Nurturing Creativity & the Arts
Encouraging Your Kid To Be a “Maker”View Photo Gallery
“Blessed is he who in the days of God will engage in handicrafts . . . The craft of every craftsman is regarded as worship.” — Bahá’u’lláh
Hands-on experiences are wonderful opportunities for kids to learn about STEM subjects. MakerSpaces are places where these experiences can happen. As I mentioned in my article on young inventors, MakerSpaces can help kids build their inventions. This article delves a little deeper into this maker movement and how to get started with it.
What Is a Maker?
“Everyone is a Maker!” That’s the premise of the maker movement.
One definition of a “maker” is someone who turns an idea into an object. Your kid may want to be a creative maker, such as an inventor or artist. They can have a practical goal, like fixing their bike. They can be a maker as a hobby, such as by sewing, woodworking, or doing other crafts. They can be a maker as a service to others. In time, their maker experiences may lead to a career.
The objects kids can make may be something they can touch and feel, like a costume or a robot. They may make something more abstract such as designs for something that can be built, computer programs, or apps. Or what they make can include combinations of these two approaches.
The Maker Movement and MakerSpaces
The maker movement is the growing trend that includes makers, the values they have in common, and the community that has developed around them. It celebrates the values of “do it yourself” over buying “off the shelf,” and personalized over mass-produced items. It is a community where makers help and encourage others to create. “Open source” or shared ideas are emphasized, rather than individual ownership and proprietary approaches.
It has also become a model for education. A well-known school that is using this model is High Tech High in California. This school uses “making” to help teach kids critical thinking. Kids participate in student-directed activities where instructors give them high-level goals and the kids learn by prototyping over several “try and fail” cycles.
But more commonly, this community meets and makes in “MakerSpaces”—physical locations where people can come together to explore and create.
So who sponsors MakerSpaces and where can you find them? There are several places to look for MakerSpaces in your community.
High Tech High is one example, but many schools are incorporating some of the values and methods of the maker community into their curriculum. Ask your student’s teacher or principal for details.
Maker activities and MakerSpaces are a new focus that many libraries have added to remain relevant to their communities. Check your library’s website or event calendar.
Some have monthly dues, provide training on their equipment, and the makers pay for additional supplies. Some serve to host small business startups and provide facilities for building prototypes for their products. Some even serve as business incubators that have expanded hosting capabilities such as providing office space. Watch for articles in your local media or do an online search.
These are open to anyone who works in the company. Autodesk and Pier 9 in San Francisco are two companies that provide MakerSpaces for their employees. Such spaces can provide parents and mentors with valuable experience for helping kids.
They usually don’t have any facilities, but provide opportunities for makers to get together to show off things they made. Your kid’s scout troup, 4-H group, or Bahá’í junior youth group could plan an outing to a MakerSpace. On a larger scale, “Maker Faires” are events where makers exhibit and see what others have created. The larger Maker Faires have over 100,000 attendees!
These are usually student-run, where users get training and schedule time on the MakerSpace equipment. They are used for coursework or to support research done at the university. One example is the "Invention Studio" at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, which also receives support from several corporations. These could be a great place to meet people who are interested in encouraging or working with youth.
What kids can make at a MakerSpace can vary significantly. Some MakerSpaces are more focused on arts and crafts such as sewing, making jewelry, painting, sculpting, or creating other artwork. Others have a fabrication shop flavor, with woodworking, welding, cutting, and machining capabilities. Many are high-tech, where makers can 3D print, build electronics, and even build robots. So the ideal MakerSpace for your kid depends on their interests and what they want to make. In addition to formal classes many MakerSpaces offer, they are frequented by people who are more than willing to give help or advice.
”Helping” Your Maker Kid
The natural inclination of a parent or teacher may be to help kids and respond to their questions with direct guidance. However, a maker learns by doing. Trying something new and failing the first time (or many times) is part of the maker experience. The lesson learned through failing is developing an “experimental mindset”—not getting discouraged and giving up, reflecting on what didn’t work and why, and trying again.
Helping a kid who has experienced a failure does not mean doing it for them. An adult can help a maker kid through encouragement: guiding them to think about the root cause for the failure, explore a possible solution, and to try again. But even this help should be offered sparingly, since maker kids will learn the most by doing their work without adult direction. If adults can resist the temptation to step in, they may find that groups of kid makers working together will help each other and find their own solutions to problems. This kind of collaboration is one of the many skills a kid learns as a maker. It is a skill not usually taught in school classroom settings, but it is an essential social skill that will be incredibly useful as they progress in their education and future career.
Maker projects can also be group activities in the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP). They can be another way to build capacity. They can focus on meeting a need in the community as service goal. The supportive environment in JYSEP groups creates an ideal maker community whose members help each other discover their abilities and interests, learn new skills, and collaboratively apply them to projects. Group unity increases as they learn how to consult to make team decisions and as each member discovers how they can best contribute to the project. The JYSEP ”animator” serves as the mentor who creates the environment where the youth explore, discover their potential, and develop an “experimental mindset.”
How Do We Get Started?
My first suggestion is to find a MakerSpace near you—check with your child’s school, your local library, or do an internet search for a MakerSpace in your area.
If you would like some ideas for some starter maker projects to do at home, the Instructables website is an excellent free resource for maker projects with step-by-step “how to” instructions. Doing a search on this website brings up a number of projects that are ideal for building in a MakerSpace.
And if there are no MakerSpaces nearby, then you have the opportunity to be a “maker” yourself by helping to organize a “pop-up” maker event. There is even an Instructable project with the steps for hosting one at a community center or library at this link. And most importantly, these “making” experiences are a form of play for your kids, as well as learning opportunities. And they’re a great way to build bonds of unity in your family, classroom, or youth group. So “make” them fun, too!
Dr. Steve Scotti is Brilliant Star’s STEM Education Advisor and a research engineer at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, U.S. He works to develop lighter, stronger materials and structures for aircraft and spacecraft. Watching the first astronaut launched into space inspired his interest in space exploration, and he enjoys sharing his enthusiasm about science and space with kids, parents, and teachers.
Thanks to Garry Qualls and Nancy Holloway of NASA Langley Research Center for much of the information in this article.
Updated on 10.01.18