Do you wish your kids had a creative space that went beyond construction paper, scissors, and glue? Do you want your kids to find a STEM activity, but don’t have a clue where to start? Check out the Johnson County Library MakerSpace. The space is not necessarily geared toward young kids, but with a little grown-up help, even the youngest kids can get creative in the MakerSpace.
The MakerSpace has a vinyl cutter, sound booth, green screen, CNC router, laser cutter, soldering, electronics, sewing, and 3D printing. They have several work tables, computers, and a wall full of tools—basically anything you need to finish a project or get inspired to start a new one.
I can almost hear you thinking—but I don’t know how to use any of that stuff. How can I possibly take my kids in there? Honestly, I felt that way at first. (Thankfully, my husband didn’t. The first time he took the kids there, they came home with a couple of miniature 3D-printed toys.) But rest assured: the librarians are there to show you how to use the equipment, and they’re glad to answer any questions you have. Not sure what you want to make? They can point you to websites and books with sample projects and ready-to-use files.
What Can I Do There?
You can find ready-to-print 3D files online, or create your own using a program like TinkerCad. You can also scan objects up to 8 inches high to print. My kids have made countless trinkets from already-designed files. My son also designed a little toy car that had wheels that turned. #proudmama
Computers, Software, and Electronics
The MakerSpace computers have art and design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, and audio and video editing programs like Garage Band and Audacity. You can also code your Arduino or prep your cutting or 3D printing files there. (See the MakerSpace website for complete list of available software.) You can also find wire cutters, soldering tools, jumper wires, USB connectors, and all kinds of spare parts. Did someone say robot?
The MakerSpace has a green room, where you can take photos or record video. Cameras, tripods, and microphones are available to borrow. Head over to the sound booth to record sound or edit your audio. The possibilities for using the green room and sound booth are endless—take a goofy family photo and add an even goofier background (Christmas card, perhaps?). Got a musician or performer on your hands? Let her make her own music video. We used the green room once, with, um, mixed results. I’ll leave it at that. #moodykid
This area is not just your grandma’s sewing machine. Sure, you can sew there, but you can also create wearable technology using conductive thread, laser-engrave your logo onto denim or fleece, and use the vinyl cutter to cut shapes or patterns out of fabric or felt.
Vinyl and Die Cutting
This machine takes crafting and turns it up to eleven. Design your files, then use the cutter to quickly and cleanly cut all kinds of materials, from glitter and foil paper to chipboard, vinyl, denim, and more. Kids will love designing their own bedroom decor, creating birthday cards, and anything else they can dream up.
The laser cutter can cut or engrave many different materials—but make sure your material is on the approved list since some items can off-put toxic gas. Again, you provide your own files for this one, but almost any graphic image will work. The librarians can help you convert files if necessary. We made a wooden sign for the kids’ play fort, and my husband and I engraved a couple wine glasses. Kids will enjoy creating their own rubber stamps or Ren-Fest-style wooden shields.
CNC Carving Machine
Bring in your item to be cut (again, from the approved materials list only), and this machine will get busy carving out your design. My kids created their own wooden fidget spinners using this machine. As it turned out, the spinners are a teeny bit too large for their hands, but they learned a ton in the process.
Things You Should Know Before You Go
- Bring your own materials. Sometimes there are scraps of wood or other materials you can play around with, but if you want to have a nice finished product, bring your own materials.
- Have your design files ready to go. Time can be limited in the MakerSpace, so get your files prepped at home, if possible.
- There will be some downtime while projects are underway, so bring something to entertain your kids.
- Reservations are preferred. Sometimes they fill up weeks in advance, so plan ahead.
- The MakerSpace is closed Wednesdays, and hours vary. Check before you go.
- It’s OK to make mistakes. Sometimes the projects you design don’t turn out the way you wish they had. And that’s OK!
- Speaking of mistakes… Definitely plan to make things twice if you want a displayable finished product.
- Ask for help! Importing your design can be tricky, and things don’t always convert the way you think they should. The librarians can help you troubleshoot.
- Plan on things taking longer than you expect. We reserved two hours on the laser cutter, even though I didn’t think we’d need that much time. Spoiler alert: we did.
Our biggest takeaway after many, many visits to the MakerSpace: don’t be afraid to come. Don’t be afraid to ask the MakerSpace librarians questions. They are there to help. With our green screen project, we borrowed a tripod and camera, and were shown how to use it, how to retrieve our files, and how to find software that let us change the backgrounds. When we tried out the laser cutter, the librarian showed us how to adjust the settings, how to prep our files, and how to place our material in the printer bed. With 3D printing, they taught us how to heat the filament, how to create the 3D design, and how long to wait for the printed item to cool off before popping it off the bed.
The Johnson County Library MakerSpace has become one of my kids’ favorite places to go. They love creating and making, and I love how much they (and I) have learned.