Providing a stimulus rich environment is a key to a successful maker space for children (probably for adults as well).
Often children come to Maker Jawn mentally unmotivated. They are both bored and resistant to stimulation. A child in this mood will not (in general) initiate a constructive activity for him or herself. Rather, this mental malaise generally presents itself with mundane acts of mild destruction. For example, the kids will often take the cardboard cutter and shred whatever is in front of them.
This fall, we stopped doing monthly curriculum. Instead we have been tasked with developing kits. The immediate impact of this change is that each new month does not bring a fresh set of activities and supplies. Without those fresh activities, I have seen an increase in the regulars get bored.
I have worked on supplementing my own ideas in place of the curriculum. We started a long-term movie project. We have begun taking our dollhouses and developing them into a mansion. Clarissa provided some curriculum before she left us. We have made masks, crystals, goo, stress balls, and holiday cards. I brought in perler beads. And we have continued making pillows and flashlights.
But the truth is that I have always brought new activities to maker space. That was supplemented each month with four carefully planned activities. Being able to present the children with several choices each day is a huge cure for the boredom bug.
But I cannot provide that fertile intellectual landscape alone. Nor will a single activity each month fill the deficiency. Simply put, if you want programming that contains high quality educational content, you cannot rely solely on lead mentors to provide this. And single program kits are not an equitable replacement.
The problem is simple. The amount of time it takes coming up with educationally rich programming is not proportional to the amount of time the kids will spend on a project. Often, I plan and prepare a project, and the children are bored with it within hours. So, you have to several activities almost all the time. I have tried doing that using the reduced input we had this fall, but it is simply too much.
For example, thankfully, Clarissa sent out a month’s worth of curriculum before she left in August. I have tried to stretch and use that as much as possible this fall. However, those activities have run their course. So, I used my first kit idea this past month: crystals. We got a good four days programing out of that. But that is not four days of all the makers doing crystals. It is more like 2 groups of 15 makers spending a day and half each. That is a successful activity. However, successful activities don’t last long. So, I had to come up with more.
I’m hopeful that we can get back to some form of month programming. The present way the kits are envisioned won’t work. A single kit for a month is not an answer. Many kits will be good for only a few days of programming. Other kits may not work at every community. I think a Dungeons and Dragons kit is awesome and makes sense at Kensington. But I have no clue how to introduce to the makers here. And a movie making kit is not new content for a community that is doing a long term movie making project. Without planning and organization, kits will fail to meet the need of daily programing at our sites. And it is simply too much of a burden for lead mentors (this mentor, at least) to provide daily high quality programming all on their own.