We often receive questions about making with young learners. Many of the tools and technology of the maker movement seem to be for middle and high school students. What is there for our youngest makers?
- LittleBits – A growing line of electronic bits that snap together for prototyping and learning about electronics. Here’s a nice case study
- MaKey Makey – Check the website for lots of project ideas
- Bee bots – cute little programable robots
- Dash and Dot – more cute programmable robots. Use the Tickle app to program.
- WeDo – LEGO’s robotics kit for K-2 (but easily goes up in age, especially when paired with Scratch)
- Hummingbird Robotics Kit – this might be upper elementary, but there is no easier way to create robots with moving parts, sensors, and lights than this. Perfect with upcycled and craft materials.
- Scratch or Turtle Art – Never too young for computer science!
- Don’t forget computers, cameras, craft materials, electronics, batteries, tools, junk, etc.
Do you need to spend a lot? No, but when you do have a budget, here are Gary Stager’s recommendations for a $50,000 elementary school maker program. It includes computers, so if you already have them, it’s a bargain at $29,000!
Favorite project ideas for young makers
Combine craft materials, electronics, action, whimsy, and stand back!
- Squishy circuits – Homemade conductive and insulating dough lets kids play with circuits. Check out Super-Awesome Sylvia’s Squishy Circuit Show for some great ideas. Also watch this video by Squishy Circuit dough creator AnnMarie Thomas about how to talk about electronics to young children (even 3 year olds!)
- Paper circuits – The Exploratorium has a good getting started with paper circuits page. With some experimentation, you can use regular LEDs instead of the tiny surface mount LEDs they recommend (they are tiny and hard to manage). If you want a kit, Chibitronics offers circuit sticker kits, plus a lot of videos about techniques for paper circuits.
- Soft circuits (sewing with electronics) – The Exploratorium (again!) has a good getting started page. And Super-Awesome Sylvia makes a cuddly creature with light up eyes in this video.
- Rube Goldberg or chain reaction machines – A video is worth a thousand words
- Marble runs and ramps – Small scale versions. Larger scale versions. Josh Burker’s Marble Machines.
- Scribbling machines – Easy to build robots using scrap materials with pens for legs and a small off-center motor. The vibrating motor causes the robot to dance around and scribble on a large sheet of paper.
- Wind Tubes – Easy to make large upright tubes with a fan at the bottom. Makers can build “stuff that floats” out of recycled materials, put their creations in the tube and watch them fly up to the sky!
Learn from others
Learn from experience! Here are some great blogs by educators about elementary-age maker classrooms, makerspaces, and programs:
- Tales from CREATE (K-5)
- Lewis and Clark Elementary School Makerspace in the Library
- Ravenswood – Making a Makerspace – Follow the online diary of Robert Provenost as he plans and builds a makerspace in a K-8 school. There are follow on posts about building the space and starting classes.
- Kaechele Library Learning Commons (K-5)
- Aaron Vanderwerff at the Lighthouse Community Charter School (K-12). Be sure to look at the project guides for elementary.
- Kevin Jarrett at Northfield Community School documents the work of K-4 students in their STEMlab. (Kevin has moved to the middle school and continues to blog about the STEAM program there.)
- Jim Tiffin Jr. at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (K-4) shares many projects and thoughts about the maker process. Don’t miss his page, Tales Not Yet Told, for a glimpse into current projects that are still unfolding. What a great (and brave) idea!
- Besides the #makered hashtag on Twitter, follow #elemaker.
- You, yes you – sharing is caring! Documenting your own journey is a reflective process that will pay dividends for you in the long run, plus provide valuable insights to others. We are all in this together.
Is it worth it getting a 3D printer for young students? Yes, but…
- Yes – they can do it! Use Tinkercad and you will be amazed at the invention of young makers. They simply don’t know that 3D design is supposed to be hard.
- But… it’s a lot of work (for you) – A 3D printer is fun, but you will be doing a lot of the work! Make sure you want to spend the money (and time) a 3D printer will require.
How do I make this work? Some models to consider
- Classroom Centers – Gary Stager on how to create classroom centers, examples, tips, and benefits.
- The Reggio Emilia Approach represents some of the richest thinking on the establishment of learning environments, the role of the teacher as a researcher charged with uncovering the thinking of learners, and authentic problem solving by children. A good overview of the Reggio Emilia Approach. Recommended books about the Reggio Emilia Approach available on Amazon.com
Making a makerspace?
You don’t need a special space, but if you have one, here’s how to make the most of it. And what makerspace would be complete without an Invent To Learn Think-Make-Improve robot poster!
- Makerspace by Monday by Krissy Venosdale
- Makerspace planning resources by Diana Rendina (This is a middle school, but has a TON of good ideas that would work for younger ages, plus some invaluable decision-making guides.)
- Get these books – Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School by Laura Fleming, and Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft from the Stanford Design School. This book is is full of good ideas for all spaces and budgets for changing surroundings to enhance the ways in which teams and individuals communicate, work, play, and innovate.
- The Invent to Learn Guide to Making in the K-3 Classroom: How, Why, and Wow! – this full color book packed with photos is a practical guide for primary school educators who want to inspire their students to embrace a tinkering mindset so they can invent fantastic contraptions. Veteran teacher Alice Baggett shares her expertise in how to create hands-on learning experiences for young inventors.
- The Invent To Learn Guide to Fun (book) includes lots of ideas for using a variety of maker tools, crafts, and technology. Most projects are perfect for elementary ages, like art bots and MaKey MaKey musical instruments.
- The Invent To Learn shopping list is here. Includes links to books and our workshop handouts.
- The FabLearn Fellows (Stanford) just released a free e-book. There are many examples of elementary projects for makers in the 244 full color pages!
- K12 Makers in education google group. Over 1,000 maker-educators contribute to this group. There have been numerous conversations about making for young children, and if you don’t find the answer you are looking for, just ask!
Last but not least…
Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager offer workshops for elementary making (and makerspace planning, littleBits, Hummingbird, MaKey MaKey, Reggio+making, and more). Plus, if you haven’t read Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, there are a lot of practical ideas about getting started with making in education.