Tinkering

Ages 3-8

Curator Tibby W.

Curator Tibby W.

Why I Created This Guide

This fall I started up a lower & middle school makerspace. A makerspace is simply a space that provides materials and tools for kids (or adults) to come in and explore or work on projects that they are interested in. Projects can range from sewing to 3D printing to anything in between, the main idea being that you are creating something. My makerspace was originally open to middle schoolers and fourth and fifth graders, but so many younger kids wanted to join that we opened it up down to second grade. I have been amazed by the things that young kids are capable of dreaming up and making a reality with very little help from me. They have an uncanny ability to look at an object and see it as something totally new and different.

Makerspaces are part of a larger movement, the maker or DIY movement, which does a few things that traditional education does not. The projects are student-driven. What the kids create is completely based on what they are interested in. No dictated curriculum or projects here. It encourages experimentation and failure. Kids learn from their mistakes and, instead of receiving a low grade, they take this new knowledge and try again. And it emphasizes process over product. I don’t care what the kids actually make, just that they are playing with the materials and learning about their properties and limitations.

I think by having access to even a tiny in-home makerspace is an incredible opportunity for kids to explore their own interests in their own time and feel proud of what they create.


Inspiration

While kids usually have no problem coming up with things they want to create, they can sometimes need a little nudge or ideas on how to go about making something. Grown-ups creating with their kids may also find they want a little creative inspiration to get them started. Check out these books and websites for some inspiration.

Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley

A fabulous book full of tons of creative activities for young makers. Many of the activities are not focused on the product so much as the process, which is an important part of making, especially for younger children. Making sections include: design, build, concoct, and discover. The book also features an amazing section on setting up home Tinkerlab and a short, but helpful, essay on Tinkerlab Habits of Mind.

(Recommended ages: 3-5)

 

Make These Toys: 101 Clever Creations Using Everyday Items by Heather Swain

You may recognize some of these projects from your childhood. They range from boats to clothespin dolls. The book is organized around the main object used in creating (cardboard tubes, balloons, popsicle sticks, etc.). The toys are all relatively simple to make and use things you probably already have around your house and in the craft cupboard. Even better, when you’re done making it, you can then play with the toy.

(Recommended ages: 5-8)

 

Exploralab: 150+ Ways to Investigate the Amazing Science All Around You

A book from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Over 150 experiments that help you explore the world all around you and the science behind it. The book is organized so that it follows you through the day. This helps kids see how science is everywhere. Many of the experiments are short and don’t require any specialized equipment. The ages for these experiments are good for a range of ages, but most young kids should be able to do and understand these with the help of a parent.

(Recommended ages: 6-8)

 

Also from the Exploratorium: Explore, Play, Discover: Websites, Activities and More

Source: Exploratorium

Source: Exploratorium

Use the sidebar on the left to select a topic of interest. As the title suggests there are websites, videos, experiments and articles collected around the topics. A great resource to spark your child’s interest in a topic they may never have heard of or know nothing about.

(Recommended ages: 7-8)


Make

All kinds of DIY projects with detailed instructions on how to do them. Most of the projects are more difficult, but older school-aged children could do many of the projects with the help of an adult. Some require more equipment than others. The site is good for looking through for inspiration and is put together by Make magazine, a great print resource.

(Recommended ages: 7-8)


Instructables

Similar to Make:, these are instructions for projects that are uploaded by all kinds of people. Usually they include pictures and written instructions. The quality can be very high or very low, but there are tons and tons of ideas here for projects ranging from electronics to building to cooking.

(Recommended ages: 5-8, however there is such a range of projects that with parental help younger children could find projects)


Wonderopolis

A website dedicated to wondering. Features questions that kids ask and explores and explains them (for example, How fast can a tank move? and How do x-rays work?). A great place to go for ideas about what you might want to explore more deeply (wonder how a smoke detector works, then take one apart). It also encourages curiosity in kids and engages them with the world around them. Each day the site features a “wonder of the day”, but you can go back and search through the archives. You can also submit your own wondering.

(Recommended ages: 5-8)


Diy.org

This is a site that gives out digital badges (that look like old-school embroidered patches) dubbing you a master in a particular skill. You can choose from over a hundred skills, from beekeeper to tape ninja to woodworker. Each skill comes with a series of activities you must complete to earn the patch and then master status. The accomplishments vary in difficulty, but there are a lot of options not all of which need to be completed to earn the badge. This is a great place to start if your child (or you) need inspiration for what they want to learn about and how to approach the learning.

(Recommended ages: 6-8, although there is such a range of activities that younger children may be able to find appropriate activities)


Books

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Not a Box & Not a Stick written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis 

A rabbit and a pig play with a box and stick respectively. A parent or adult keeps asking why they are playing with things that don’t seem especially interesting and reminding them to be careful. Each time the rabbit and pig exasperatedly explain that it is not a box or stick but a spaceship or fishing rod. These books so embody the creativity that is seen in the maker movement. It’s all about the ability to look at something simple, like a box, and turn it into something incredible and completely different, like a racecar.

 

The Curious Garden written and illustrated by Peter Brown 

Making doesn’t have to be all about power tools and electronics, it can be about growing and making spaces better and more livable. In The Curious Garden a little boy looks around at a dreary city landscape and transforms a small patch into a living, colorful space. The garden is catching and soon his neighbors are looking to their rooftops as places to plant their own gardens. This kind of outside-the-box thinking and inspiration are central to tinkering and making.

  • Tip: Set this book out with a few seed packets, a bucket of soil and a few plant pots. Have kids decorate the pots and plant the seeds to start their own garden. When the seeds are planted and watered, set them in sunny spot like a window sill.

 

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts 

Rosie loves to make things. Crazy contraptions, clever solutions. But an incident with her uncle convinces her that her wacky inventions are only for laughing at, not taking seriously, so she hangs up her engineering hat. When her great-great aunt shows up and expresses a desire to fly, Rosie decides to give making one last chance. It ends in failure and some laughter from Aunt Rose, but her aunt also points out that before the epic crash the contraption did actually work, even if briefly. This books is perfect because it shows kids that failure is necessary. Mistakes are an excellent learning opportunity, not an end. This is such an important message if kids are to be creative and try things out.

 

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Changes, Changes written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins 

Perfect for young builders in your house. Changes, Changes follows two wooden dolls as they build and then transform their house of blocks into a fire truck (to put out the house fire), a boat (to deal with all the water from the fire truck), and finally back into a house. It can sometimes seem that the maker movement is only open to older, more capable kids who can learn to program or use a power tool, but that isn’t the case. Even young children can get involved using their blocks to build all manner of structures.

  • Tip: Leave this book out with a basket or bin of blocks to inspire young builders.

 

The Toolbox written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Harlow Rockwell 

A little boy sorts through a toolbox, looking at all the tools. From pliers to hammers, this is a great introduction for young children to the names and uses of tools. While the watercolor illustrations lend the book a whimsical feel, they are good enough that children will clearly see what each tool looks like.

  • Tip: Even if you don’t have real tools out for your youngest maker, you can pair this book with a wooden or plastic set of tools so they can practice the actions the book talks about.

 

Old Macdonald Had a Woodshop written by Lisa Shulman, illustrated by Ashley Wolf

Another great book for learning about tools and their uses and this one you could sing! Sheep is seen pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood scraps into the woodshop. As she (yay for girls using tools!) begins sawing the curious animals working around the farm begin to peak in. Sheep hands each new visitor a tool and they begin testing them out. But what are they making in that shop?

 

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Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet

Another amazing interactive book from Tullet, Mix It Up! explores color theory (mostly primary and secondary colors). Kids are invited to dab, tap, turn, and touch to “mix” colors and with a flip of the page see what happens when red and blue mix or yellow and red. He also covers adding white and black to other colors and to each other. This is a good making book for the car.

  • Tip: Be prepared to get out the paints after reading this to test out everything your kids have been experimenting with on the page. Tempera paints work well for experimenting with mixing colors, but watercolors can also be used.


Makers and Tinkerers in Action

Check out these videos of people who have made some really cool contraptions.

 

“This Too Shall Pass” Okay Go

Rube Goldberg machines are elaborate contraptions that, ultimately, do something very simple. The band Okay Go made an incredibly detailed Rube Goldberg machine that splatters them with paint. However, the machine is impeccably timed with their song “This Too Shall Pass” and the video is shot in one long take. Sorry in advance if your garage and car are conscripted into a homemade Rube Goldberg machine.

(Recommended ages: 3-8)


Caine’s Arcade by Nirvan Mullick

Caine Monroy is a young boy who spent his summer creating an arcade out of cardboard boxes he found around his dad’s East LA auto parts store. It is absolutely incredible and Caine’s creativity is amazing. This video is a little on the long side, but it is so worth watching.

(Recommended ages: 5-8)


PythagoraSwitch

PythagoraSwitch is an educational Japanese kids television show. At the start and end of each episode and between the segments there is an elaborate, but small Rube Goldberg machine that is designed to display the TV show’s name. The machines are all incredibly clever and could be easily reproduced or simplified at home. This clip is a rather long string of them, but you can watch a few and return to it to see more.

  • Tip: Use this as a jumping off point for making a few Rube Goldberg machines at home. Set out a bin or basket of materials that would make good marble runs (railroad tracks, paper tubes, sets of chopsticks), rubber bands, tape, and small boxes.

(Recommended ages: 4-8)



Apps

Making and tinkering doesn’t have to involve blocks and craft supplies, it can also involve digital tools. The following apps include digital tools to make something physical and apps that teach beginning principles of coding to kids. These may be a great way to hook kids who like screens and for kids interested in digital production.

 

Animoto Video Maker

Overview: This is an easy-to-use video app. Create 30 second videos that include pictures, video clips, filters and music.  

 

Inside Scoop: For kids interested in creating with a digital medium, Animoto provides an easy-to-use platform. Use stock images and music that are copyright free or allow the app to access your pictures, videos, and music for uploading to the app. Intuitive to use, the app walks you through three steps of choosing photos and videos, adding filters and themes and music and creating the video. The free app limits you to 30 second videos, but can be upgraded for the ability to create longer videos and access more features. Creating short videos can seem daunting, but forces kids to be creative in crafting their message and condensing their thoughts.

Recommended Ages: 6-8

 

Big Fork, Little Fork

Overview: A cooking app with recipes created with kids in mind. Cooking is an awesome introduction to making and science. It doesn’t get any more immediate (or delicious) for kids.  

 

Inside Scoop: A free app full of recipes that are designed to have kids help make them. Recipes are organized by type, including a section for picky eaters which gets rave reviews from parents. There are tips and tricks and a shopping list tool that can be accessed if you create a login. Each recipe has a picture (great for getting pre-readers engaged), ingredients, clear and simple instructions, and nutritional information. Be aware this app is put out by Kraft Foods and many of the recipes contain ingredients listed by brand name. The recipes also do not take into consideration any food allergies or sensitivities.

Recommended Ages: 4-8

 

How To Make Origami

Overview: An excellent alternative to origami manuals. Origami is an fun way to develop children’s spatial and fine motor skills and encourage focus.

 

Inside Scoop: Origami manuals can be really difficult to follow with convoluted diagrams, tiny print, and a lack of written instructions to accompany models. How To Make Origami is a free app that can get your child started making boats, birds, and baskets. Each model is broken down into steps that have only one fold. The animation makes it very clear exactly how to fold the paper and includes a written instruction for the step. You can easily replay the step if you don’t catch how to do it the first time through. The free download includes 6 easy models (great for kids starting out). Add-on packs of models can be purchased, 10 more for $0.99, 25 for $1.99 and 40 for $2.99.  

Recommended Ages: 7-8

 

Visual Programming

The following three apps are designed to teach the very basics of visual programming. Each one is progressively more complex and can be seen as easy, medium, and hard levels of the same tasks. As the apps become more complex they also include more features that can be controlled or decided by the user. This type of programming is very good at teaching kids about sequencing, a skill that is as useful out of the game as in it (think about sequencing the steps needed to complete a school project). It also helps foster testing and tweaking, important principles in making. They try out their programming sequence and go back to work on it if it doesn’t work the first time around.

 

Bee-Bot

Overview: Based on the Bee-Bot toy, the app teaches very young kids some basic principles behind programming without overwhelming them. Kids use commands, much like they would in a visual programming app like Scratch, to direct a bee to a flower.  

 

Inside Scoop: Bee-Bot wants to get to the flower in the garden. Kids key in a series of movements (forward, turn left or right, back) by touching a little button to tell the bee the sequence of movements she needs to make to reach the flower. This kind of programming helps kids develop an understanding of sequencing and focus on spatial sense. Squares on the screen show kids the path the bee needs to take instead of requiring them to pre-determine the path. As the levels increase in difficulty the bee is placed further from the flower and requires more movements. Kids as young as four and five could easily do this with a little front-loading by parents teaching them how to look at the path and determine what moves need to be made. The one difficulty may be that kids simply press the buttons to move the bee and then tell it to follow the sequence of commands without showing the sequence on the screen. As the path becomes longer it may be hard to keep the sequence in mind and could pose a problem if you forget where you are in the sequence. The app is free.

Recommended ages: 4-6

 

Hopscotch

Overview: A more complex visual programming app. Kids program their chosen character through a set of challenges that they have to master.  

 

Inside Scoop: The hardest part of using this app may be choosing a nickname that is not already taken. Kids work through a series of projects that have them program a character to move around the screen to reach a variety of targets (ice cream, cherries, etc.). The programming is done with visual blocks that have the command written on them. They layer the blocks together then run the program to test out their sequence. There are options within the programming blocks so that the sequences don’t always have to be the same and so there is more than one correct way of programming the character. This app adds conditional logic and loops to the list of skills kids are developing by playing the games. However, there are fewer options here than in the following app which makes it better suited to intermediate programmers. The app is free with additional in-app downloads for more characters to play with.

Recommended Ages: 6-8

 

Tynker

Overview: A more complex visual programming app. Kids can create games, play through challenges that build understanding and skills, or play premade games. Kids use blocks to program characters to do things within these games.  

 

Inside Scoop: This is a lot more complex than Hopscotch in that there are a lot more options. There are simple challenge activities that build skills and understanding, but kids can also create a brand new project from scratch or go into games that have been started. In addition to programming actions kids can change out scenery and design characters from the ground up. Within the creation tab kids can use a game kit or see a sample project that someone else has created. After trying out the samples kids are offered the option to make a similar game. The game kits are rated by difficulty and allow users to go into a game that has begun and tweak various aspects of it including the programming and the look. The free version of the app has one game that builds skills. In-app purchases are for puzzle bundles. Kids who really enjoy this app can visit their website for more games and activities with Tynker, which include games for children as young as kindergarten.

Recommended ages: 7-8


Activities

Family Activity: Stomp Rocket

Why This Activity

While making something that essentially explodes your child will be exploring water pressure, acceleration, deceleration, and aerodynamics. Plus this will get you outside after making something. Kids will need help or supervision with the hot glue gun. Please do this outdoors and don’t aim it at your face!

(Recommended ages: all ages with parental help)

 

What You’ll Need

  • plastic bottle (the bigger the bottle the more the more pressure to fire the rocket)

  • bicycle inner tube

  • PVC tube, ½ inch diameter (about 2 feet, this becomes the rocket launcher)

  • cereal box or file folder (fins on rocket)

  • pieces of paper, preferably stiff paper (body and nose cone on rocket)

  • duct and masking tape

  • pair of scissors

  • hot glue

What To Do

  1. Stretch the inner tube around the mouth of the bottle and secure with duct tape.

  2. Insert the length of PVC into the other end of the inner tubing and secure with duct tape.

  3. Wrap a piece of paper around the PVC pipe and use the masking tape to tape along the seam. It’s okay if it wraps around a couple times. Don’t roll so tightly that it won’t come off. After taping, pull it off the PVC pipe.

  4. Cut 3-4 triangles out of the cereal box or file folder to make fins for the rocket. Using the masking tape, tape them along the sides of the paper tube as near to the bottom as they can be.

  5. Roll another piece of paper into a cone shape. Tape it with the masking tape to hold its shape. Insert the cone, nose down into the paper tube and cut it off flush with the tube.

  6. Push the cone through the tube so it comes out the other end (this should be the end opposite the fins) and is close to popping out. You may need a dowel or stick to help with this process (the handle of a wooden spoon would work well). Hot glue the cone in place making sure there are no holes or gaps in the glue- it needs to be airtight so the rocket will fly.

  7. Take everything outside.

  8. Slide the rocket onto the PVC pipe and aim away from your face and from people. Two people come in handy here, one to stomp and one to aim. Hold the PVC below the rocket so it can actually launch.

  9. STOMP! Stomp on the bottle and watch your rocket fly.

  10. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work the first time. Assess what went wrong and make adjustments. That’s what good makers do!

 

Things to Think About

  • Why does the rocket launch?

  • How would a larger or smaller bottle change the flight of the rocket?

  • Do the shape and size of the fins affect the flight of the rocket?

  • How does the speed the rocket has leaving the tube compare to the speed when it hits the ground?

Adapted from: Stomp Rockets, Catapults, and Kaleidoscopes: 30+ Amazing Projects You Can Build for Less Than $1 by Curt Gabrielson

 

 

Family Activity: The Marshmallow Challenge

Why This Activity

This is a great activity to get everyone in the family involved. You can set it up to be competitive (parents vs. kids, girls vs. boys) or non-competitive where the whole family works together. It also gets kids using their spatial sense and math skills without making this an explicit math lesson. Variation 1 is easier and will probably work better with younger kids. Variation 2 is harder, but feel free to try it with a mixed group.

 

Variation 1

(Recommended ages: all ages with parental help)

What You’ll Need

  • box of spaghetti noodles

  • bag of mini marshmallows (you can also use gumdrops/spice drops if you prefer)

  • bag of regular marshmallows (optional, for snacking :) )

  • kitchen timer

What To Do

  • Set the timer for 18 minutes.

  • Go! You have 18 minute to build the tallest, stable structure you can using the marshmallows and spaghetti.

 

Source: swsahs.weebly.com

Source: swsahs.weebly.com

Variation 2

(Recommended ages: 6-8)

What You’ll Need

  • 20 spaghetti noodles

  • 1 marshmallow

  • the rest of the bag of marshmallows (optional, for snacking only :) )

  • 1 yard of string

  • 1 yard of tape (masking tape or blue painter’s tape)

  • scissors for cutting materials

  • kitchen timer

What To Do (same as variation 1)

  1. Set the timer for 18 minutes.

  2. Go! You have 18 minutes to build the tallest, stable structure you can using the marshmallow, spaghetti, string, and tape.

 

Cardboard Box City

Why This Activity

Giving kids an open-ended material like cardboard gives them an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. It encourages flexible, creative thinking and a lot of imaginative play. Don’t be surprised if they want to keep their city set up for weeks. Kids are surprisingly good at looking at materials and using them for something completely different than their original purpose. Pair this activity with reading Not a Box (see book list above).

(Recommended ages: 3-6)

 

What You’ll Need

  • cardboard (boxes, shoe boxes, large sheets, etc.)

  • masking tape (also look at Makedos, if this is something your kids really enjoy)

  • markers

  • scissors (may require parental supervision)

What To Do

  1. Have your kids go wild! They can create a full scale city out of large pieces of cardboard or a small scale city for their stuffed animals.

  2. They can tape buildings and walls together and draw windows, doors, and designs on the cardboard using the markers.

  3. You may find they decide to make something totally different (like boat or car) and that’s totally okay.

 

Muffin Tin Crayons

Why This Activity

This lets kids see changing states of matter- solid to liquid back to solid. It’s also a great way to make your own makerspace supplies and to use up broken crayons.

(Recommended ages: 3-7 with parental help)

 

What You’ll Need

  • broken crayons (or crayons you have broken up)

  • muffin tin (mini muffins make a good sized crayon; the tin could be silicone which makes removal easier)

What To Do

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

  2. Place the broken crayons in muffin tin cups. You’ll want to fill them enough so that the bottom is covered, but not all the way to the top.

  3. An adult should place the tin in the oven. The crayons should melt within 10-15 minutes. Be sure to check in using the oven light while they are melting.

  4. Have an adult remove the tin from the oven using an oven mit and allow to cool completely (if you don’t allow it to cool completely before the next step, the drastic change in temperature can crack the crayons and warp the muffin tin). If you used a silicone tin you should be able to pop them out at this point.  

  5. If you used a metal muffin tin, place the tin in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the freezer and flip the tin over and the crayons should pop out (the freezing temperature shrinks the wax enough to easily remove it from the pan). If they don’t, place the tin back in the freezer for another 5 minutes.

 

Build Your Own Mini Makerspace

Why This Activity

Providing a dedicated space, even if it’s just a basket, shows kids that you value this kind of play and exploration. Including them in the sorting and setting up of materials really gets kids invested in the space. It will also spark their interest in what materials are available to them.  

(Recommended ages: all ages)

 

What You’ll Need

  • recycled materials

  • a few clear plastic containers to sort into and store smaller items in

  • scissors

  • tape

  • glue (stick or bottle)

  • markers, pencils, crayons

  • basket, table or shelf to store the items in or on

What To Do

  1. Start saving up recycled materials from around the house: cardboard, cereal boxes, lids, cans, bottles, ribbons, interesting or pretty paper scraps, etc.

  2. Take some time you sit down with your kids and allow them to play with and sort the materials. You can suggest different categories or types, but try to let them come up with their own.

  3. Place the sorted items into containers and place them on a table or shelf or into a larger basket where your child can easily access them.

  4. Put the markers, crayons, and other tools into cups or baskets near the recycled materials.

  5. Invite your child to begin creating with them by laying out a small basket or bowl of a few materials, some markers, and a large sheet of paper. They may want to lay the pieces out in a pattern or make a self-portrait. Your child will quickly grasp that they can use the materials to make all kinds of things, although they may want you nearby during their first few projects. Remember this is more about process than product so they don’t need to make anything in particular.  

 

Sink Vs. Float

Why This Activity

While this isn’t strictly making something what it does is encourage your child to experiment and gives them exposure to the scientific process: hypothesize/make predictions, test, and learn. Feel free to riff on this idea with concepts such as magnetic vs. non-magnetic or heavy vs. light. Since this activity involves a tub of water this activity requires adult supervision!

 

Variation 1: For younger kids

(Recommended ages: 3-5)

What You’ll Need

  • variety of objects that will sink and float (rubber ducks, balls, utensils, cups, etc. try to look for objects that will surprise your child with their ability to float like plywood)

  • basket, bucket, or bowl for objects

  • tub of water

What To Do

  1. Place the items in a basket, bowl or bucket and place next to a tub of water.

  2. Invite your child to place the objects into the tub to see what they do.

  3. Talk about how some float and others do not. As it becomes clear what they are doing, you can choose an object and ask them to make a prediction before placing it in the tub.

 

Variation 2: For a little bit older kids

(Recommended ages: 6-8)

What You’ll Need

  • variety of objects that will sink and float (rubber ducks, balls, utensils, cups, etc. try to look for objects that will surprise your child with their ability to float like plywood)

  • basket, bucket, or bowl for objects

  • tub of water

  • two signs: float & sink

What To Do

  1. Place the signs on a table. Have your child sort the objects from the basket onto/around the signs before testing their ability to float.

  2. Invite your child to begin testing out their predictions with the tub of water.

  3. You can have them write down or draw which ones floated and which ones sunk on a sheet of paper or write it for them. Discuss why some objects they thought would float, sank or why some objects they thought would sink, actually floated. Why did they think some would sink or float?

  4. If they are curious, you can begin to talk about buoyancy. Here is a wonderful article from Wonderopolis: How Do Boats Float?


About Tibby W.Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books.  Seriously.  Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book!  Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib” books?  There you have it.  Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series.  Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand!  Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one.  She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her!

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