Maker Spaces

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At recent professional development conferences the subject of maker spaces is a hot topic. Reading more about maker spaces, the design and purpose sounds familiar. In school age care, we have been inviting children to invent and create in a similar type of space for years, called a studio.

Maker spaces are creative areas where children and educators collaborate, create, and learn STEM and other principals through direct experience with materials. Maker spaces invite hands on learning and problem solving that boosts thinking skills, self-confidence, and problem solving. Creating in a maker space is directed by the children and supported by the educator who is available to collaborate, co-learn, and help children find needed supplies and materials. 

Maker spaces exist in many different forms. School and public libraries have maker spaces that are often tech based with computers, laser, and 3D printers that children employ to create with. Tech related maker spaces are a more recent addition in the maker movement in our country, a result of an increased interest in science education and the dwindling cost of technology. 

The ethos of the maker movement aligns well with constructivist practices. Children in maker spaces are invited to create something from the available materials and to experiment, construct, and iterate, as the work becomes the vehicle for learning. In the absence of technology what type of studio spaces can be offered to the children that will inspire creativity, exploration, and experimentation. In the past I have collaborated with colleagues to create many different types of spaces the children have enjoyed in their creative pursuits, here are a few examples.

Recycled Materials – This is an all time favorite space for school age children. This space can include everything from cardboard to bottle caps. All of the materials we used in our recycled materials studio came from donations by parents and educators. The only purchased materials we added to the space were hot glue guns and tape the children did the rest. 

Sewing – Having an area where children can imagine and create costumes, clothing, and practical crafts is an wonderful addition to a program of making. In the beginning we started with donated fabric, thread and hand needles. Then as the children become more interested and wanted to expand their skill a sewing machine was added and became the vehicle for elaborate costumes and clothing the children used for dramatic play.

Clay –This is another material that is universally loved and easy to acquire. Often our clay was purchased in blocks that consisted of leftovers from artists or larger studios. The children used clay to experiment with model making and to express ideas. The children’s work in clay takes many different forms, is wonderfully versatile, and reusable making iteration and problem solving attainable. 

Paper –This is another plentiful affordable resource that children love to create with. Paper comes in a large variety of shapes, colors, and textures and has limitless possibilities. Another aspect of the paper studio is making paper. Often the leftovers from earlier creations are used to make new paper in a scientific process children love to engage in. Much of our paper was donated and the only materials we added to the space were tape, glue, staples, measuring, and writing materials.

Take Apart Zone –In addition to creating another aspect of maker spaces is a tinker studio. The beginning of a tinker studio is taking things apart and seeing how they work. In this space we would invite the children to take apart donated electronic and machines to see how they work. The space contained a few simple hand tools like screwdrivers and wrenches. The children would use the parts from destruction to invent and construct new machines and test their theories about how things work.

Wood –In our outdoor classroom we collected scraps of wood cutoffs from lumber yards, construction sites, and donations from parents to create a space filled with saws, hammers, and nails for the children to imagine and create in. This was another popular space where children learned how to use tools and the properties of a different type of material.

Outdoor Classroom –Another space that was immensely popular was made up from materials found in nature. Rock, sticks, leaves, twigs, tree stumps, and other natural materials were combined with simple tools like twine and invited the children to create in connection with the natural world. Some children made forts and simple machines, while others used the natural materials to create artistic expressions.

These are just a few of the examples of studios we have created over the years based on the children’s interests. A few others include photography, computer graphics, gardening, chemistry, mud kitchen, writing, and painting. Some of the studios required materials that were expensive and required many years of saving to make come to life. Money should not be a factor in the creation of a studio. Recycled materials and paper are the two most popular materials with school age children no matter what else is available. This is the way to get started and invite the children to begin a journey of creation and learning filled with possibilities.

What type of maker spaces do you have in your program?

What materials are the most popular with the children in your program?