Maker programming is a large trend in public libraries throughout North America. By researching kit options and planning for added costs, public libraries can develop successful steam programming.
Moose Jaw Public Library has invested in a number of Maker programming initiatives which have been well received, including MakeDo, Squishy Circuits, and Little Bits. Prior to purchasing we sought reviews from a number of sources, including communications with other librarians, makezine.com, and reviews at PLA and at other conferences. We funded our Maker programs through a grant and through donations from our local Friends of the Library.
MakeDo encourages children to explore basic engineering principles. Each kit comes with a plastic safe saw, and several pins and hinges. Each library supplies cardboard boxes and the paper supplies required by the kits. Children can build anything they wish, or follow the kit instructions. While they cannot take their creations home, they can display their works of art and turn your library into a gallery!
With electrical circuit kits, it is important to consider the actual ongoing cost of the maker kits, including replacement parts. Squishy Circuits and Little Bits are very popular, however both kits have hidden costs. Squishy Circuits offers a fun, tactile way to experience electricity. However, librarians will need to factor in the cost of extra dough, replacement wires and time for cleaning equipment. Little Bits are fun! Kids love assembling these magnetic circuits. Buy the largest pack in your budget, as you will want multiples for a larger group. Additional budgeting is a must, as some pieces at the time of our kit’s purchase were only sold separately.
The Acton-Agua Dulce Public Library has also invested in various maker kits, with special emphasis on Snap Circuits Jr. kits. Each kit comes with an instructional booklet with projects that a child could do alone or in pairs. The baseline Jr. kit comes with 100 available projects that start from a basic closed circuit where a light illuminates or a fan spins to more complicated series and parallel circuits. I used this set for a S.T.E.A.M. centered program for ages 8-14 and it was very well received. Some kids already had lessons on circuitry and knew how they worked so I allowed them to have complete freedom with the kits and focused more on those who were just learning how the circuits worked.
The Snap Circuits kits turned out to be excellent for passive programming as well as more structured, lesson-based programming. We now have a couple different types of kits at the library as part of our Homework Center, and the afterschool kids love setting them up and seeing what they can create. And don’t worry if a piece gets lost or broken because you can easily buy replacement parts through their website. The only additional cost to the kits is the use of AA batteries, two needed per kit.
Three questions you may want to ask before buying your maker kit: Will it be something that kids will ask for again, over and over? Can you do a whole program around the kit? How easy is it to get replacement parts? The biggest takeaway with buying maker kits is that you have to try them for yourself to see what will work for you and your community.
Our guest bloggers today are Amanda Cain and Tina Dolcetti.Tina currently works for the Moose Jaw Public Library as a Children’s Librarian. By night, Tina can be found in her community, mentoring an adult with a cognitive disability for the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living. Amanda is a Children’s Librarian who enjoys opening young minds with stories, rhymes and activities at the Acton-Agua Dulce Public Library.
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