Children are natural makers — give a kid a cardboard box, and she’ll transform it immediately into an oven, a spaceship, an elevator, or something else that I probably cannot imagine.
Recent years have seen a growth of the maker movement, or an enthusiasm for inventing and creating new technologies and tools, in the U.S., Europe, and many countries across the world. Here is a look at the origins of the maker movement, how it fosters creativity, and some of the resources available to kids.
How the Maker Movement Got Started
The maker movement has its origins in the do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude. Dale Dougherty is credited with having started the movement with the launch of Make: magazine in 2005. A lot of people see it as the modern emblem of pioneering American innovation, though the movement is not limited to the U.S.
Makers are creating inventions that are advancing and celebrating many fields — science, technology, art, engineering, design, and music, among others. Recent advances (and support from major tech firms) have lent a strong technological focus to the movement. Some of the futuristic leaps that have facilitated the growth of the movement are:
3-D printers that allow designs on a computer to be converted into physical objects.
Physical computing, which allows interactivity and intelligence to be added to everyday objects. For instance, conductive thread makes it possible to sew circuits onto cloth and create products like light-up clothes. Pens with conductive ink allow children to draw circuits on paper. The Makey Makey invention kit allows you to turn everyday objects like a banana into a touchpad.
The Maker Faire brings the maker movement to life.
Every year, Maker Media, publisher of Make: magazine, sponsors Maker Faire, a community event described as the Greatest Show and Tell on earth. This year, the Maker Faire took place in May in the Bay Area, and will come to New York on September 26 and 27, 2015. Around 900 makers are expected to share their projects at the New York event, which will include kinetic sculptures, fire art, and demonstrations of the latest technological innovations.
Maker Faire is a family event at which adults and kids share learning experiences. A number of hands-on activities and workshops — soldering, creating homemade electrical toys, or participating in Minecraft camp — are usually available for kids.
In addition to the two flagship Maker Faires on the east and west coasts of the U.S., independent organizations hosted 119 Mini Maker Faires in 2014 alone, plus 14 Featured Maker Faires. These took place both in this country and around the world in cities like Tokyo, Oslo, Shenzen, and Detroit. President Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire in June 2014.
How Being a Maker Benefits Kids
In the article 7 Cornerstones of Making With Kids, Jennifer Turliuk and Andy Forest describe their recipe for successful making with kids, and some of the benefits that kids get from developing a maker mindset:
Inspires curiosity, creativity and confidence: The maker movement is perfectly in accordance with the natural inclination of kids to “learn by doing” and “learn through play.” Kids are engaged when they define, create, and complete projects based on their interests using real-world tools. Working toward a goal helps them to focus as they progress on a project.
Promotes community and collaboration: Makers collaborate by sharing their projects and solutions either in person or over the Internet. An environment in which ideas are shared is conducive to everyone’s growth. Presenting their projects to others helps children organize their thoughts. When kids teach other kids what they know, it increases their self-confidence.
Emphasizes process over product: One of the biggest lessons that comes from making is learning that it’s okay to fail. In places like the Tinkering School for kids, failures are celebrated as opportunities to learn.
How to Inspire Kids to Become Makers
Visit a Maker Faire with your kids if possible.
If you’re planning to visit the New York Faire, here are some tips for having a safe and successful trip:
- Download the free MakerApp from the Maker Faire website. Pick up a map when you arrive to get an overview of all the exhibits, speakers, and activities and prioritize the ones you want to visit. It isn’t possible to see and do everything in a single day.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes — you will have to walk a lot.
- Food trucks offer refreshments. You can also carry empty water bottles to refill.
- Maker Faire can get crowded. Eighty-five thousand people visited the New York faire in 2014. If kids are old enough, be sure they know your phone number and agree on a meeting place in case they wander away.
Introduce kids to maker-inspired toys.
Some maker toys and kits for younger children:
Makedo features construction tools for creative building using cardboard boxes. The tools are reusable, and build and connect cardboard more quickly and sturdily than adhesive tape or glue
RobotTurtles is a board game, available on Amazon for 3- to 8-year-olds, that teaches programming fundamentals.
Roominate is an award-winning wired dollhouse-building kit sure to delight engineering-minded girls. Includes an Architect pack, a Design Engineer pack, and an Electrical Engineer pack.
GoldieBlox are also engineering toy kits designed to attract girls and teach kids about wheels and axles, gear action, force, friction, hinges, and levers.
Squishy Circuits use conductive play dough so that young children and older kids can play with and explore electronic circuits.
Older kids and even adults can create sophisticated electronic items using littleBits, Lego-like circuit boards that snap together with magnets to create electronic circuits.
Search for making opportunities online.
MakerCamp is a free, six-week online camp sponsored by Make: magazine for kids interested in DIY projects. Counselors are also available at various community spaces listed on the site, such as public libraries, Boys and Girls clubs, and scouting groups.
Incredibox is a free, Flash-based website that allows you to drag and drop a cappella music components onto a set of animated beatbox singers and create your own choral music.
DIY is an app that offers a safe place for kids 7 years and older to learn more than 130 skills, such as Animator, solar engineering, or zoology. Children have an online portfolio in which they can share projects and skills earned with parents, teachers, or friends. An adult guide offers challenges and help online. Most of the actual project work is done in the real world.
Encourage, or at least tolerate, your children’s creative messes.
It’s hard for me to resist the urge to trash the various contraptions of paper, string, cloth scraps, and other “waste” material that seems to inhabit every room in the house. What looks like a pile of rubbish to me is a “pirate submarine-cannon” to my child. Inspired by the “creative station” in his Montessori classroom, we’ve now reached a compromise by agreeing to limit constructive projects and materials to the garage.
Find a local makerspace or maker-education opportunities for kids.
A makerspace is a dedicated place where members share maker tools, resources, and ideas. Although most makerspaces are meant for adults, there are a number of kids’ makerspaces springing up in schools, libraries, and other community centers. Check your local resources to find one near you.
You can find maker education programs for kids on the MakerEd directory. MakerEd is a non-profit organization that facilitates making and learning experiences for youth, particularly those in underserved areas.
Try creating a maker club with your kids and their friends using some of the above-mentioned toys and tools.
You can check the MakerEd website for guidance on how to start a club. You could even hold your own neighborhood Maker Faire! Make it collaborative rather than competitive — in the spirit of the original Maker Faire.
Childhood presents many opportunities to hone kids’ creative abilities. And as parents, we can help them grow up to be people who continue to be curious, innovative, and lifelong learners.
Looking for other ways to cultivate your child’s critical thinking skills? Check out Thinking Outside-The-Box: Programs that Teach Kids Creative Problem-Solving Skills.
Stager, G. What’s the Maker Movement and Why should I care? (2014). Retrieved August 11, 2015 from Scholastic
Maker Faire. Retrieved August 12, 2015 from MakerFaire
Turliuk, J, Forest, A. 7 Cornerstones of Making with Kids (September 25, 2014). Retrieved August 12, 2015 from Make:
MakerEd – Every Child a Maker. Retrieved August 12, 2015 from MakerEd