Children are natural creators -- they’re born ready to make things, sometimes out of unconventional parts. A makerspace is designed to tap into this natural curiosity and allow kids to try new things with no predetermined outcome.
Our classroom makerspace is stocked with a variety of items such as marshmallows, toothpicks, and tongs. It challenges kids to stretch their thinking and be open to new perspectives. It’s amazing what our students will do when I hand them a cup filled with a random set of objects and ask them to build a habitat for the dinosaurs we were talking about earlier in the day! We routinely rotate the objects in the space to keep fueling the kids’ imaginations with fresh things to investigate.
This type of unstructured, but focused, play is an ideal way to have fun while learning some big concepts.
Choosing how they use a maker space and its materials allows children to develop independence skills. When there’s no set of instructions, the kids take control and use techniques such as trial and error and collaboration to complete whatever project they can imagine. Every small success boosts their self-confidence and increases their ability to work independently.
The magic of watching students use creativity and personal learning strategies to investigate a concept never gets old! For example, we may provide several tools - chopsticks, clothespins, and tweezers and challenge the kids to use them in an art project. Some will dip the tool in paint, and others will use the object to hold a sponge to create their own masterpiece. The resulting child-led art pieces are wonderful, unique expressions of each individual.
Creating something because you want to is a wonderful feeling and our maker space is the perfect place to give kids that opportunity -- anything goes! One of my favorite things to do is sit with the students and ask open-ended questions such as -- “What sparked that idea”? or “How does that work”? Their faces just light up as they explain their creations while also building their verbal communication skills.
When faced with a roadblock, we want our kids to strategize and find a way to still reach their goals. I’ve noticed that students in our maker space will trade materials with each other instead of quitting on their designs. Learning how to find more resources or design another way to complete a task builds resilience. This sort of negotiation and cooperation is also great practice for the small-group learning activities they’ll continue to participate in throughout their academic life.
Parents love getting involved in our makerspace, too. They donate materials and sometimes even re-create some of our classroom experiments at home. And, if anything wears out at our academy, we add it to the maker space! A recent upgrade resulted in lots of old phones the kids could take apart and use in some amazing ways.
Creativity is the key to designing and using a maker space, and we like to get messy!
For example, I may bring in a bucket of snow to examine or incorporate sensory materials to make learning new and exciting for our students.
Each day, my goal is the same -- to help the kids love the process of learning! The addition of our maker space is just one of the amazing ways we do that here.
by Candace Lowry
Candace Lowry is Curriculum Coordinator, Kiddie Academy of Des Peres. She is among more than 90 extraordinary educators at three Kiddie Academies in O'Fallon, Chesterfield, and Des Peres. Teachers are the foundation of successful early learning for St. Louis Families, and Kiddie Academy draws the best. The schools are NAEYC accredited, a designation earned by fewer than 10% of all preschools in Missouri.