Maker Space for children in libraries and schools

Demand for maker space centers in libraries and schools is growing like a rapidly expanding cloud of steam bursting from a teakettle. That’s because hands-on learning for children is heating up after years of shop and art experiences being eliminated or downscaled in schools.

Maker space is a movement that encourages creativity and critical thinking through tinkering with materials and equipment ranging from simple to digitally complex. In fact, some maker spaces in libraries and schools are now being referred to as STEAM labs — flexible areas for fun projects involving science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Adding STEAM to Learning

At Arizona State University, teams of middle and high school students build STEAM machines, such as Rube Goldberg chain reaction contraptions that complete simple tasks — think of finding silly ways to screw in a light bulb — and result in hilarity. Along the way, students learn the creative interplay of art and the sciences.

In Toronto, the MakerKids organization provides children with a studio space including a “Possibility Wall” full of bins from which they can choose materials ranging from crayons and glitter to motors and power drills for creating anything they can imagine.

As Toronto’s The Globe and Mail reports, MakerKids is “remaking the way children learn and play.” MakerKids offers classes on inventing that range from creating software for digital games to toy hacking — redesigning playthings to give them new purposes. For example, one 7-year-old girl converted her stuffed bear into a remote-controlled teddy.

Following in the footsteps of Alberta’s Edmondton Public Library and Ontario’s Windsor Public Library, which already have maker spaces, the Ottawa Public Library is preparing to create a similar project called Imagine Space for all ages in spring 2014. The Ottawa program is a joint project with the U.S. Embassy, which is providing funding for equipment. The Globe and Mail quotes Ottawa Public Library CEO Danielle McDonald as saying that children are tired of traditional sit-and-listen science education. “They want to create,” McDonald says.

Creating at the Library

Meanwhile, as Canadian libraries become increasingly interested in offering maker space programming, they’re looking at innovative ways to provide it. For example, the London, Ontario, Public Library is getting rolling with DHMakerBus, a mobile maker space housed in an old school bus and staffed by Western University students.

Maker Mobile is a similar project that first took to the streets at the Vancouver Childrens’ Festival in May 2013. Its projects for kids include pop bottle racers, LED wristbands that teach about simple circuitry and banana pianos.

For the use of librarians and educators worldwide, the American Library Association in October 2013 launched its Make It @ Your Library website in conjunction with, a company well known not only for its clear “how to” projects but also its sense of humor — such as in its How to Ship a Tiger to Canada project. Users worldwide can access a library of ideas, both simple and complex, for maker space projects.

The Make It @ Your Library archive includes art projects, such as constructing a bowl from leaves and glue, as well as technological activities, including conversion of a smartphone into a film scanner and making laser-cut rocket models. Users can access the archived projects based on information such as project costs, age range and necessary tools.

Designing and Outfitting a Maker Space

Brainstorming with staff is one of the first steps to take when designing a library or school maker space. Edutopia notes that designing a maker space or STEAM lab that will accommodate a broad range of activities “is a challenging process.”

Edutopia says the process begins by having staff members ask themselves questions such as:

  •     What subjects and kinds of projects must the space accommodate?
  •     What tools are most necessary?
  •     Who will use and manage the space?
  •     What times of day will the space be used, and
  •     Where is the best location in the facility for a maker space?

Another good question concerns what kind of tablesshelvingbookcases and mobile storage will be necessary to make the maker space as adaptable as possible.

However, there is no question that libraries and schools need to get started planning for more hands-on learning opportunities. Demand is increasing, and you might say that the maker space movement is cooking. It’s definitely making learning more delicious for children.