Columnist Susan Snyder: Kid won’t take problem sitting down

Fri, May 9, 2003 (8:31 a.m.)

Susan Snyder's column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at [email protected] or (702) 259-4082.

Seat up or down?

In single-gender households, this discussion likely never arises. But Aaron Vanderwal managed to turn his family's argument over the age-old toidy seat controversy into a national award.

Should boys be allowed to leave the seat up? Should girls have to put it down?

Aaron, a sixth grader at B. Mahlon Brown Junior High School in Henderson, decided to solve his family's bickering over this dilemma by inventing a tool that allows people to raise and lower the seat without actually touching it.

For his efforts, he won a $250 savings bond and third place in the national Young Inventors Awards Program sponsored by Craftsman tools and the National Science Teachers Association.

"Mom and Dad and I were arguing about it,"Aaron, 12, said as he sat in the living room of his family's Calico Ridge home.

"I was sick of being in a house full of men and always putting the seat back down," his mom, Dawn Vanderwal, added.

"And then we had this invention contest at school, so I decided to make something to lift the seat," Aaron finished.

Apparently, cooperation is the norm rather than the exception in the Vanderwal household. So the invention of Handi Toilet Seat Handle became a family project -- something encouraged by the contest instructions.

There were trips to the library for research. Blueprints drawn for various prototypes, and a trip to the home improvement store for materials.

The handle consists of a flat strip of aluminum that has a plastic knob on one end and affixes to the underside of the toilet seat with two screws. When attached to either the right or left side, it's a handy little doodad for lifting and lowering the seat without touching anything icky.

Aaron was the only winner from Nevada. The 12 first-place winners each receive $5,000 and a trip to Chicago with their parents for an award ceremony hosted by home-improvement guru Bob Vila. The 12 second-place winners each receive a $500 savings bond.

Inventions had to be a new hand tool, a modification that improved an existing hand tool or an otherwise useful gadget that isn't powered by anything other than a human. No electricity, batteries, gas propulsion, solar power, etc.

Thank goodness for family squabbles. They turned out some winners.

A California second grader took a second-place spot with her Fair-Share Timer, an egg timer-type device "to help kids share toys more." A Louisiana eighth grader won third place with an alarm that signals when the refrigerator door has been left open.

And a second grader from Massachusetts won a first place for inventing the Great-Granny Booster Step that gives older people a leg up into the minivan.

Aaron will be awarded his savings bond during an assembly at school, but the date has not yet been set. For now, he and his parents are looking into patenting and marketing the handle -- opening another family discussion.

"We've already marked out the payment arrangements," Vanderwal said.

"I say it's 50-50," Aaron added.

Back to the drawing board.


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