How to Make a Makerspace at Home
by Agustin Molfino, Sycamore School Innovation Specialist
Over my last seven years as an educator, I have been lucky enough to work out of a makerspace. As a result, I often get asked by parents, “how can I create a makerspace at home?”
Purpose: A makerspace has two main functions: play/exploration and intentional creation. The purpose of a makerspace is to inspire and to support a creative process through access to tools and resources. I wonder if you already have such a space at home. Whether it's an art room, play space, workshop, or just a craft table, making is probably already part of your child’s home life. In fact, many Sycamore students already make a host of interesting things from home including animal paintings, LEGO robotics, paper crafts, origami, wooden axes, sewn stuffies, 3D prints, LED circuits, cardboard robots, and more. While it does not have to be complicated, even the smallest additions to your space can provide your child a way to express their creative spirit.
If you are looking to design a makerspace at home, or expand your existing creative space, here’s my advice for how to get started…
Sycamore students creating in their home makerspaces.
The Space: Ideally, you want a large enough space for a good size table and some stools (better than chairs). Important elements are good lighting, whether from a window or lightbulb, and good air circulation (especially if you are using glue guns or tools). Another key design feature is accessibility to materials, both visually and physically. For this, I recommend large bins and see-through drawers as well as magnetic bars for hanging tools and peg boards with compatible bins/hooks. Lastly, no space is complete without a trash can and recycling bin to clean up the creative mess!
Sycamore Kindergartners exploring hot glue guns.
Standard Tools: Apart from scissors, paper, pencils, glue, and rulers, your most important tool will be the glue gun. Not only will a glue gun allow for strong bonds, it also is a good introduction to how to use tools safely. It’s likely that your child will burn themselves, and this is a teachable moment. Tools are to be respected! When they move onto more dangerous tools like box cutters, saws, and drills, they will be primed to consider their safety first. Other standard tools: duct tape, box cutters (with supervision), and cardboard saws. A not-so-standard but amazing tool is a 3D printer. If you can afford it, I recommend a Makerbot printer (but there are cheaper options), and Tinkercad.com works great for creating CAD objects.
Standard Materials: Your all-star materials are cardboard and your family's recyclables. Cardboard can be shaped, cut, and combined in endless ways. Recyclables like cartons, boxes, paper tubes, foam, bottle caps are also very flexible materials. Best of all, children learn that common materials can be transformed to make fun and useful things. Trash can be transformed! Other standard materials: popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wood dowels, straws, pipe cleaners, fabrics, paper/plastic cups.
Students designing objects on Tinkercad (left) and Kindergarteners exploring cardboard (right).
Basic Woodworking Tools: If you want your child to get into woodworking, I recommend a mini hammer and nails, philips screwdriver and screws, needle nose and standard pliers, and sandpaper. For older children, you can include an electric drill and a saw. Regardless of the tool, safety first! You will need protective glasses and gloves. And I highly recommend that you run through how to safely use all the tools and supervise when children are using anything sharp or electric. Lastly, I recommend a good set of clamps (for holding things in place) and wood glue (for quick fixes).
Basic Woodworking Materials: Of course you will want wood of different size, thickness, and types. If you go to your local hardware store they will usually be willing to give you scraps for free!
Sycamore third grader using a drill to build the wooden base of a compost tumbler.
Basic Electronics Tools: If you want your child to explore circuitry and electronics, I recommend buying wire strippers, a mini screwdriver set, and electrical tape. For older children, a soldering iron is a great tool to make lasting connections (needs proper ventilation).
Basic Electronics Materials: The essential materials are wiring, batteries (double AA and coin), battery holders, small DC motors, LEDs, and switches. If your child wants to explore coding/robotics, I recommend starting with a MakeyMakey and then upgrading to an Arduino Board. Lastly, a great way for your child to start to explore electronics is to deconstruct old machines and gadgets. They can take them apart, make observations, and build an understanding of electrical systems.
Sycamore student uses wire cutters to create a circuit.
Note the large and see through bins.
Process: More important than any material or tool is your child’s process and approach to making. A makerspace has two main functions: play/exploration and intentional creation. Your child will play and explore naturally (although there are some questions - see below - that will enhance their exploration). When intending to create something specific and especially for ambitious projects, I recommend following a Design Thinking framework as a way for your kids to think about and plan their ideas. An important element of Design Thinking is being visual with your ideas. Encourage your child to sketch out their ideas, be detailed, and label important parts and relevant materials. This will better help them understand how to proceed and help you better understand how to support.
Failure is to be expected and encouraged. As a facilitator, it will be up to your judgment on when to help and when to be hands off. Just remember, usually more learning happens when things don’t work out than when they do!
What do you notice?
What do you wonder?
What do you hope your creation will be able to do? What is essential?
What does your creation look like (draw it)? What materials do you need (label it)?
What should you do first? And then…(breaking down steps and prioritizing).
What information or inspiration could help you do this better? Where could you find it?
Why didn’t that work? How do you know?
What could you change to improve your design?
What other materials/tools might work better?
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Creativity is a constant for most children. A well thought-out makerspace will help enhance their learning through exploration, design, and iteration. Remember, the tools and materials are a bonus. The real magic happens in the planning, prompting, and encouragement of an engaged facilitator.
Kindergartener 3D printing a megalodon tooth.