25+ Essential Resources for New Makers
The maker movement is 🔥🔥🔥🔥.
The phrase — which includes everything from living a DIY lifestyle to tinkering and hacking electronics and devices — has taken on personal meaning for a growing number of us. It’s an accessible movement, one which invites people of all backgrounds — and all ages — into its fold.
I’m a good example. Though I’ve been a programmer and technologist for 17 years, I’ve only styled myself a maker for the last three-plus years as I’ve sought to teach myself electronics, CNC milling, 3D printing and more.
Adults and kids are coming to the maker movement in droves, and chances are, you count yourself among the maker-curious, as I do. And, as with me, every one of us is looking for the right blog, site, book or kit to help us learn this space.
There are a lot of resources in this space, which can sometimes make it challenging to know where to start. It can be difficult to divine what sites to peruse, books to track down and even kits to buy to start tinkering for yourself or with kids.
Over the last 3 years, I’ve come across hundreds of maker resources. I’ve read books, bought and completed project kits and backed nearly every new Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Crowd Supply project involving some new piece of electronics.
I’ve also gone through a lot of these resources with my kids. During that time, I’ve come up with a list of a couple-dozen that I consider to be “essentials.” These are resources (sites, books, kits, etc.) that I’ve personally used, and/or have used alongside my kids, and highly recommend for new makers, or anyone looking for additional resources.
This applies to all ages. Even the resources that are kid-leaning are excellent for adults getting into the space. I love resources that take complex topics and boil them down into something relatable. Something that might be written for a child to understand might also create that a-ha moment in an adult as well. It’s certainly happened for me, many times.
So, here are some great resources to get your started. I’ve organized them by category. And if you have a favorite that’s not in the list, add a response below!
There are a lot of places you can acquire “maker products,” including some of these sites below. But this list is about the sites that have great guides or learning resources to help you along your maker journey.
- Adafruit- I 😍 Adafruit. Not only do they have a huge online store with fantastic stuff, but they also have a fantastic learning section of the site with hundreds of articles about making, tinkering, 3D printing, you name it. One of my favorite things about Adafruit is that almost every product page includes a bevy of learning resources you can peruse to put your purchases to work!
- Instructables- Community-contributed guides galore! Intstructables covers the gamut from making, tinkering, crafts and more, and if you’re looking to build something, you can bet that someone else did it, wrote a guide with lots of pictures, and put it here.
- Make- The Original. I’ve been a subscriber to the magazine for the past few years, but the website is a treasure trove itself. The site contains comprehensive project tutorials, news from the maker world and great resources for family activities.
- SparkFun- SparkFun also has an amazing learning site, including some excellent resources introducing basic electronics concepts and components. I still reference many of these. One of my favorite is the “How to Solder” article, which helped me discover my love for this alchemist’s art.
Making is tactile and visual, and sometimes it helps to see someone else build something to really drive a point home. Here are a few YouTube vlogs that I love.
- Adafruit- Yes, Adafruit again. Their YouTube channel is chock full of great videos and series’, like Circuit Playground for kids. My personal favorite though is Colin’s Lab, a series of quirky, fun videos that cover a variety of concepts.
- HACKADAY- Want to learn how to make Thor’s hammer? HACKADAY has a video for that, and a lot more.
- I Like To Make Stuff- From electronics to 3D printing, metalworking and woodworking, there’s hours of worthwhile viewing here.
I’m a tried-and-true book-lover, so it should be no surprise that I’ve acquired a lot of maker books over the last several years. The list below is what I would consider the best among those. They cover a spectrum from basic electronics to more conceptual/play-based and there are even a few here on the topic of how to get kids started with making.
- Adventures in Raspberry Pi- Raspberry Pi is a powerful platform, which can make it hard to know where to start. This book, now in its 3rd edition, has several projects that explore the things that make the Pi a great educational resource.
- Electronics for Kids- If you’re looking to get your kids into basic electronics with simple projects, this is the book for you. It starts with lighting a small incandescent bulb with a 9V battery and builds from there. Our favorite project so far was building an intrusion detection system for the boys’ bedroom.
- Getting Started with Electronics- The Forrest M. Mims III classic. With ruled, hand-written lessons and illustrations, this book is like finding your Dad’s old notebook and discovering that he had a knack for making complex concepts easy to understand.
- Make: Electronics- While not specifically for younger makers, I’ve used this book extensively to educate myself on electronics, and prepare for projects with the boys. Charles Platt is a brilliant educator, and includes a litany of “board free” electronics projects in this book. It’s a dense volume, but you’ll return to it often. And your kids will love licking a 9v battery!
- Making Makers- A book about the case for encouraging kids to be makers, and ways to get them started. A quick read, and well-worth the time.
- Robotics- Robotics is one of the areas of making and electronics that tends to get kids really excited. This book feeds on that, and introduces kids to a series of projects that explore what makes a robot a robot. It also does a masterful job exploring the history of robotics and getting kids and adults excited for the future of the field.
- Start Making!- A solid companion to Making Makers, this book provides a series of hands-on projects that explore the breadth of the STEAM space.
- Tinkering- Another good companion to Making Makers, this book focuses solidly on the “tinkering” side of things by showing kids how to build things that spin, move and make noise, all with household items.
- The Big Book of Maker Skills- One of my personal favorites, this book covers everything from how to use a multimeter, to how to build a forge from a paint can. Seriously. Prepare to talk yourself into buying an Arc welder after reading this one.
- Welcome to Your Awesome Robot- My boys love this book, which provides activities and cutouts kids can use to turn a cardboard box into a kid-propelled robot. They’ll have fun, and learn how robots think and move, along the way.
One of the best ways to get your kids (or even yourself) excited about electronics is to grab a kit geared towards new makers. All of these kits are affordable, fun, and easy to use.
- Chibitronics Circuit Stickers- An easy, art-focused and solder-free way to get into building circuits. We used these earlier this year to make some light-up Mother’s Day cards.
- Circuit Classics- A companion to Forrest M. Mims III’s Getting Started With Electronics, Star Simpson created these kits to bring Mims’s hand-drawn circuits to life. These projects are great for learning how to solder, and I still have all three proudly-displayed on my office desk.
- SparkFun Simon Says Kit- Learn to solder and build a Simon Says game at the same time! The boys and I had a blast with this one, and I still hear the distincive simon says tones from their room with regularity.
- SparkFun Inventors Kit- This was my first kit. Lots of new makers enter into the space via Arduino, and I was no different. SparkFun’s SIK for Arduino is a complete kit with sixteen projects that explore a wide range of electronics concepts.
- Snap Circuits- Another solder-free way to get kids into electronics. The large, brightly-colored components make it easy for kids to build over 300 projects to light LEDs, sound alarms and make things move.
- Robot Turtles- A former Kickstarter project, Robot Turtles is a simple, fun board-game that teaches logic, reasoning and sequential instruction—the basic building-blocks for computer programming. The games are quick, but fun, and there are several variations to keep the kids interested in repeat play.
Finally, some essential boards. Just as with every other part of this space, there are a lot of boards you can buy. And while it’s not essential to buy one of these to get into electronics — in fact, I suggest you start with board-free electronics projects like those in the Make: Electronics book — getting one of these allows you to branch into the Code+Electronics side of making, which can be a fun journey in and of itself.
When you reach that point, I highly-recommend any and all of these.
- Raspberry Pi 3- The Pi is essentially a small, full Linux computer that also exposes pins which can be used to power electronics projects. It’s a versatile board that can also be used to introduce your kids to Scratch, Python programming and hacking Minecraft.
- Arduino Zero- The latest and greatest Arduino entry board. The power of Ardunio is its simplicity and the connection the platform creates between code and physical computing. Blinking that first LED was something of an a-ha moment for me.
- Particle Photon- A smaller, Arduino-compatible option, the Particle ecosystem includes a development environment and an online ecosystem for building connected projects. These boards are inexpensive and easy to set-up. I use the Photon for the majority of my projects and always have a few spares on hand.
- Adafruit Circuit Playground- We’re still new to Circuit Playground, but I love it so far, and the new Express edition looks to be a powerful way to get kids into electronics and programming. With LEDs and some programable buttons, there’s a lot you can do with this little board, right out of the box.
What are some maker resources that you’ve found that you find essential? Feel free to share them here.
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