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The Rise of the Maker Movement for Kids

If you’re a Maker Faire veteran, you’ve seen the growing droves of kids engaging in the excitement and promise of the Maker Movement. Watching a child solder that first LED followed by the amazed “ah ha” look that inevitably appears when it lights up is infectious. Maker Faire is teeming with adults who’ve been inspired by possibility and want to share it with kids.

Looking at Make:, Instructables, SparkFun, Servo, Wired, or any one of the many places Makers get their news, one could certainly make an argument that a kids’ Maker Movement is building momentum. Kids’ projects are plentiful online, but not all families have the tools, safety training, or confidence to attempt these cool Maker projects. While adult Makerspaces have topped 2,000 locations worldwide, Makerspaces dedicated to kids have been cropping up with increasing frequency ensuring that no child is left behind in the Maker Movement.

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Photo Credit: MakerKids

The Parts and Crafts hackerspace opened five years ago for summer camp. Founder Will MacFarlane gradually added after-school programs and Saturday Open Lab. Three years ago he started an alternative school day program for homeschoolers. Kids are empowered to solve real-world problems through hands-on learning. Parts and Crafts has a friendly and collaborative relationship with the famed Artisan’s Asylum close by in Somerville, Massachusetts. The Parts and Crafts model has emphasized access to those of all financial means, even offering a sliding scale for families to choose how much to pay based on their self-reported household income.

MakerKids is a Toronto-based kids’ Makerspace with the benefit of a prestigious advisory board including Massimo Banzi of Arduino. They offer a variety of programs including learning to code Minecraft and making robotic inventions. They even offer 3D printing birthday parties. The CEO of MakerKids, marketing heavy-hitter Jennifer Turliuk, cites a focus on “Process over Product,” and kids’ interest-driven programming as keys to MakerKids’ success. You can read more about the MakerKids’ recipe in this article from Make: Volume 40.

SparkTruck, the master’s thesis project of Stanford’s d.school grad students Eugene Korsunskiy, Aaron Peck, and Prat Ganapathy, was one of the first mobile kids’ Makerspaces. The repurposed food truck outfitted with hand tools, laser cutters, and 3D printers spent summers driving around the country to schools, museums, and the occasional parking lot interacting with kids and modeling the Maker mindset for educators. The SparkTruck team developed simple projects like Lasercut Stamps and Vibrobots that inspired kids to be engaged Makers, rather than mere consumers.

Brian Pichman, of the Evolve Project, helps libraries add Makerspaces using the analogy, “Libraries used to be more like grocery stores. Today, they need to be more like kitchens.” The LA Makerspace is an open access kids’ Makerspace based in LA’s library system. They’ve successfully funded two Kickstarter projects topping $50,000 in contributions. The Maker Movement has found a foothold in libraries around the country as librarians search for ways to remain relevant in a society where technology makes information more readily available than ever before.

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Photo Credit: THINQubator

In The Pipeline

THINQubator happens to be the kids’ Makerspace being developed in my own city. Located in upstate New York, THINQubator is a project of the adult Makerspace Tech Valley Center of Gravity. It’s currently in the first half of a $35,000 IndieGoGo campaign that will fund equipment and furniture for the new kids’ Makerspace. A selection of high-tech equipment and low-tech materials combined with access to some of the best and brightest academics, scientists, engineers, coders, and working artists give kids the opportunity to tinker and explore their curiosities without pressure.

STEAMLabs also based in Toronto is nearing the end of a $16,000 Kickstarter campaign to expand their current kids’ Makerspace into one that welcomes adults and families with the hope that cross-pollination of generations will create more inspiration and more collaboration.

In researching the kids’ Maker Movement, I can’t help but notice that some of the more successful kids’ Makerspaces are popping up in areas where successful adult or other kids’ Makerspaces are already established. For parents not familiar with the power of the Maker Movement, it can be easier to explain what a kids’ Makerspace is all about when there’s an adult space close by to cite or even tour. Speaking from experience, it’s easier to take on the monster project of creating a kids’ Makerspace when there’s a community of adults who are passionate about the Maker Movement and can collaborate, build, share resources, and involve their own children as early adopters.

If your city is home to an adult Makerspace, consider carving out a space for kids. Families who don’t have the space, tools, or don’t feel safe exploring Make:’s awesome Maker projects solo, will thank you.

5 thoughts on “The Rise of the Maker Movement for Kids

  1. This is an inspiring list of kid-centered The Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore kids maker spaces. I might add to it the Digital Harbor Foundation, in Baltimore, that is running full after-school, summer, and community programming for kids and their families. They also run on a pay-what-you-can model. It’s great to be part of such a creative community!

  2. But kids have always made things, for the sake of imagination or necessity.
    Every time a new stove or freezer arrived, it was a rare thing, and the box left over to make a fort or something.
    I could do rudimentary sewing at age eight, and I had a “toy” toolset before that (real tools, just small). I had trolls, and would build houses for them out of cardboard boxes. One was a mansion, complete with swimming pool on the roof, and I seem to that one had a computer in it, maybe in the lab. I’d use GI Joe accessories, but I also recall making one dimensional things out of cardboard and a pen. when Major Matt Mason came along, that was another opportunity to copy real things or make them up. You couldn’t always buy things, either you didn’t have enough allowance, or they didn’t exist.
    In started soldering when I was 11, I didn’t know enough to know I was doing a bad job, but it got better. Electronics back then was about understanding. I had my ham license when I was twelve, the lateness excused by the fact that until the month before, you had to be over fifteen to get a license in Canada. And it was no Novice beginner’s license as in the US.
    Some of it was more common, some of it was the domain of the outcasts. But there was less handholding, less a sense that this was out of the ordinary. It was a way of coming into the world, creating one’s own space in it, rather than following along as at school. If parents were involved, it was because they were doing it themselves, rather than leading the kid “because it’s good for them”.
    Well meaning adults may mess up the process. Too many think “Logo” is an easy programming language, when Seymour Pappert created it as an environment for play/learning, where you can try things without hurting anything. That’s “hacking”, experience based learning, something babies and small children do.
    Or, they don’t ask the children what they need, but set things up for them. One local place was looking for tools and parts, rather than let the kids get involved. I had to scrounge, and got good at it, because I didn’t have the money. The first few projects never worked, and I was too much the beginner to find what went wrong. The first thing that did work were things I put together with parts I scrounged off scrap electronics, a leap forward because I had to know enough to know which would work. (“Make” fails at that, in laying down the map so nobody can fail, it isn’t about learning but about following, so if you fall off the path, you are stuck. Plus, following the parts list exactly can be expensive. Explaining means the reader doesn’t have to follow so exactly.)
    Let the kids go looking for junk in the garbage, they’ll learn more that way. Take them to garage and rummage sales, and ham radio club fleamarkets (other traditional technical hobbies often have similar events, don’t isolate them because they don’t identify as “maker”), scrap to build things with, but maybe a chance to find tools cheap. Often books and magazines too.
    That too is about coming into the world. The skill of scavenging, or knowing how to learn, may in the end be more important than whatever is built. Buying used saves money, and it’s always amazing to find that something you want/need can appear that way.
    Taking things apart is learning in itself, a valuable step before building. A scrap VCR will offer up switches and LEDs and motors to play with by themselves (cassette decks too), and transistors and other parts for more advanced things. But in taking something apart, it narrows the distance, electronics isn’t so far away.
    Let the children led, don’t tell them this is good for them ,but give a boost when needed. It’s just a hobby, so money may go elsewhere, but it’s learning so if they need this or that, try to accommodate them. Unless the adult is conveying their interest to the child, the child is likely the one who knows more than the adult.
    Michael

    1. I brought my children there last summer. We loved the museum but were a little disappointed in the Shed itself. We were hoping for something a little more like Tinkering Studio at Exploratorium but alas, that is the gold standard!

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Erica Iannotti is an entrepreneur, an educator, an engineer, and a maker. She serves multiple non-profit boards including the THINQubator kids makerspace at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, NY. She’s passionate about kids, STEM, the arts, the Maker Movement, and the intersections within.

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