Why The Maker Movement Needs To Be Kid And Family-Friendly!

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We can create the next generation of entrepreneurs by letting kids (and adults) create, fail, explore and collaborate in family-friendly makerspaces across the United States.

By Teresa Gonczy (Board of Directors, Los Angeles Makerspace)

It all started with a tweet. I don’t usually check Twitter, but for some reason, on May 4, 2012, I was paging through my feed, when I saw it – @BoingBoing “To do in LA this Sunday: Organize a kid-friendly hackerspace” And so that weekend, I met up with Tara Tiger Brown and a bunch of other teachers, hackers, entrepreneurs and makers to talk about creating a makerspace for families.

Well, we didn’t get it all done on that one Sunday, but now 7 months later after lots of meetings and tons of planning, the all-ages Los Angeles Makerspace is really happening!

We have a location in Downtown Los Angeles at the LA Mart, we’re fundraising to buy equipment, and best of all, we have real live children and families who are excited about our space and coming to our events and classes. :-)

What’s a makerspace, you might ask, and why is it so exciting, and also so important for both kids and adults.

A makerspace, sometimes also called a hackerspace, is a place where people can come together and create, invent, tinker, build, learn and play with all sorts of different equipment and materials. Some makerspaces focus more on electronics or robotics, others on arts and crafts, and a few even on biotechnology.

Makerspaces are popping up in schools, libraries and private locations all across the US and the world. At a makerspace, you learn by doing, by failing, by exploring, and by collaborating – and this is why makerspaces are wonderful for kids
(and adults!)

There’s the saying that we learn 10% of what we read, 30% of what we see, and 90% of what we do. In a makerspace, you’re mostly learning by doing – you might read the manual, or watch someone else demonstrate first, but then you dig right in and get your hands dirty.

Whether it’s programming or soldering or 3D-printing, all of our makerspace classes and workshops are hands-on, where kids and adults are actually doing the activity. They’re not just sitting at a desk listening to a teacher or reading a textbook – they’re actively engaged in using their hands and their brains to figure out how to create something new. And that active engagement really cements the learning – much better than a traditional classroom setting.

And while they are actively exploring and creating, they’re also failing, sometimes over and over again – and that’s a good thing! :-)

The world isn’t perfect, and we’re not going to be able to get everything right the first time we try – but how we really learn and keep improving is by continuing to try even after we fail. In many schools, getting an F on a test is a horrible thing and something to avoid – but failure is really just a way of telling you what you still need to work on, what else you still need to learn.

‘Grit’ matters – can you persevere even when you can’t seem to get it to work? When a baby is learning how to walk, they fall down so many times, but each time, they get back up and try again. By working on maker projects, kids and adults have the opportunity to try out different options, see which ways work and which ways don’t, and to realize that ‘failing’ is all a part of the process. As Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And with kids and adults more comfortable with failure, they’re likely to continue exploring, to keep that sense of wonder, to stay curious, and to feel capable!

“Teaching’s primary purpose should be that every student graduates ready to tinker, create and take initiative” – Jennifer Medbery.

There’s so much, both big and small, that we could all be doing to help make the world and our local communities a better place, but all too often, people don’t think that they have the skills or abilities to do anything about it. And to some extent, that’s true – they might not know how to do it now, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn and figure it out.

When we first met to organize a kid-friendly hackerspace, we didn’t know how to do it – each of us had some related skills or experiences, but none of us had ever done this exact task before. But that didn’t stop us – we kept exploring different options, and eventually things fell into place. And we hope to give our LA Makerspace makers, young and old, that same sense of exploration and curiosity and capability – that even if you don’t know how now, you can figure it out and make it happen!

“The most important thing about makers is that they believe they can change the world.” – Dale Dougherty, Make Magazine.

And they’re not changing the world all by themselves – although we often call the Maker Movement DIY or Do-It-Yourself, it’s really DIT or Do-It-Together.

Having a makerspace brings the community together for collaborative learning. And it’s not just the kids learning from the adults – often times the young and old(er) are learning side-by-side, and sometimes the kids are even teaching the adults, such as with our Arduino class taught by 11-year-old Quin (also known as Qtechknow). In a makerspace, everyone shares not only tools and equipment, but also ideas and knowledge. And this makes learning and working on projects go a lot smoother and also a lot more fun! Together we can do much more than we could ever do alone.

“Fixing education and fixing the world is the same thing.” – Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari.

Through changing the way kids (and adults) learn, we can build a new world and create the next generation of entrepreneurs. Education isn’t just about what happens in schools – education is happening all around you, every day – and you always have a choice as to how and what you’re going to educate yourself about.

And with the all-ages Los Angeles Makerspace and all of the other family-friendly makerspaces across the world, now you can educate yourself about creating everything from robots to holiday ornaments within a fun community of other makers! :-)

Women 2.0 readers: Know of other kid-friendly makerspaces? Want to start
one in your community? Leave a message in the comments below!

About the guest blogger: Teresa Gonczy is on the Board of Directors for the all-ages, family-friendly Los Angeles Makerspace. She is an entrepreneur, educator and a mentor for the Thiel “20 under 20″ Fellowship. She has owned multiple six-figure brick&mortar businesses and helped to start a charter elementary school. Teresa is passionate about creating kids (and adults) who feel capable of changing the world. She has studied at Caltech and UC-San Diego, and has a degree in Cognitive Science. Follow her on Twitter at @teresaeg.