Many adults have fond memories of tinkering with random items and making something from them. Perhaps you remember making a ramp for your toy cars, or building a playhouse out of a cardboard box, or building a fort with old blankets and sticks. Often times these projects would take days to build as you encountered problems with the design and had to start over, or perhaps you needed to gather more materials as your idea emerged. A Buzz Word is going around the early childhood education community that is fashioned out of similar experiences for young children, the Makerspace.
What exactly is a Makerspace?
In the early childhood classroom, children are provided materials with which to work together to solve a problem. The concept requires that children cooperate, use creative thinking related to the use and manipulation of the materials. NAEYC describes two levels of making; “Tinkering” is playful exportation and curiosity in finding out how things work. Here you might see children taking things apart. I remember my son’s preschool teacher telling me about how he was more interested in the mechanics of the stapler than the actual project and how she allowed this exploration, which ended up in a stapler in many pieces. Tinkering is the beginning of engineering, which starts with a problem to solve. For example in the book Brown Bear Brown Bear, how could we get over the river?
The child’s role: NAEYC breaks it down into three simple steps
- Tinkering: “Using the stuff”
- Making: “Using stuff to make stuff” that sometimes does stuff, but sometimes is just cool.
- Engineering: “Using stuff to make stuff that does stuff.”
The teacher’s role:
Provide a variety of materials
- Helping children to problem solve by encouraging thinking through open-ended questions
- Give the children plenty of time to design, build, and test their products
- Help children to fix mistakes, do not take over this role, as children will make new discoveries on their own and use trial and error along the way.
- Safety Note: The teacher’s role involves teaching children how to safely use the “real tools” and to monitor them when in use. Teachers will need to establish rules for how to use the tools and to help the children to see and manage risks.
What kinds of materials can be found in a makerspace?
According to Cate Heroman, author of Making and Tinkering With STEM, your makerspace doesn’t have to include all of the items listed here and it is recommended that you adjust materials based on the children in your group. Classrooms can start small around a central problem and add as they go.
- Child safety goggles, low-temperature glue guns, measuring tapes, rulers, scissors, funnels, child size hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.
- For building: popsicle sticks, straws, paper plates and cups, corks, wood scraps, pipe cleaners
- For Connecting: A variety of tapes such as masking, duct, and cellophane, staplers, glue sticks, beads, string, clothespins, rubber bands, paperclips and binder clips
- Sculpting: modeling clay, play dough, and tools such as rolling pins, plastic knives
- Mixing tools: plastic bowls, spoons, pitchers, and ingredients for science exploration such as corn starch, and vinegar
- Fabrics and decoration: pom-poms, feathers, buttons, fabric scraps, felt,
- Writing materials: markers, pencils, pens, crayons
- Electronics and technology: batteries (keep in a battery holder) flashlights, beginning circuitry kits ( These items would be for the more advanced engineers)
Where does the Makerspace fit in my classroom?
The items found in a Makerspace are similar to items found in the Art Center. These areas could be set up adjacent to one another to make use of common materials easier to access.
Ideally, makerspaces should be organized in a way that children can easily see all the materials they have available. Recycled clear plastic jars or drawer organizer trays work well. If children can see all that is available, they can consider which items will work best for a particular task.
To find out more on the concept of makerspaces for early learners, check out Making and Tinkering with STEM at the NAEYC bookstore. This publication is full design challenges appropriate for children 3-8 years, and here is an example of Maker Stations in another early childhood setting.
Do you have a makerspace in your early childhood setting? How did you get started? comment below
LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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