The hardest thing for me personally was not the burst pipe,” Manders said. “It was Liliana’s reaction to the devastation. But we then talked about perseverance and resilience, and how important it is to make lemonade out of lemons.”  

The duo is slowly rebuilding the shop and Liliana continues taking orders through Etsy for a few items that should be available to ship in June.  

“I do like woodworking a lot, Liliana said. “Since my shop and studio got ruined, I’m thinking we are going to do some more work with painting and canvases while our shop gets repaired.” 

Additionally the father-daughter team presented a lesson online at  SXSW.edu in early March. Approximately 130 people registered. Participants were excited by the project and the ways it melds STEM and humanities, Manders said. “Liliana could barely get through all of the questions.”

“The confidence instilled by getting into SXSW.edu was 100 percent obvious,” he added. “I’m still beyond belief at how life-changing our garage experiences were for her, as SXSW showed her that hard work pays off with recognition.”

Added Liliana: “Ummm, I was nervous about the talk because I thought people might not like the presentation, or they might not come.

“It makes me feel good that I did a good job at something. I always feel good when I do something correct,” Liliana sait. “I feel really good about SIP Designs, and I am doing good with the company.” 

And, at ten years old, Liliana has a career direction. “When I grow up I want to be an interior designer or an artist,”  she said.

31 lessons

Alex Manders developed 31 personalized lessons for his daughter Liliana during his morning walks around Steiner Ranch. The goal was to help her merge STEM with art and design, her favorite subjects.

“I knew that if I could find a way to link my creative mind with Liliana’s, I personally could teach her anything we aligned our minds on,” Manders said. “It was simply all a process to understand how she learns, and then to tie it back to things she’s passionate about.”

Each of the 31 courses was roughly four-hours long. Each lesson contained a hands-on activity, and required Liliana to list her key takeaways and sketch a picture of what she had learned.

“I tried to keep everything as fun as possible,” Manders said. “For example, in one of the lectures we discussed scents and textures. We burned incense and smelled all kinds of different candles, talked about how wax makes candles, and talked about how fabrics can be used, in combination with scents, to create a personal connection within people, as part of her interior design thinking.”

In another, they discussed Ansel Adams and photography. “In this lesson, I went deep into the sciences, and also algebra, since algebra is a core fundamental in large scale photography, using the exposure triangle,” Manders said. “She quickly began to understand that she needs to do math in order to take a photo of a mountain. And the science involved with light reflection inside the camera’s engineered components enables a good photograph.”