Like many of you, I recently bought bargain binders, dollar notebooks and other school supplies. However, in the name of after-school enrichment at home and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects, I also took advantage of seasonal sales to stock up on supplies for my makerspace.
A makerspace is basically a spot where you make stuff. It could be an elaborate community creative space, an area in your basement or garage, or just a TV tray in a dedicated corner of your family room. I’m lucky to have a home that came with a well-worn workbench in the basement, the original man cave, if you will. But like a cave, the basement workshop is a dark, dank spot that isn’t much fun to hang out in, so it functions more as a storage area. The actual tinkering and creation of things tends to take place on my dining room table. Regardless of location and aesthetics, the making is more crucial than the space.
Making is not only a creative outlet but is also an activity that can build STEM knowledge, the most sought-after 21st-century skill set. Designing, measuring, building or even taking things apart helps developing minds enhance abilities in these critical areas.
Stocking Your Makerspace
- Mark It — My boys were never big on traditional art supplies like crayons and paint, but your mileage may vary. To make markers more interesting, acquire a range of types like gel pens, permanent markers, spy pens or paint pens, taking care to note which ones may leave permanent stains.
- Build, Baby, Build — Fill your space with inexpensive building materials:
Chenille stems (formerly known as pipe cleaners)
Corks (go ahead, finish that bottle of winein the name of enriching your child’s education)
Tubes from toilet paper, wrapping paper and paper towels
Sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes, as well as chipboard from cereal and snack boxes, are like giant building blocks. They can also be cut, colored and otherwise manipulated to make new things. (http://cainesarcade.com/)
Finally, PVC piping and joints are another great resource for all kinds of fanciful inventions.
- A Cut Above — Special scissors make special projects. Look for scissors that leave unique decorative marks like jagged edges, wavy edges and other intricate styles.
- When Things Get Sticky — What my younger boy lacked in attraction to crayons he made up for in his love of tape. It started when he was in preschool and last year, as a seventh grader, he came home from school with an inventive sculpture created solely out of transparent tape (created during a few stolen moments in class, apparently). This is an amazing decade for tape. In addition to old standbys like masking, painter’s and transparent tape, there’s an explosion of decorative tapes on the market that can add a splash of special to any project. Even duct tape now comes in bright colors and fun patterns that have not gone unnoticed to makers. Loads of duct tape projects are just a click away.
- Connect — Tape can also hold things together, as can paperclips and brads, those brass tack like objects that have two little legs or prongs and allow for motion between connected objects. Twist-ties, chenille stems and magnets can also be used for this purpose. If your child can safely handle the heat, a hot glue gun really helps things stick together.
- Electrify — Help your child dabble in electronics with basic supplies, such as button cell batteries, LED lights, battery leads and DC motors.
You might feel more comfortable with a starter kit that comes with suggested projects or a set like littleBits that enables kids without prior electronics experience to easily add sensors, lights and movement to maker projects. It’s worth noting that littleBits are also the most girl-friendly electronics I’ve come across to date.
If your children are ready to take their electronics to the next level, read up on things such as Arduino, the Raspberry Pi or the Makey-Makey, which makes anything into a keyboard. You can check out one of my younger teen’s projects here.
Did I miss anything? You might have noticed I didn’t mention glitter. It’s pretty much the only craft supply I ban from my house, and with two boys, I’ve never had anyone question my policy. What are your favorite maker supplies?