In New York City, we’re no strangers to creative thinking, especially when it comes to maximizing space. Which is why when I recently found myself standing in front of a coveted walk-in closet at the Manhattan school where I teach, that I decided, after attending a number of design shops and tinker studios, to create an official school maker space.
Children are inherently curious and love to build and create, and maker spaces are like a modern day craft table, where people gather to create, invent, and learn. Blending science, engineering, math, technology, and art, projects vary and include construction, prototyping, woodworking, electronics, robotics, textiles and sewing, and more.
I knew that in a small school with limited space and materials that preparing our maker space would be a challenge. Said closet barely fit my enormous woven basket, which would be used to display all of the beautiful things my students and I would create. At first, forcing all of my materials in this small space, while at the same time trying to achieve some aesthetic value, seemed impossible. But stepping back, I returned to my original vision.
I pictured this closet expanding with all kinds of pullout shelves and rolling cabinets. I saw the way small trinkets found a home within tens of tiny compartments and boxes that make a clicking noise when being shut closed. I imagined robots and wheels, guest makers and family members, things being made and celebrated. Most importantly, I imagined my eager students, wanting to get their hands on all of the materials this tiny closet would provide. Instead I found aesthetic beauty not in the space itself, but in what the space was going to create and how it would bring people together.
Bringing creativity to your home, especially a home with children, is so important. With schools and companies dedicating massive amounts of square footage for their maker spaces, it may feel daunting or impossible to carve out a small space of your own. Consider, if not a closet, a maker counter or a maker shelf or table. And the tools that are required are easier to acquire than you may imagine. As Thomas Edison said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Your maker space could have a variety of recycled pieces that are in your home right now.
Recycling junk teaches children to open up and look for anything in their world as part of their problem-solving toolkit. The important piece is to have a space that communicates that their mistakes are welcome and mess is just a part of the game (as is clean-up!). Most materials that your child would need do not take up a lot of space. Batteries and vibration motors, which you can find in any broken phone or online, are everyone’s favorite. Tops from toothbrushes often transform into DIY hexbugs, and small LED lights will bring rainbows and bright light into any project. And think of the toys you used to love as a child – I remember having endless creative encounters with wooden blocks, thin sticks, and cardboard boxes, and these are always welcome in any maker space!
Go ahead – be brave and find a small space on a shelf where the magic box – your first maker space – will begin to grow and transform into endless possibilities, and, sometimes, pure magic.
Zhanna Cannon is an Associate Upper Level Teacher at The Caedmon School on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. She is an avid animal lover; some of her favorite sweet beasts are slow lorises, dogs, and pigs. She is also an explorer and a "techie," and loves working with wires, boards, and little LED lights. Zhanna is the head of The Caedmon School Maker Space, a program that runs a few afternoons each week, in which inventors learn and create "new things that do things.” She grew up in Ukraine and graduated from NYC Pace University with a Masters in Childhood Education. She is currently taking classes at the School of Visual Arts, learning animation and coding for artists. Learn more on her blog, Cardboard & Code.