5 Great Online Resources for Maker Kids

The maker movement depends a lot on makers’ generosity with their ideas and skills, and the internet puts much of those shared resources right at our fingertips. These ideas can be the spark that ignites new ideas and innovative risks, inspiring kids to create. Here are five sites that will inspire kids with project ideas and teach them some of the basic skills that they can build upon.

1. Make: magazine

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  • Make: magazine brought the whole maker movement into the mainstream, and remains the major player. Magazine subscriptions are available in digital formats and print, but the website includes lots of free resources as well.
  • The site caters to all ages of makers, mostly in the world of electronics.

2. Instructables

  • Instructables features user-submitted instructions for all kinds of projects classified into categories including technology, workshop, craft, home, food, play, outside and costumes. Upgrading to premium gets you access to all new online classes and one-on-one help from instructors. Subscriptions start at $2.95/month billed annually. Students and teachers can apply for free premium accounts.
  • Many of the projects and how-tos are geared toward adults, but kids could help with some of the projects (and certainly enjoy using the creations — like light sabers made from plumbing materials or a quill-dipping pen). The education channel has several kid- and classroom-friendly projects.

3. DIY

  • DIY.org offers free video instruction and project challenges for kids to complete. Makers can then share their creations and earn badges for different skills. DIY Co. has also launched JAM, where kids, guided by mentors, can take online courses in subjects including building, drawing, cooking, hosting a Minecraft video show and more for a monthly fee.
  • Skills covered go well beyond the techie or crafty focus of many maker sites. Kids can explore sports like archery and gymnastics; traditional skills like knot-making and leather-working; nature appreciation like ornithology and oceanography; and totally modern tech skills like Minecrafting and meme hacking. Most projects will appeal to tweens and teens.

4. PBS Design Squad Global

  • This PBS Kids site includes full episodes of the reality show that has kids completing engineering challenges. Kids can also watch shorter videos highlighting different projects, play games and find how-to instructions. Possibly the coolest feature is the “What can you make?” spinner. Kids select three items they have on hand, spin the wheel, and get suggested projects they can complete using those items.
  • These projects are mostly geared to tweens and teens but are ranked as easy, medium or hard so parents may find some projects that they can do with younger kids. 

5. Maker Camp

  • Free online camps are sponsored by Maker Media. Themes for previous summers include Funkytown (music and instruments), Farmstead (sustainable energy, food, etc.), and Fun and Games (DIY games). Themes for 2017 will be announced in June.
  • Community organizers can also use the resources to host a neighborhood making camp.

Bonus!: Check out these TED Talks to understand more about the making and tinkering movements.

Gever Tully: Life Lessons in Tinkering

  • Gever Tully, the founder of the Tinkering School, highlights what kids are capable of if given access to the tools and the freedom to experiment to bring their ideas to life.
  • This four-minute Ted Talk will inspire kids and parents both.

Dale Dougherty: We Are the Makers

  • In this 12-minute Ted Talk, Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make: magazine, showcases some of the amazing innovations that have sprung from the minds of makers.
  • This talk highlights creations made by adults mostly, but there’s a message for parents about the next generation of makers there, too.

 

Baby on the Way? Here’s How to Prep Your Older Kid for This Major Game Changer

The author's sweet girls.

The author’s sweet girls.

When my older daughter was 3 and we were expecting her new sibling soon, she went with us on a tour of the new hospital wing where I’d deliver. A few nights later, I heard her footsteps in the front hallway in the wee hours. After rolling myself out of the bed, I found her, half-asleep, at the locked door that leads to the garage, trying to get out. “I thought you left to have the baby, and I was here by myself,” she cried. “And the cats can’t take care of me.” I was simultaneously amused and heartbroken, realizing her anxiety. While we thought were were preparing her for life with a baby at home, we hadn’t made clear to her how she’d be taken care of while her dad and I were away.

While becoming a parent for the first time is full of preparations — from childbirth classes to baby registries, subsequent babies don’t usually require as much preparation for the parents-to-be. But for the older kids, this is going to be someone’s first time as a big sibling. In Siblings without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish put the experience in relatable terms for parents. Imagine, they say, that your spouse tells you that they love you so much that they’re going to get another spouse, too, a younger one at that! That news might not be well-received, and the adjustment might present some challenges, as well. Here are some tips that may help ease the adjustment for older siblings.

Seven ways to get your older kid ready for a new baby

  • 1. Prepare them for what to expect, both with a new baby and with the birth. We thought we’d prepared Caroline, taking her on the hospital tour. We left out the most important part for her, though — who would take care of HER! I put her on the phone with my sister, who assured her that she’d be with her when mommy was at the hospital. Many hospitals have big sibling classes to get kids prepared. At her big sibling class, my niece learned that babies can choke on small objects. With pride, she checked her toys and items around the house to make sure they couldn’t fit through a toilet paper tube.
  • 2. Take care of any major changes well before the baby comes. Do any room or bed shuffling well before the baby arrives to give kids time to adjust and to avoid any feelings of displacement. Also, you may want to wean (if you choose, read Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hillary Flowers for more information) and take care of toilet training a few months in advance, though it’s totally normal for kids to experience regressions.
  • 3. Read to them about being a sibling. The experiences of characters can help kids process and articulate their own feelings. Here are some suggestions for read-alouds to share with kids as they prepare for a new sibling. They’ll also love seeing pictures and hearing stories of what your life was like when you were expecting them and when they were a baby. If you don’t have a baby book that you want in their hands, you could make a custom photo book online. I made one for my older daughter showing her being held as a baby by all of the people I knew would be coming to visit once the baby was born.
  • 4. Involve them in decision-making and preparations.
    Many families include older siblings in name selection. Stancey Curry’s older son suggested naming his new brother after the bull rider, Ty Murray. They incorporated his suggestion, naming the baby Jefferson Tyler — and calling him Ty. Siblings can also help pick baby’s first outfit — or decorate onesies with fabric markers or iron-ons for the baby to wear, like Laura Nattinger’s older kids did for her fourth baby.
  • 5. Give them their own “big kid” space.
    Since preschoolers and older kids are likely to have toys that do not pass that toilet-paper-roll-choking-hazard test, give them a safe place to play with those toys that younger siblings can’t get to. I redid my daughter’s closet to become her craft station so her little sister, once toddling, wouldn’t destroy her works of art. Some parents create a nap-time bin for toys with smaller pieces that only comes out when the baby is sleeping.
  • 6. Fit the baby into your routine. In Loving Each One Best, Nancy Samalin and Catherine Whitney recommend making a point to show your older child that you value their time and attention. If reading to an older child and the baby starts crying, they advise asking the older sibling what they think you should do. Take turns with your co-parent, if possible, so that you can fully focus on the older sibling or siblings sometimes, without baby disruptions. Also, slings and baby carriers are a great tool for tag-along younger siblings. I remember helping my 3-year-old with a craft at library story-time while her weeks-old sister slept against my chest in the sling. It was one of those (often-fleeting) “I can do this!” new mom feelings.
“It was the most brutally difficult time of my life," says Christian Drake of Austin, Texas. "One day my 3-year-old threw his plate at the wall and said, ‘I’m just not happy with my life anymore!”

“It was the most brutally difficult time of my life,” says Christian Drake of Austin, Texas. “One day my 3-year-old threw his plate at the wall and said, ‘I’m just not happy with my life anymore!”

  • 7. Validate siblings’ troubling feelings when necessary.
    Every moment won’t be easy for the new sibling, even with preparation. Acknowledge that. Faber suggests pointing out the temporary downside of your new family member, if necessary. Tell the older sibling, “Babies need lots of time and attention. That can be so annoying when you want to go places or do things that you can’t now because of the baby. Grrr! But the good thing is that babies grow fast, and soon you’ll have a new lifelong brother or sister of your very own. How good is that!”

Be gentle with yourself, too, in the transition. You’ll have rough days, and you’ll have OK days. Just remember that old parenting adage to keep it in perspective: The days are long, but the years are short.

Learn about Siblings Day from the Siblings Day Foundation.

 

6 Books to Help Kids Get Ready for a New Baby

Here are six suggested books to read with your older kid to get ready for a new baby.

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siblings_books_pizza

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Learn about Siblings Day from the Siblings Day Foundation.

 

Maker Play: Kids Can Create with Anything

Give a kid a cardboard box, and you see imagination explode. That box can become a bed, a rocket ship, a house, a train station. Or it can be altered into Minecraft creatures, robot arms or whatever else little minds can imagine. So, inspired by cardboard boxes, we like to find random things around the house and just spend some time playing. That may start with “What can we make with this stuff?” or get more advanced with a specific challenge. “Let’s use these items (and nothing else) to make the tallest tower we can.”

The idea is to use what we have on hand, but since we play this way fairly often, I stock some of the items in the supplies list to encourage creativity.

Setup is minimal, too. Dump the items for the challenge onto a table or floor, deliver the challenge and start creating. Sometimes we set a time limit to increase the challenge — giving a couple of minutes to complete the task. Sometimes we build slowly and take time to pay more attention to details. Sometimes we work collaboratively, all building the same solution, and sometimes we compete, either racing to see who finishes first or whose structure is highest or holds the most.

We like to mix up the fun, too, especially seasonally. In the winter, I often have marshmallows or maybe even gum drops on hand, and we can those in a play challenge to stick toothpicks or uncooked spaghetti together to build a structure.

What You’ll Need

Everything is optional!

  • aluminum foil
  • balloons
  • chenille sticks (pipe cleaners)
  • craft sticks
  • drinking straws
  • paper clips
  • paper cups
  • rubber bands
  • toothpicks

Start simple

creative_maker_3A great starting challenge that doesn’t require much prep or equipment is “Using only 10 sheets of paper, build the tallest tower you can.” The great thing about this challenge (and most of these!) is that there’s no one “right” way to do it. You can do this with your kids once and see what they create, and then try it again a few months later and see how their experiences and problem-solving skills have changed.

Mix it up

Increase the challenge by limiting time or resources. Give kids the same tower-building challenge, but have them build the tower in two minutes or less. Or have them build it with only three sheets of paper.

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Add complexity

Give kids specific supplies and a mission. Challenge them to create a system to move a ping-pong ball from one side of a room to another using a paper cup, two paper clips, and a straw without ever touching the ball or the cup. Get creative with making up challenges, and then let kids make them up, too.

In addition to being fun, this kind of play helps kids develop problem-solving skills and practice creativity as well as how to work together.

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Errands with Kids? This Will Help You Keep Your Cool

You’ve decided to brave the holiday shopping crowds — with the kids in tow. How can you avoid meltdowns and make shopping an adventure for kids? Here are three tips for shopping with kids this holiday season.

  • 1Let them look fabulous. If your little superhero, firefighter or cowgirl doesn’t want to change into boring people clothes to go shopping, don’t fight that battle. Target doesn’t have a dress code.
  • 2. Let them help. On your shopping trips, get kids involved. Older kids can venture a bit ahead with a mission to get a specific item. Cart riders can help, too, putting produce into bags. Let kids choose items for their snacks or lunches, too, empowering them and making the experience something they look forward to.
  • 3. Choose fun restaurants. You don’t have to limit yourself to restaurants with playscapes. Weather permitting, choose a restaurant with patio seating, and kids can have a little more wiggle room. Live music can provide a fun atmosphere where kid voices blend right in. Kids will enjoy the show, dancing along or just watching, and may even find inspiration for future play.

 

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3 Fun, Free Ways to Play This Weekend

Play is totally portable and doesn’t have to require any perfectly planned Pinterest activities for kids to have fun and get the great benefits play provides. Try these three easy, free ways to play this weekend. It’ll be fun for everyone!

  • 1. Build something. Pull out the wooden blocks or LEGOs and build together. But you don’t even need to have these classic toys on hand. Have craft sticks and a glue gun? A deck of cards? Cardboard boxes and some paint? You’re good to go! Kids can develop spatial reasoning skills while planning and building, plus they’ll become great creative problem solvers.
  • 2. Bring in some other kids. Invite another family or two over for a casual potluck. Visit with the adults while the kids play on their own. They’ll entertain themselves, creating their own fun and memories, while developing social skills, problem-solving skills and resilience through social play. Friends don’t have kids the same ages as yours? Even better! Younger kids will get a kick out of playing with older kids, and older kids can develop leadership abilities.
  • 3. Cook together. Using only the supplies on hand, see what the kids come up with — without a recipe. Parents can help out however the kids prefer — as apprentice chefs, as tasters, even as the cleanup crew!

What’s your favorite free way to play? Let us know in the comments.

The Creativity Issue: Meet Five Creative, Inspiring Kids

We know kids are creative. For some kids, talent and opportunity collide to give them unique chances to share their creativity with the world. Toca Magazine talked to five creative kids to find out more about their lives and their creativity. While each is as unique as their creative outlet, they did have a few things in common.

  • They’re creative in multiple domains. Though each has one focus that has brought them into the public eye, they have varied interests and passions and continue to develop them all.
  • Age doesn’t matter. “I find that people with the same interests have a lot to talk about regardless of the age difference,” 14-year-old college student Isabella Rose Taylor said. A 16-year-old business owner agrees: “My parents and I have learned that age disappears when people who are passionate about technology talk with each other,” Thomas Suarez said.
  • They’re kids. Even with schedules filled with running creative businesses or creative endeavors, they ride bikes, play with siblings and hang out with friends.

isabella_art_creativityIsabella Rose Taylor, 14
Fashion Designer and Artist

Isabella Rose Taylor is an all-around creative kid. She’s an artist, a writer, a member of Mensa — and a college student. While she’s based in Austin, her work and studies take her coast to coast on a regular basis. Her fashion line is sold online and at Nordstrom’s.

What’s a typical day for you?
My schedule is very busy and I am continually tweaking it to make sure it is manageable. It is a balancing act to juggle school, designing clothes for my clothing line, having time to paint/sketch, and hanging out with friends. I think my life is like any other 14-year-old kid. I have school, and then there is what I do after school (design clothes, paint). Many of my friends have after-school activities and are very busy.

Learn as much as you can. Ask for help. Seek out mentors.

What’s college life like, being younger than the typical student?

isabella_creativity I spend time with my friends who are really good at what they love to do. We do the typical things most teenage girls do — we go to the movies, go shopping, listen to music or just plain hang out and talk.

What advice do you have for creative kids?
Learn as much as you can. Ask for help. Seek out mentors. You will be surprised at how many people want to help you!

thomas_creativityThomas Suarez, 16
App Developer

Thomas Suarez has nine years of programming experience — and he’s only 16. He taught himself to code when he was 7 and is now chief engineer of his own technology company, CarrotCorp, that makes apps and 3-D printing software. His TEDtalk about kids teaching kids to program is one of the most-viewed TEDtalks in history.

What’s a typical day for you?
While I’m not an early bird (I usually work late at night), I wake up at 6:30 a.m. to go to school. While eating breakfast, I review Twitter and The Verge for tech news. I start school at 8:00 a.m., and finish at 3:00 p.m. When I arrive home, I work on my current software and hardware projects, play guitar and go biking with friends. After dinner, I do my homework and continue working on projects. Periodically throughout the day, I check tech news and open-­source projects. Sometimes I like to jump on Skype or Google Hangouts with my friends and play games.

Are you creative in other ways beyond inventing/designing apps and technology?
I enjoy playing guitar, making videos and short movies with my friends, photography and sometimes find new ways of taking and presenting pictures I’ve taken. I also enjoy writing, doing special effects and videoing technology reviews for the Tribeca Film Festival. When I have spare time, I sometimes do contract work for a local video company where I take raw footage, edit it, create necessary special effects, find, purchase and incorporate appropriate music into the video. It’s fun to create a short video from hours of raw footage and know the work is appreciated!

My parents have created a home environment that allows both my brothers and me to pursue our interests.

How have your parents nurtured and encouraged your creativity?
My parents have created a home environment that allows both my brothers and me to pursue our interests. For me it’s technology. For my younger brother, it’s military history, painting lead soldiers representing different time periods and battles, and for my youngest brother it’s sports. When I was younger, my parents would try to find events that I might be interested in. As I became older and able to find the technology events, activities and hardware, etc. which fascinated me, my parents would help me go to the events and work on the activities. My parents have never pushed me into technology events or to participate in activities which did not interest me. When offered money to appear on a TV show or in a commercial, or to give a speech, if I didn’t want to participate, my parents always supported my decision. I believe this has helped keep me focused in technology.

What advice do you have for younger kids who have a passion for creating?
Find your passion, pursue it and don’t listen to people who give you negative feedback that isn’t constructive. Find like­-minded, positive thinking friends or peers and collaborate. There are excellent places for young makers to learn and thrive, such as Adafruit and Github. Keep in mind that failure is just success in a different context. If you have passion and curiosity and believe in your project, you will succeed!

laila_creativityLaila Abumahfouz, 8
Artist

Elementary student Laila Abumahfouz’s visual art and photography has been recognized at the national level, winning an Award of Excellence from the National PTA. She traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive recognition.

How are you creative?
I’m creative in art because every time I’m about to start drawing I first imagine what it would look like and how it is related to the theme I choose.

What inspires you?
A lot of things inspire me: the sunshine, rainbows with bright colors and reading. Reading inspires me because when I am starting to read, I imagine that I am in the story, and that makes me have a wider imagination.

laila_art_creativityHow have your parents supported your creativity?
My mom loves art. She spends a lot of time with me teaching me how to use the colors and sometimes takes me outside to enjoy the beauty of nature that is full of bright colors, butterflies, birds, flowers, trees and more. She comes to my school to encourage people to draw and paint.

A lot of things inspire me: the sunshine, rainbows with bright colors and reading.

What’s a typical day for you?
On weekends, I like to wake up earlier than my parents and two sisters. I fix my bed and start reading books while my cat is sitting next to me. After having breakfast with my family, we go driving around the neighborhood, or sometimes we go downtown where we like to walk. After going back home, I check my homework and I get ready for the next day. In the evening, I like to draw what inspired me that day.

cory_creativityCory Nieves, 11
CEO of Mr. Cory’s Cookies
http://www.mrcoryscookies.com/

It all started in 2009 when, tired of taking the bus, Cory Nieves decided to buy his mother a car. The fact that he was only 5? Didn’t faze him. He decided he would sell hot cocoa to raise the money. He had a hit on his hands, and his mom encouraged him to keep selling to save for college. Soon he expanded to lemonade and cookies — all natural cookies made with high-quality ingredients. Today he and his mother, Lisa Howard, run Mr. Cory’s Cookies. Cory has also competed on MasterChef Jr. and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View and more!

What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up and thank God for the day, watch Good Day New York and check my business reports. I go to school, then work on business stuff.

Dream six impossible things before you wake up.

Besides your creativity in the kitchen and in running your business, how else are you creative?
I like to draw, play violin and golf, participate in tae kwon do and read business books. It helps with my creativeness.

What advice do you have for other creative kids who have a big idea?
Never give up on your idea! Dream six impossible things before you wake up. Cherish your ideas.

Jerimya Reyes Corpus, 11
YouTube Filmmaker

Jerimya “Mya” Reyes Corpus created her first YouTube video, a how-to for making homemade playdough, when she was 8 years old. After positive comments, she went on to create more instructional videos, including a how-to-beat-box video that went viral. Her videos caught the eye of PBS Parents, which now sponsors her channel, FullTimeKid.

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Where do you get your ideas for your shows?
Since we don’t have cable TV at our house, I spend a good amount of time online. Whenever I come across something interesting, I ask my parents if we can make a video about it. Also, some fans have cool video requests that I keep in mind.

What’s a typical day for you?
I live a pretty normal life. On weekdays, I wake up and go to school. After school, I do homework and go to any practices I might have (volleyball, basketball, dance). When I’m home, I’m usually helping my parents take care of my four younger siblings. On my free time, I’m usually watching YouTube or playing online computer games with my friends like Minecraft (we have our own server!) and Roblox. On non-school days is when I try to make videos. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to make them because I’m usually going out to a social function like family parties on weekends and holidays.

Since I was little, my parents have always encouraged me to be a producer and not just a consumer.

How are you creative?
Since I was little, my parents have always encouraged me to be a producer and not just a consumer. So I like to write poems, make up songs that I sing to my little brothers and sisters, create dance moves, try out new recipes, follow crafting tutorials and things like that. Thanks to the Internet, I can share some of these experiences online to a worldwide audience. When I get positive feedback from viewers, it inspires me to continue trying out new and interesting things.

The Creativity Issue: 4 Essential Tips for Raising Creative Thinkers

Are kids born creative? Cognitive psychologist Dr. Mark Runco believes both nature and nurture play a role in creativity. “There is a genetic basis to creativity, but that just influences the range of potentials we each inherent. Each of us has the potential to be creative,” he said. “Nurture, families, education, culture, the media all have an enormous impact.” That impact, though, can hinder creativity or foster it.

These four tips can help you nurture your kids’ creativity.

  • 1. Let kids think for themselves.
 Want more creative kids? Have fewer rules. Authoritarian environments that don’t allow kids to think for themselves or ask questions are a creativity killer. Creativity is supported by environments that are flexible and allow autonomy, along with providing resources and respect, Runco said. Parents can help kids develop creatively by allowing them to make decisions for themselves and contribute their ideas to the family. They’ll develop problem-solving skills and resilience — learning from their mistakes. If given the freedom to choose creative outlets that match their passions, kids will be more motivated to invest the time necessary to really develop their talents than if the activity is chosen (and practice is pushed and directed) by a parent.

Want more creative kids? Have fewer rules.

  • 2. Give kids open-ended problems.
 Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson has been vocal about his criticism of the traditional school model, going so far as to say schools are killing creativity. Robinson, author of Creative Schools, believes that the factory model of schooling’s one-size-fits-all mentality that standardizes curriculum and testing is also standardizing our kids and stifling their creativity.

Educational psychologist Dr. Joe Renzulli agrees. “Though tests do play a necessary role in our education system, solely emphasizing a one-right-answer environment is a creativity killer,” said Renzulli, who is a professor at the University of Connecticut and an expert in gifted education. There has to be a balance. Kids need the chance to work with problems that don’t have one right answer. They need to explore ideas that may not have a right answer at all. Parents can encourage this kind of open-ended thinking by providing kids with open-ended toys. “Instead of giving kids a puzzle or toy that can only be played one way, give them things where there’s no right answer or existing solution. We want them to play with ideas.”

Renzulli suggests having them  design a game for their kitten to play, for example. There’s not one right way to do it. They can use anything they want — tin cans or plastic bottles or cardboard boxes. And kids can choose their mode of expression — maybe they will draw the cat’s toy rather than build it. Parents can adapt this idea countless ways to promote creativity.

Solely emphasizing a one-right-answer environment is a creativity killer.

  • 3. Encourage exploration of ideas and activities. Parents can encourage kids to try different activities — even if they aren’t good at them yet — to challenge themselves and possibly find new creative outlets. In the same vein, parents can support kids with an intense interest in further developing a focused creative talent by providing the resources for them to continue to grow.

It’s important for parents to rein in any inclination within themselves to get pushy. Studies show that intrinsic motivation fosters creativity, but extrinsic motivation hinders it. With external influences involved, kids may move into seeking that “right answer” rather than being truly creative.

  • 4. Encourage divergent thinking.
 Less is more, really, when it comes to raising creative kids. While there are many ways to be creative, divergent thinking encourages creativity and is great for kids regardless of their creative domain of choice. Parents can help kids develop creativity with some simple, on-the-go, no-supplies-necessary activities to promote divergent thinking.
    • Have them brainstorm all of the possible uses for a specific item, like an umbrella or a paper clip. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer!
    • Play the “what if” game. Discuss what would happen in some outlandish scenario. What if cats could bark? Or what if it always rained on Saturday?
    • Examine stories and situations from multiple perspectives. Read a picture book together and then talk about how a different character would have told the story.

The Creativity Issue: Why Just Consume When You Can Create?

Kids today have easy access to some pretty amazing creation tools. Used correctly, technology can move kids from being consumers to creators — and the power is right at their fingertips.

Many schools are working to get technology — iPads or other tablets, Chromebooks or other laptops — into all students’ hands through what’s called a 1:1 initiative, one device for every one student. Teachers and kids working with this kind of perpetual access are empowered to become creators every day.

Jenni Rhea’s third-graders in Austin, Texas, are more engaged in the creative process because they can control their own learning. “Having 1:1 access allows them to be in the driver’s seat,” she said. “They can pursue their passions, find answers to their questions, and share their learning with the world in a variety of ways.” The technology isn’t the inspiration. It’s a tool that allows them to express themselves creatively, she said.

When kids have easy access to technology and are empowered to take risks and explore different ways to use the technology, they become makers. A generation ago, kids could dream of publishing a book or creating a polished and edited movie, but very few had the resources to actually do it. Now, every kid with a tablet filled with the right apps can produce creative works that rival professional-level productions. Ruth Cook, an elementary school librarian in Austin, knows creativity in kids is nothing new, but technology can help them realize their ideas and bring them to life. “Digital tools elevate the creative juices to a newer level,” she said.

Just what can kids make with digital technology?

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They can make books.

Book creation apps make publishing easy for kids. They can add images and customize features in their books. They can even add audio to create audiobooks. Kids can use other apps to create graphics or other custom features for their books — a technique called app smashing, which is when several apps are used in conjunction. Some apps, like Book Creator, allow kids to make their books available through iBooks or Google Play Books. Others let kids share books through social media. Tobie Rountree, a second-grade teacher in Austin, had her students make iBooks about holiday traditions. “They blew me away with what they produced,” she said. “But more importantly, they were so proud of the books they created and were able to share with their classmates and families. Each book is completely personalized and creative.”

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They can make tools.

With 3-D printers and design apps or websites, kids can make almost anything. August Deshais teaches kindergarten in Eureka, California, where he and his students have a 3-D printer in their classroom. They use it and programs like Tinkercad to create things they need in the classroom — like a recent project in which they made accessories for their playdough center. The kids made their own sphere, dull knife and rolling pin. “These are each rather unremarkable objects and readily available at the store, but in our classroom they are remarkable for the very reason that they didn’t come from a store,” Deshais said.

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They can make movies.

Give kids a few minutes to explore iMovie, and they can create impressive movies, edited and blockbuster-worthy. The app is easy to use, and the templates allow kids to see fast results. Then kids can spend a little more time customizing to fully show off their creativity. Technology Specialist Cara Shipp describes it as a tool that doesn’t require much teacher assistance. “Having an easy-to-use piece of technology like the iPad really made a difference (in kids’ creative productions).”

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They can make games.

Coding is the brain of the technology that makes these creative tools possible, and it can also be a tool that kids can use to create. Some coding apps and websites teach kids the logic of programming, while others allow them to program (and play) their own games. Scratch is a classroom favorite that kids love creating with at home, too. Erin Zaich, a teacher at AltSchool in San Francisco, appreciates that Scratch is accessible to all levels of students. “Students can push the bounds of the program while others can learn the basics,” she said. “Scratch allows students to learn the fundamentals of coding in a way that is accessible and engaging.” And it’s free!

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They can make art.

Digital tools take art to a totally new level. Celia Zamadics teaches art in Austin and uses iPads in addition to teaching traditional techniques. Students combine graphic arts with photography, sketching, painting and modeling. “I love to show them different art apps,” she said. “And eventually we can combine different apps to create a work of art.”

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They can make mistakes.

Zamadics has a quote from Esther Dyson hanging in her art room: “Always make new mistakes.” Technology, she said, makes mistakes easier to deal with, so kids are encouraged to take risks. “Our test-centric educational system has created children who are afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “Sadly, when you are afraid to make a mistake, you shy away from creativity. With technology, mistakes can be undone with a tap or swipe. “The fear factor is somewhat removed,” she said, so kids are empowered to make mistakes and take the risks that lead to creativity.

Technology is powerful, and so is creativity. Put them together, and kids can soar. Give them the tools and freedom to find inspiration and direct their own learning. “You’ll be amazed at what they are able to do,” said Rhea.

The Creativity Issue: High-Tech Maker Space Offers Hands-On Learning to Kids as Young as 3

Jan Morrison faced a challenge. As CEO of the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM (TIES), she created programs to bring science, technology and engineering into elementary schools. But the tech community longed for programs to expose even younger kids to coding and other STEM activities, she said. At the same time, the maker community worried that early exposure to screens would come at the expense of more hands-on experiences. “The digital world wanted kids coding in front of screens,” Morrison said. “The maker world didn’t want them on screens, but wanted them tinkering. How can both happen?”

fab_labShe found the answer — in the form of a question — in the “dream team” of thinkers she assembled: “What if we created an early childhood Fab Lab that allowed for tinkering and making and coding?” So that team — with minds from FableVision, Virginia Tech, the Fab Foundation and the National Science Foundation — got to work.

Now, the Bay Area Discovery Museum is set to show kids and their parents how kids can use technology to be creators and not just consumers. Its new Fab Lab empowers kids to use technology beyond the touchscreen in their new high-tech maker space — the first of its kind designed for young kids, ages 3 to 10. According to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Fab Labs (fabrication laboratories) are high-tech maker spaces — with machines like 3-D printers and laser cutters — that build STEM skills through hands-on learning.

Hands-on experience with high-tech tools

The Bay Area Discovery Museum is the logical location for such an endeavor. It houses the Center for Childhood Creativity, a research and advisory division, and has a 25-year history as an innovator in children’s learning rooted in the constructivist theories of Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget: the belief that children can direct their own learning and that adults and teachers are merely guides in the process.

Kids today are digital natives — as consumers. They learn how to use screens by observing those around them, but they need to get hands-on with the behind-the-screen technology to understand how it works and how to make it themselves. Eighty-five percent of kids’ neural pathways are built by the time they are 5, according to Elizabeth Rood, vice president of education strategy at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and director of research at the Center for Childhood Creativity. “We have to lead the conversation about how technology can be used to help kids learn,” Rood said.

We have to elevate creativity as a fundamental skill for every kid, whether they become engineers or artists, doctors or inventors.

The Fab Lab is designed specifically for the preschool mindset. Preschoolers want to know “why?” They want to play. This hands-on experience lets them figure out the why and how while they play. Kids and parents have access to 3-D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines and design software on tablets. They can explore these tools, experiment with them and figure out how they work.

“We have to elevate creativity as a fundamental skill for every kid, whether they become engineers or artists, doctors or inventors,” Rood said.

Parents and kids explore together

Unlike other areas of the museum, where kids tend to play on their own, the Fab Lab engages both parents and kids to explore together. “The best learning happens when kids are engaged with other people. We know that kids learn best not when they are alone but when they are with other children or their parents,” Rood said.

The museum has its manifesto posted throughout the facility to remind parents to let kids explore and to encourage the discovery process of learning. In the Fab Lab, that’s even more important. “Parents enter this space as learners, too,” Rood said. They aren’t usually familiar with the tools themselves, so they have to figure out how to use them alongside their kids. The Fab Lab offers kids and parents experiential learning. “We’re asking kids to identify a problem, make a plan, refine that plan,” Rood said. “It requires a tolerance for risk. It requires good questions and problem solving.” The process, not the product, is what’s important, and the manifesto reminds parents of that.

“Parents need to grow in their capacity to let kids struggle and grow and not interfere or rush them,” Rood advised. “Try something, fix what didn’t work and try again. Don’t just step in and do it for the kid. Don’t have them erase and start over. See what happens.”


EARLY CHILDHOOD FAB LAB MANIFESTO

WE BELIEVE in children’s creative power as designers who imagine, test and refine solutions to improve the world.

WE BELIEVE that the best learning is shared — between children, with adults and with the world.

WE BELIEVE that hands-on experiences build lifelong curiosity, persistence and deep understanding.

WE BELIEVE that all children deserve quality science, technology, engineering and math experiences that empower them as thinkers and problem-solvers.


Visit Fab Foundation to find a Fab Lab near you.