Making Maker Spaces Work for Community Learning

In middle school and high school we had maker spaces they were called shop class. All children had to participate each semester in one type of shop. Wood, metal, home economics, electronics, video/audio, graphic arts and auto are a few examples of the shop classes children had to choose from. The classes featured real tools, real work and teaching based on the project approach. The educator in charge would guide children as they worked to complete the project of their own choosing.

Today echoes of shop class show up in maker spaces that are a popular inclusion into schools and early childhood programs. The spaces are provided so children can create and explore their wonderings by creating prototypes of machines, architecture and science projects. Depending on the age, maker spaces are places for children to explore materials and tools and to learn the capabilities of each. Younger children in maker spaces enhance sensory skills and learn the function of tools and develop motor skills used later for writing. What are the ingredients of a quality maker space?

My first maker space was created in collaboration with another educator in an elementary program. Our maker space was a permanent fixture of our environment and existed as the most popular space for children to work. The space enabled children to create small works like jewelry and large projects like a twenty-foot pirate ship backdrop for a play the children were preparing to perform. When I moved to a different state and a different school the first project I completed was setting up another maker space for the children. Again, the maker space was the most popular place in our environment and the popularity continued during my entire tenure at the school.

What ingredients contribute to a maker space being most popular place in the classroom?

 A maker space is a blank canvas, open to all possibilities.

The space has a variety of materials, mostly recycled materials.

The children are free to explore the materials and the methods to create their ideas.

There is a quality of deep reflection children engage in during this work that leads to         innovation.

The community contributes and influences the maker space as parents and other program partners donate recycled materials.

Each creation is built upon a wondering and has a story.

The sharing of the work from the maker space is a community event and fosters children learning together.

Parents say that children talk to them about their work in a maker space more than any other type of work.

A maker space becomes a place of collaboration as children help each other with ideas, feedback and execution

The products created are unique and help educators learn more about the child as an individual.

Parents love to hear the stories of the journey their child engaged in while working in a maker space and are usually surprised at the technical skill their child acquires while working.

Maker spaces create learning opportunities for children of many ages and stages in development.

There are many stories where maker spaces have been created at home because the parents want their children to continue exploring creative work outside school.

These are my experiences in elementary what are yours?

Do you have a maker space in your classroom? What is it like? How do the children use the materials? How are the materials acquired?