Makerspaces: Tinkering to Learn at Home
The idea of makerspaces has come a long way since I was a child. When I was growing up there was an endless supply of textiles, ingredients and components in which I could tinker, play and construct. I had my very own makerspace: nature. The great outdoors was a cornucopia of materials and inspiration. My mother would send my sister and I outside for the day, “Go play,” she would say as the door closed behind us.
What she should have added was “Go tinker and create something,” because that’s what we did. My sister and I would build forts out of sticks and branches, concoct a sword or slingshot out of objects we found around the yard; we even erected mud castles and constructed rudimentary musical instruments.
We had nothing but our ingenuity, creativity, and the elements. The world was our oyster and we literally used everything we could find to create a magical realm of endless possibilities. It is in the spirit of those days gone by that would serve as developmental precursors to what tutors, teachers, and parents now utilize to inspire their children to be innovators and engineers- makerspaces.
The Spirit of Makerspaces
A makerspace is not simply a location of supplies, rather it is a place where play, tinkering, and learning converge to foster authentic, inquiry-based learning experiences.
Tinkering is an exclusive trait we as humans utilize. It happens when we forgo the rigidity of trying to follow formulaic directions to build something specific. Conversely, tinkering allows our minds to wander, our hands to move freely without an end in mind – to dabble, putter, doodle and muck about. It is our ability to see the big picture, to tweak and alter, to sit for hours and just trifle and assemble, take apart and reassemble our ideas.
This harkens back to a deep drive within us the need to control our environment. We desire to create and learn; to design, build, tear down and rebuild our ideas a thousand times before we accept it as complete.
As a child, my first encounter with this process was building blocks, then Lego, Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs. Endless possibilities: towers, towns and teepee’s. Every day a different idea but always the same mindset: making anything I wanted. Along the way, I was learning to create and experiment in a truly authentic way.
What a Modern Makerspace Actually Is
A makerspace is a science, math, and technology based area where children can tinker, plan, design, create, and innovate. This space is a for fun and creativity but can also be used for specific learning experiences.
Once the space has been created and stocked with materials, the student is unleashed to tinker; sometimes with a broad goal to tackle, many times without. The key is that the area is ultimately for self-revelation. Students have various supplies, technology, and tools to allow them to design and create their own innovations. Teachers, tutors, and parents are only involved to serve as facilitators to guide without interfering.
Allowing students to tinker and explore brings them to the center of the learning experience. The student simultaneously becomes the scientist, engineer, mathematician, and writer. The right materials and state of mind can magically stoke creative forces encompassing a mixture of play and authentic learning.
Makerspaces at Home
Tinkering is one of the best ways to learn because not only are students creatively playing and designing, they are also using higher order problem-solving skills – linking the analytical and the creative parts of their brain. As such, a makerspace provides an opportunity for students to learn in ways that are both relevant and interesting to themselves.
Rather than simply grinding through a worksheet or reading an article, students get to see the big picture and mold their own learning.
While these types of learning experiences are becoming more prevalent in classrooms and libraries, they can be amazing opportunities for tutors and parents at home as well. It may be simpler than you think!
Makerspaces do not need to be technology based nor expensive. Much as my sister and I used nature to further our curiosity and wonderment, a simple makerspace can be put in place outside or inside. A station or center where children can venture to when they get bored but are not forced into learning. A place for fun and amusement because ultimately when children are engaged through choice and play they are learning.
Look in your recyclables bin: cardboard, plastic bottles, anything can become a science experiment or construction material. Children just need a place where they can realize two fundamental truths: I have control over my learning, and learning can be fun.
If this still seems daunting, check out these examples of some makerspaces for inspiration.
Have a Makerspace Summer
Especially over the long summer months, tutors and parents should be finding ways to create places of exploration and design where children can integrate what they have learned in school with their interests and passions. The summer slide is real, but a stimulating makerspace could be a key component in keeping students sharp for the fall.
For tutors, establishing these types of learning environments can be a service to provide to clients that offers higher engagement than the typical test prep and skill drills. While remediation my still be on the menu for portions of a tutoring session, carving out time to create and use a home makerspace with a student can open inroads to future learning connections and help foster a problem-solving mindset. Ideally, this space can be an area for students to play, learn and grow between sessions.
Hands-on learning brings children out of the digital universe and into a place of personal growth and experience. When they see a pile of junk, recyclables, or new shiny objects there’s the potential to spark curiosity. No matter how you choose to go about it, be a proactive advocate for a maker culture. If children see their adult role models tinkering and building, it instills in them interest and an appetite for learning. Why not look in your garage, your recyclable bin, catch-all drawers and dump all the contents on a table? Ask your child or student, “What can we build with this stuff? Let’s make a robot.” I bet after the first time, they will be begging for more materials.
Makerspaces in the classroom and at home allow children to take skills and content from multiple STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) disciplines and integrate them into a solution to a realistic and relevant problem. Children have a unique opportunity to ignite their imaginations to invent solutions that solve real-world problems. But also have a place where they can use their imaginations to create anything they can think of. A makerspace can be as small as a corner of a classroom or living room to as large as an entire garage or classroom. As long as we create a felt need for learning in our children, a makerspace no longer is simply a location – it becomes a mindset.
How have you incorporated maker culture into your tutoring or parenting? Share your favorite examples in the comments below or on social media!