Matthew began to build with K’NEX when he was 5 years old. His preschool teacher suggested that he play with them as a way of increasing fine motor skills, and to help with neuropathway development. He breezed through the vehicle kits, and wanted to build the larger models like the Big Ball Factory and the Original Roller Coaster.
In 2005, he and a friend were looking for parts on the K’NEX website, and found the K’NEXpert Contest notice. They began to build a life sized robot, but did not enter it in the contest. In 2006, Matthew built his Breezy All Terrain Vehicle, and was chosen as a semi-finalist in the contest.
In 2008, he built the Mega Wheel Ball Blaster. The K’NEX website had said that parents would be notified by e-mail by Oct.30. On the morning of Nov. 3 (three days after the date that was posted for the parent notification), Matthew surrendered to God his hope of winning the contest. He told God that it was alright that he was not picked, because he wanted God’s will to be done, and maybe God knew that another child needed to win more. At noon time that day, we found the e-mail telling us that he had been chosen as a finalist in the contest. Because he was no longer expecting to win, he was ecstatic! From that point on, Matthew’s experience with the K’NEXpert contest can only be described as a major high point in his life. He was interviewed by local newspaper and television stations. An enormous truck came to our house to crate up his Mega Wheel Ball Blaster to take it to the awards ceremony in New York. Our family flew to New York for the awards ceremony, where Matthew and all of the finalist were given lots of attention and made to feel very important. We had a wonderful time seeing all the tourist sites in NY, and then rented a car to drive to PA to tour the K’NEX factory and headquarters. When we arrived at the factory, there were printed signs on the door and throughout the building that read “K’NEX Welcomes Matthew K’NEXpert ”. Matthew was so surprised and felt so special. He was treated to a special luncheon with the designers, who asked his advice about K’NEX toys! Every employee was friendly and went out of their way to make the experience memorable.
Melissa saw what a wonderful experience her brother had, so she immediately began to plan what she could build to enter the contest! While at a toy store in NY, she saw a cutaway doll house with miniature furniture. She decided to make 3 houses, a Ferris wheel, park, and construction site. She called the collection of models “The Big Town”. She was chosen as a finalist for 2010.
One of the most interesting things that Melissa has learned by participating in the K’NEXpert contest is how an idea evolves into something very different from what she had originally envisioned. For the contest the next year, Melissa had dreamed of building a life sized house. She began to build a column for the front porch that was about a foot in diameter. By the time it was almost as tall as her, she realized that she would not have enough K’NEX pieces (or time) to build the rest of the house. She decided to turn the column into a tree trunk, and so was born "The Secret Apple Tree". Melissa’s model was chosen as the grand prize winner, so she got to experience the excitement of having the huge truck come to her house to crate up her tree to take it to the K’NEX headquarters in PA for the awards ceremony. At the ceremony, she was photographed and interviewed. The K’NEX team treated her like a celebrity! She was even given a tour of the factory by Joel Glickman, the inventor of K’NEX himself!
From the K’NEX headquarters in PA, we rented a car and drove to Washington D.C. While there, Melissa saw the Dresses of the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian museum. That exhibit, coupled with a picture of a dress on a craft book, inspired her to create her next contest entry: “Colonial Flower Garden Ball Gown”. This project required more planning and organization than her other projects. Because the gown was so large, and had 3 layers of “hoop skirts”, Melissa had to count and re-count how many strands of K’NEX rods she would need to go around the circumference of the skirt. She had to re-do layers to evenly distribute the color strands to make the best use of the limited Knex rods that she had to work with. It was an invaluable experience for learning how to manage a large project. Melissa’s Gown was chosen as a finalist in the 2012 Contest.
Both Matthew and Melissa have acquired new skills through the planning and execution of creating their K’NEXpert entries. A project of this size teaches dedication and endurance. There were many times that they got frustrated when an idea in their head did not work out. Sometimes they expected plastic pieces to be able to hold more weight than they are able to! That too was a learning experience in physics. Through all of the setbacks, they kept their eye on the goal, and pushed forward. Their perseverance paid off, and the confidence that came from their achievements will be with them for the rest of their lives.
As parents, we are grateful to the K’NEX company for all that they have given to our family. Some of it has been measurable: college savings bonds, K’NEX pieces from the warehouse and K’NEX sets sent to them throughout the year, and trips to NY, PA, and DC. Most of it cannot be measured: hands-on experience in mechanics and design, the pride of accomplishing a major project, recognition from friends and family that saw their creations on the K’NEX website, and feeling special and loved on their birthdays when that sweet card from Kathleen arrived! K’NEX is truly a customer centered company!