3D Printing Programs for Kids

Last weekend as I was changing the spool of plastic on the Makerbot for a boy and his dad to finish printing and I just had to chuckle to myself. With my legs up on the table and the PLA plastic in my mouth, I maneuvered to feed the green string through the extruder. Never in a million years would I have imagined that this could be a daily reality for a children’s librarian. New technologies continue to challenge my preconceived notions of where the library profession would lead me.

Technology continues to revolutionize the way our world functions, and public libraries are in a unique position when it comes to educating kids and families and preparing them for these changes. The American Library Association recently published a paper that tackles 3D Printing technology, public policy, and the role of libraries in this conversation.

When we received our 3D printer a little over a year ago most of the children’s staff had no idea what to make of it. Sure it was cool, and a great addition to our mini-makerspace, but would it be a temporary fixture in the Children’s Library? One brave children’s staff member took the lead and spent time tinkering with the printer and has been a real 3D guru to the rest of the department. She has even provided tutorials and troubleshooting to the IT staff. Of course, we don’t pretend to have all the answers, but almost every weekend we meet a new family inquiring about the Makerbot and amazed that the Library is the one place in town where they can work with one hands on.

As more libraries begin to evaluate whether a 3D printer actually has a place within their institution, there is going to be a growing need for addressing what services and programs the library will provide, and how to tackle challenges such as repair or appropriate use.

Krishna Grady and Amy Laughlin craft dinosaur necklaces from a 3D printer.
Krishna Grady and Amy Laughlin craft dinosaur necklaces from a 3D printer.

Beyond individual patron prints, the Children’s Library has managed to educate families on the concept of 3D Printing and Design while also hosting other classes that are fun and inspiring. Below is a sampling of our current 3D Printing programs for children.

Makerbot 101 – Our guru Amy Laughlin has designed both an introductory session to the concepts and origin of 3D printing and design for eager printers. Not sure what CAD software even means? Amy has done a fantastic job in making the information accessible to both patrons and curious library staff members.

Tinkercad Design – Watching the printer work its magic is simply one element to this new technology. By using Tinkercad, kids can locate pre-designed prints to take home, but the web-based tool also teaches 3D Design in an accessible way.

3D Printing and Crafting – Tech and crafting can come together for a variety of ages. Pull out some glitter and sharpies to decorate 3D prints for the younger set, while discovering applicable ways to craft with older kids using more complex printed objects. In December tweens assembled mini-printed pieces using needle-nose pliers in the Dino-Necklaces program.

Gift Giving 3D Style – As our Makerbot usage amps up during the holidays we wanted to provide gift giving options for crafty kids. Revisiting the Cookie Cutter program from last year we used the website Cookie Caster which uses a drawing board to design a cookie cutter template and makes a 3D model of the design. We also curated a list of ten easy prints which take under one hour to form. This comes in handy when demoing the 3D printer, but also provides potential gifts for kids to give to parents. Ornaments and picture frames have been particularly popular prints this year.

Claire Moore is a member of the Digital Content Task Force. She is also Head of Children’s Services at Darien Library in Connecticut. You can reach Claire at cmoore@darienlibrary.org.

Visit the Digital Media Resources page to find out more about navigating your way through the evolving digital landscape.


  1. Kim

    Great post, Claire!

    I’ve done an intro to 3D printing for teens with TinkerCAD, but wasn’t quite sure what kind of programming to do beyond that. I love your ideas!

    Would you/Amy be willing to share your outline for the Makerbot 101 session? I’m on the Emerging Technologies team at my library and we’d like to be able to train other staff on the 3D printer as well.


  2. Melendra Sutliff Sanders

    I’d love to see your Makerbot 101 session plan too. The dinosaur necklaces are fabulous!
    Have you tried out any of Autodesk 123D other programs? My kids love the 123D Creature app.

    1. Claire Moore

      Hello Melendra,

      Yes, I have used one of the Autodesk apps to create “sculptures” using various shapes. We transferred to Tinkercad and then printed them out.

      I might look into the creature app. Thanks for the suggestion!!

  3. Claire Moore

    Thank you Kim!

    Yes, it also took us some time to build programming around the printer.

    Feel free to email me and we can share some ideas.


  4. Vicky

    How do you handle the cost of supplies? I assume an official library program provides supplies for free but what about the families who come in to do their own projects?

    1. Claire Moore

      Hello Vicky,

      Good question! I edited out the portion about costs, but at our Library we currently do not charge kids to print. We are still using the same PLA plastic from when we opened the Makerspace. The 3D printer for grownups and teens does charge a fee for printing. We may re-evaluate in the future.


  5. Plastic Industry training

    Yeah, I have utilized one of the Autodesk applications to make “models” utilizing different shapes. We exchanged to Tinkercad and after that printed them out.

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