Young Makers


Maker Jon Sarriugarte of Oakland, California raises his daughter Zolle in the air at the 2008 Maker Faire in the Bay Area.

At a higher education conference ( last week, I met Marie who told me the following story about her young daughter, Annika.

“I have a son who is a whiz at math. I’ve kind of understood what he needs and where he’s going. My daughter was different and I didn’t really understand who she was and what she did. Then I became familiar with MAKE. I recognized that she’s the kind of kid who’s always off doing something, making something out of parts she finds around the house. I realized she’s a maker. I was so happy.”

When I wrote Marie asking if it was okay to write about Annika, she responded with a quote from her daughter: “Did you tell him that if you turn your back on me for one minute, I start making?” What a great kid!

I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I feel fortunate that we produce a magazine that helped a mother discover her own daughter in a new way. I don’t think it’s the only such example out there. I wonder how many kids there are that could benefit from being seen as makers.

Young Makers Program

Last summer, Tony DeRose, of Pixar, talked to me about an idea for developing a program for young makers. He and his kids built a Potato Gatling Gun and brought it to Maker Faire last year. They had such a great experience, taking an idea and developing it in their garage shop, and bringing their work to share with others at Maker Faire. Tony felt that more kids should have this kind of experience.

In addition to talking to me, Tony had been talking with folks at the Exploratorium in San Francisco about what he thought then were “two different things: 1) how to use Pixar’s cachet to promote science and math education, and 2) his family’s love of making.” Tony was introduced to Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich who have run the Learning Studio at the Exploratorium for years. (They’ve organized the Exploratorium’s participation in Maker Faire each year.) The Learning Studio is dedicated to the idea that science and math education can be advanced by tinkering and that places like science centers should encourage more creative ways of making and doing. They saw Tony’s interests as a way to try out some new ideas at the Exploratorium and work more closely with us at MAKE.

We talked about getting kids to meet makers and demonstrate different modes of making. We wanted to explore projects in areas such as circuit-building, soft circuits, music, and mechanics. Mike and Karen want to have making become a regular part of the Exploratorium experience. We also want to find places where kids can work with mentors to make things. So, we also brought Jim Newton and TechShop in as partners. Together, we’ve come up with a Young Makers program for the Bay Area, which is now ready for a trial run.

I’ll use Tony’s words to give an overview of Young Maker program:

People learn in many different ways, but many learn best by building things. Building toys such as Lego blocks offer powerful and open-ended experiences for younger children. Unfortunately, as shop classes have closed over the past few decades, there remains very little infrastructure to nurture older kids and teens who want to expand beyond construction kits.

The Young Makers program is intended to create such an infrastructure. The idea is to create a community, both online and physical, that brings together like-minded kids, adult mentors, and fabrication facilities. Mentors help young makers define a project vision if they don’t already have one, and then guide the kids in realizing that vision. Along the way, both kids and their mentors will expose the underlying math, science, and engineering principles behind the projects, explore tool usage and safety, and collectively create a collaborative culture of innovation and experimentation. Maker Faire becomes the deadline, and offers a stage for the resulting projects to be exhibited and explained.

In my view, we’d like to help develop young makers and encourage them to participate in Maker Faire. We’ll be creating a special kids area at Maker Faire this year and we will invite kids to exhibit their projects. Our initial focus is on teens from middle school through high school.

Kickoff of Open MAKE at the Exploratorium

As part of the Young Makers program, the Exploratorium will host “Open MAKE” on the last Saturday of the month, beginning January 30th, continuing on February 27th and March 27th and concluding on April 24th.

The goal of the program is to encourage kids to make, show them different things they can learn to make, and work with kids who’d like to bring some of their work to Maker Faire.

On each Saturday, we will start with a “Meet The Makers” program in the McBean Theater from 11am-12pm. From 12:30-3:00 pm, we’ll be “In the Studio” where kids can do projects and learn from other makers.

For our first program on January 30th, our theme is making simple circuits for small robots. Our featured makers will be Ken Murphy, maker of Blinkybugs, and Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman of Evil Mad Scientists Labs, who created Bristlebots. Kids will be able to make Blinkybugs and Bristlebots in the studio.

(We’re still firming up the list of makers for future dates.)

If you have kids (or can borrow some), please join us at the Exploratorium, January 30th. I’ll blog about what we learn from creating this program. We’d hope to see Young Maker programs develop in other communities as well.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty