Do you remember being a kid and having an amazing idea to build something awesome? You see movies like Home Alone in which the protagonist is clever and capable enough to create sophisticated contraptions that work just as planned, and you know you can do the same. You are so full of enthusiasm and determination, yet when you set out to make your creation a reality, the result falls short of your vision.
What happened? Certainly not a lack of energy and imagination! What is often missing are the right tools, the right materials, and inspiration.
This Instructable is here to help! I'll show you an example of how you can set up a maker space for your child that addresses these roadblocks and will help transform ideas into reality!
Who am I? I started an after school program that focuses on promoting hands-on education through project-based engineering lessons. One of the questions I frequently get is, "How can I continue what you're doing at home?" This guide is designed to address that question!
Also, I'm raising funds to expand our impact in the San Francisco Bay Area. Support us and you'll receive a kit of materials to make some or all of our engineering projects!
Check out our crowdfunding campaign here!
Step 1: Choose a space and worktable
Find a space that you don't mind getting messy!
I've staked out a spot in the bedroom and placed a small rolling desk that I found at a garage sale for $25. The keyboard tray rolls out which makes a nice active workspace while the desktop will be useful for placing tools and materials that are useful to keep on hand.
Cut a sheet of cardboard and use blue painter's tape to attach it to the working surface to protect it from markers, glue, etc. The painter's tape won't leave a sticky residue, and it will make it easier to change the cardboard later on.
Step 2: Get the Right Tools
The age and interests of your young maker will determine what the right tools are. One who delights in decorative arts and crafts could use glue sticks, rubber cement, or crazy craft scissors. Electronics and light metal work require a soldering iron. This section is really up to you to decide what's best to suit the individual interests of your child.
However there are three things that every young maker should have at their disposal: Scissors, masking tape and hot glue.
Scissors are obvious. Materials don't always come in the right size. Another cutting tool to consider (for adult hands only) is a woodcutting tool, like this one.
Why masking tape? Clear tape is not adhesive or pliable enough; it comes undone too easily. Duct tape, though awesome and should definitely be a consideration, is more difficult for young children to cut, tear, and manipulate (and it's more expensive). Masking tape is great because it's easy to tear and apply, and with some basic techniques, it can attach just about any two crafting materials together.
Hot glue is even more essential. With a hot glue gun, a pile of craft sticks can become a usable doll house within minutes. No waiting overnight for glue to dry, or getting frustrated over weak adhesives. Hot glue is just awesome.
You can buy very cheap glue guns at Micheal's. In my area, the Dollar Tree chain sells really cheap glue guns (20 for $1!)
Young children (age 6 or so) can effectively and safely use a hot glue gun with careful introduction, guided practice, and having the right mindset. Rather than focusing on the dangers of hot glue, focus on it's benefits. Try introducing hot glue as follows:
In my experience as an educator for elementary school-aged children, the vast majority of them love using a hot glue gun, and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Additionally, allowing young children to use a glue gun builds self confidence as a person and as a maker. Not many kids get to independently use a glue gun!
Step 3: Gather Materials
Your material choice will depend on many factors: child's age, budget, space, and availability. This guide is designed with children of elementary school age, and with a modest budget and space efficiency in mind.
Limited materials can limit the imagination, so it's important to find a variety of interesting supplies. Great places to find inspiring materials include:
If you have the budget, big box crafting stores also offer an array of materials to work with.
There are a couple of online resources that are great for specialty woodcraft and science components as well:
Step 4: Get Organized
There is something delightful about rummaging through a bin of random materials, however it can be discouraging when you need to find 50 craft sticks at the bottom.
Shop around for something to keep your materials organized. Keep in mind that your young maker might not keep things as organized as you, so it may be prudent to use 3-10 containers that keep things organized by a general material type versus individual materials. (Ex: A container for all recyclables instead of a container for toilet paper tubes, another container for cereal boxes, and a third for cardboard boxes)
For my maker space, I selected a set of craft storage drawers since I intend to store woodcraft and small plastic components. The clear plastic also makes it easy to select the right material without labels. It cost less than $30 on Amazon.
Step 5: Provide Inspiration
You're ready to Make! But wait - how exactly do you begin that huge marble roller coaster that you saw on Youtube once, like, a month ago?
Once you have a great idea, the next step is to search the web to find out if anyone else has tried something similar, and if so, what great ideas are out there for you to build on. Yes, it's very gratifying to come up with a totally unique project idea, and it's just as gratifying to take existing ideas and combine them in new ways. Creating projects that are inspired by others also helps build skills and experiences that your young maker can draw upon later.
Here are some resources to start with:
http://makerfaire.com/bay-area-2014/maker-info/ (particularly the kids section)
http://www.instructables.com/id/Project-Based-Engi... (The collection of Young Engineers projects)
Here are some tips for finding inspiration to match your young maker's vision: