Makerspace in Preschool-It’s Not Just for Big Kids!

Pre-K age daughter, Valentina, at the CREATE at Arizona Science Center cardboard “gears” table.
Courtesy of Diana Rendina from http://renovatedlearning.com/2015/04/02/defining-makerspaces-part-1/

MAKERSPACE: a place where we gather tools and materials to create, invent, tinker, design, fabricate or otherwise enable individuals, a community or group to make something.

It is NOT defined by one certain shape, size or even having a specific tool like a 3D printer or laser cutter. This is a common misconception…no fancy power tools are needed! Essentially, it reminds me of what well studied early childhood educators have always laid out for their pre-k children in their Early Learning programs. In some classrooms or Family Child Care Homes/Centers, it may have been called the, “Tinkering Area”, the “Sewing Center ” or a “Pop-up Play Area”, filled with cardboard boxes and tape.

Children are natural makers, and Early Childhood teachers and caregivers have been providing opportunities to create, engineer and fabricate since before it was officially labeled as a “makerspace” (This label is also due to it’s recent popularity in the upper grades and youth programs).

Courtesy of Diana Rendina from http://renovatedlearning.com/2015/04/02/defining-makerspaces-part-1/

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides Early Childhood Educators with developmentally appropriate ideas and guides on how to continue to enhance and create makerspaces in their programs.

Early Childhood Educators incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) components into curriculum that not only are age-appropriate for young learners, but also meaningful and still meet Early Learning Standards.

Want some inspiration? Check this out:

NAEYC Publication on STEM
Keyboard Take Apart, Courtesy of NAEYC BLOG: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/making-tinkering-and-toy-store-project

This preschool classroom was highlighted in NAEYC’s Resources blog, Making, Tinkering and the Toy Store Project (Another awesome resource is Making and Tinkering with STEM by Cate Heroman).

As you can see in the above image, a makerspace does not have to be expensive OR (as noted previously) have large power tools for it to meet the makerspace criteria. You want it to be child-led and for the play to be open-ended to allow children to go deep in their learning. It can start with an old keyboard, electronic calculator or other old technology that doesn’t hold electricity (avoid TV’s).

“A makerspace is a metaphor for a unique learning environment that encourages tinkering, play and open-ended exploration for all.”
~Laura Fleming, author, Worlds of Making
Computer Take Apart, courtesy of NAEYC BLOG: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/making-tinkering-and-toy-store-project

While there is no requirement to have large expensive equipment for a makerspace, there are a couple of basic suggested materials and tools which I recommend to get you started. We want to provide children with a basic array of materials that provide a foundation for their inquiry and “maker” process. Many of these you can even ask parents to start collecting for you! Or check out your local thrift store (or for Arizona educators, I highly recommend teacher stores like, Treasures for Teachers where they collect donated items from businesses and do the sorting and cleaning of materials for you and make available for purchase at a ridiculously low cost!)

Suggested materials may include:

  • cardboard boxes (variety of sizes)
  • empty tissue boxes
  • paper towel rolls
  • variety of caps (soda caps, water bottle caps)
  • plastic silo cups
  • manual hand-drill
  • miscellaneous pieces of wood (check out your local hardware store for wood straps and have the kids hand-sand them for you…that’s a whole other center too! )
  • tape (masking tape, painters tape, lots of tape!)
  • clipboards, blank paper, writing tool (you always want to have opportunities for children to practice their writing as well as observational drawings, but don’t forget the option for sketching out a draft design idea)
  • cutting tools such as scissors depending on child’s skill level
  • ribbon
  • buttons
  • markers
  • low-temp glue gun and glue sticks
  • miscellaneous decorative craft items for embellishments
  • nuts, bolts, screws, scrap wire, metal pieces
  • foil
  • empty plastic containers (cottage cheese, butter, yogurt)
  • cereal boxes
  • popsicle sticks
  • computer keyboards, toddler toys (to deconstruct), large old calculators (Make sure you have small sorting trays to sort all the parts for later use. This activity alone of sorting by attributes is a nice learning opportunity too)
Scribble-Bots created with recycled materials and a Lethan Rectangular Mini Motor to “propel” it to move! Courtesy of Alesi Group
Fiskar’s Hand Drill 1/4 in. (this one I found at Ace Hardward)

Another point that I encountered during my research was the excuse by administrators to not provide funding for the “bigger” materials or larger equipment for classrooms since teachers can often be resourceful. I disagree with this thinking and believe it is important to adequately FUND these projects and our kids’ classrooms. We should also expose children who are developmentally ready to use bigger tools or equipment (with adult assistance of course) when it comes to these scaffolded opportunities. Having access to more expensive Makerspace equipment helps young children with exposure to tools they will use later on in upper grades.

You can learn more about why teachers should have access to those bigger tools and equipment here. One cool example is an electric cardboard cutter (shown below)…

“Your makerspace should have the tools that enable the learning experiences that you have designed for your students.”
-Diana Rendina
Courtesy of CREATE at Arizona Science Center

Your makerspace area(s) are spaces that have materials that are intentionally placed for making. It’s not a free-for-all. The introduction of materials and the space should be done in a small group discussion with your students that includes demonstration on how to properly use and care for the materials (circle time works great for this!).

This may be a popular area too. Be prepared to help children decide, “how many kids can be in this space and safely use the materials?” In my work with Alesi Group, we suggest “wait lists” by popular learning areas so children can “write” their name down for their turn.

You should also consider how the space is addressing 21st-century skills:

  • Communication
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Curiosity
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  • Community & Contribution

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned technology yet?

This doesn’t mean that technology use in preschool children is not important or shouldn’t be used. It actually means that it’s used as a SUPPLEMENT to extend the learning. It’s sprinkled in and isn’t REQUIRED to be a part of the experience. When we do use tech with young children, it may be an iPad at the makerspace area for picture taking, classmates taking a video of their creation to report back with, or creating an iMovie. The point is that it’s very strategic.

When we allow young children to have these creative, open-ended makerspace experiences, we are enabling them to develop foundational skills for future careers in hardware or software architecting and development, engineering, coding and so many other tech fields!

For more inspiration and if you’re in the local Phoenix Metro area, check out CREATE at the Arizona Science Center. They also provide a discount membership rate for teachers, but the Commons Makerspace areas are FREE to play in!

Courtesy of CREATE at Arizona Science Center

I’ll be presenting a workshop at the upcoming ASCC Celebrate Conference in March for our Spanish speaking early childhood providers. The session is called:

LET THEM BUILD! CREATING ZEN-TASTIC MAKER SPACE OPPORTUNITIES WHILE STAYING ON A BUDGET

Description: Explore multi-sensory experiences that help preschool children expand their building, creating and making skills while supporting the development of early learning skills… on a budget!

The content will be in SPANISH for those interested, click the link to check it out and register to attend!

Let the kids MAKE!

I invite you to follow my Early Childhood Journeys Twitter or Facebook page for more posts and resources or check out the Early Childhood Journeys podcast and website!