The “Breakable Toys” apprenticeship pattern, written by Adewale Oshineye and Dave Hoover in the book Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman, 2009, is about creating projects on your own in order to learn from them. Experience is more often built through failure than success.
Sometimes, in the workplace, it is not acceptable to fail when people are depending on you. This places a pause on your learning. As the book explained, 3-ball jugglers will not be able to step up to juggling 5-balls without trying and failing first. Only the jugglers who keep trying and failing will be able to move up to juggling 5. This is the same with software development and why the authors recommend you make “breakable toys”. This means creating your own projects on your own time that are fun to work on. During the development of these projects you can fail and not hurt or let anyone down. This allows you to grow and improve your skills.
The authors recommend building a wiki as it helps you “record what you learn” (see my other post) and also teaches you a deeper understanding of web development such as HTTP, REST, data migration and concurrency. This is a great way to learn about web environments. It recommends starting small with just an interface, then as your skills improve you can experiment with things such as tagging and ranking algorithms. Another recommendation is to build a new game every time you learn a new language. These are simple games such as tic-tac-to, Tetris, or Snake. This will help solidify your knowledge of the new language. These projects are meant to be low risk to allow room for failure, and also to be fun. If it is not fun, another project will gain your attention and the one you are currently working on is going to gain dust.
The main point of this pattern is to create opportunities to venture outside your boundaries. If you are stuck only doing what you know then you wont learn anything new. When learning something new, often times you will fail. It is the best/only way to really learn.