Exploring Makerspaces, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Brain Monkeys – A Makerspace That Comes to You

For this second segment of my series on exploring makerspaces, I interviewed Katie Tilton, owner of Brain Monkeys. Brain Monkeys is a makerspace that has been around for several years and has a unique model – it’s mobile and it’s just for kids. As owner Katie Tilton puts it, Brain Monkeys is “A makerspace that comes to you”.  I met Tilton a decade ago when I brought her in to do a program for teens, at a local public library. I’ve always been struck by her energy and enthusiasm. She is truly a pioneer in kid makerspace programming.

Her company, Brain Monkeys, facilitates and offers programs as part of after school enrichment, summer camps and home schooling groups. These activities include Arduino programming, electronics, LEGO Mindstorms, ballistics, Maker Design and Create and much more.  

Brain Monkeys is an established company that does some very solid makerspace programming for kids and this, having a traveling makerspace, is another way that you could consider doing makerspace. This certainly adds a convenience factor for your members and could allow you to create a business model like Tilton’s. If you are contemplating creating a makerspace for your public library, or school, this could also enable you to provide programming for all of the library branches in your community, or buildings in your school district, in one fell swoop.

A specific way in which you can take your makerspace on the road is with traveling carts. A group of middle school librarians in Knoxville, TN were able to do this successfully with thematic carts (STEM, production, art, 3D printing), that rotated between their buildings.  Another model that has worked for some is to put makerspace equipment onto a bus and drive it to different locations.

Regardless of how it’s done, having a mobile makerspace opens up a lot of possibilities.

Brain Monkeys Images reproduced with permission.

Exploring Makerspaces

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Think Tank at Impression 5

The biggest influence on my makerspace management and design has absolutely been made through visiting other spaces. Although nothing beats visiting a space in person, hopefully this, which is the beginning of a series, provides the next best thing.

On Monday, a day we all had off of work and school, I dragged my whole family to Impression 5, the kids hands-on science museum in Lansing, to check out their appropriately named makerspace “Think Tank”. Think Tank, located on the first floor near the main entrance, is open for limited hours and for special programming.  

One of the most intriguing aspects of this space was that it was developed with input from a Youth Action Council, a diverse group of youth from the area. The names of the Youth Action Council line one of the walls, each name plaque uniquely designed by the council members themselves, using tools from the makerspace.

Youth Action Council name plaques above tool storage cabinets at Think Tank.

My first thought upon entering was that Think Tank is one of the cleanest makerspaces I’ve ever encountered. Tools for today’s project were out, but other tools and materials were neatly put away in storage lining the walls.

Pegboard with hanging tools and cardboard storage organized by size.

Although Think Tank occupies a small space, it’s utilized for interesting and innovative projects, many of which could be seen on display.

Projects on Display.

Within Think Tank is the Think Space, something that I haven’t encountered in any other makerspace before. The Think Space is connected to the rest of Think Tank, but set back into a cozy nook. Inside the Think Space is a comfy couch with throw pillows, some bean bag chairs and a coffee table with several issues of Make magazine. The idea behind the Think Space is to provide an area for kids to sit to take a moment to…well…think. Perhaps their project isn’t working the way that they had intended, and they need a break. Maybe they want to use the space to work with a small group. They could peruse the magazines for inspiration if they feel stuck. Regardless, this seems like a wonderful addition, especially for a kid-focused makerspace.

In the span of about an hour, my kids, with some guidance from the incredibly knowledgeable staff, were both able to create their own “flapping flyers”, an eagle and a dragon, respectively, out of cardboard, yarn, nuts (for weight) a popsicle stick and fishing line. Overall Think Tank at Impression 5 was a great experience, we can’t wait to go back!

Getting inspiration for their Flapping Flyers designs.