By Kristina Holzweiss, School Library Journal Librarian of the Year, 2015
In my next life I will come back as an archaeologist, a female Indiana Jones on the quest for the lost relic of an ancient civilization. For now, I am on the hunt for recyclable materials that my students can transform into works of art and engineering in our library makerspace. My own three young children (Tyler, 7; Riley, 5; and Lexy, 3) always know to ask Mommy before they toss anything into the trash. Soda cans, water bottles, cardboard, and packing materials are all resources that have the potential to become jewelry, flowers, cars, and forts. Some see trash, but I see treasure!
I grew up in a home where my grandfather used duct tape to mend his belt and my grandmother collected enough buttons to fill jars and enough zippers to fill a suitcase! They did what they could with what they had. Resources were used, and then reused to capacity to minimize waste. Making was a necessity, not a luxury, whether it was preserving strawberries from the sun-kissed days of summer for winter jelly or sewing a pillow full of goose feathers.
Children today, for the most part, don’t know what it’s like to rummage in the attic, basement, or garage for raw materials to create with. In our society, where people try to keep up with the newest model of smartphone, computer, or television, the recent maker movement is a resurgence of tinkering and maximizing resources. It is not only an awakening, but a rebirth of what makes us human . . . the ability to create something that once had existed only in our imaginations.
Don’t misunderstand. I do not believe that technology is an evil that must be avoided at all costs. Our students need opportunities to work with digital and electronic resources. Those realities of today will shape their tomorrows. It’s been said that most jobs that we are preparing our students for haven’t even been created yet! Our students need access to a balance of hands-on learning experiences with no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech materials. They need to realize that making takes many forms. Commercially created kits that we purchase off the shelves of our nearest big box store, or that conveniently arrive at our front door through two-day shipping should inspire, not replace, easily accessible household items.
Using recyclables and inexpensive materials, children develop not only problem-solving, engineering, and fine motor skills but also resourcefulness. When they forage, children begin to see things in new ways. Oftentimes too many choices can be overwhelming and overstimulating for them. Popsicle sticks and egg cartons, pipe cleaners and yarn, balloons and straws should be the foundation of any makerspace. The ability to manipulate materials into bridges, mobiles, and zoo animals can transfer learning to other mediums.
DK’s newest title Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects is a must for every makerspace and children’s playroom. Each project is easy to follow with the visually appealing photography that DK is known for. Indicators such as the amount of time needed, the level of difficulty, and any important warnings are provided alongside the materials that are needed. Many of the projects and experiments can be completed independently by middle school students, and with the help of an adult by younger children. Maker Lab packs all this, in addition to step-by-step directions, an explanation of how it works, and real-world science applications, into fewer than three pages per project.
Apart from the standard lemon battery and paper airplanes that many of us are familiar with, Maker Lab includes other projects such as cell phone speakers made from a cardboard tube and paper cups, a lung model made from a soda bottle with straws and balloons, and a wind catcher from cups and skewers.
For any parent who thinks he or she isn’t creative, or teacher who is intimidated at the thought of creating a makerspace because of limited funding, Maker Lab is a must-have title. The low-tech, high-learning projects are sure to make learning fun for kids of all ages, and for kids at heart!