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3D Printing for Children

Image of a line of small 3D printed Pikachus in different colors with a large yellow pikachu standing behind them.

About ten years ago, my library got a 3D Printer. A Makerbot Replicator. Around that time, we heard that a library north of us was doing 3D printing school visits, so a colleague and I drove north to find out what they were doing. Credit is definitely due to that library – the Innisfill ideaLab and Library – for the seeds of what became a giant endeavor that centered around dragging a Makerbot Mini around the elementary schools in my town. Some of the things that made 3D printer-themed school visits wonderful no longer exist, but what I can write about is what I am still doing with 3D printing and our youth patrons in the library.

Read more: 3D Printing for Children
Close-up photo of a 3D printer, an Ultimaker 3, with a 3D printed purple flexible dinosaur, and a USB key with a 3D printed keychain attached, yellow, with the words Aurora Public Library Creative Studio in black.

3D Printing for Kids as a program

Program Tips

  • We do this as a registered event in our library and keep it to a maximum of six kids. This helps us ensure that we have enough library laptops/Chromebooks and that they are working. It’s really important for this program that there is one device per child, so everyone can have hands-on experience.
  • You will also need a mouse for each device, as touchpads aren’t precise enough for TinkerCAD.
  • You will also need to create a generic TinkerCad login (they can be logged in on multiple devices) because even if you ask everyone to create one in advance, I can guarantee there will be problems. So have a shareable login handy.
  • I usually do this program over two weeks, with an hour session each week. This allows time to print a design for everyone in between sessions. 
  • I don’t recommend including parents in the program. It can be difficult to get the kids focused with a parent in the room, and we do offer adult classes on 3D printing.

The Two-Week Schedule

Week 1

This week includes covering basics like how the printer works, how much it costs, and/or what limitations there are to using it. It also includes how to find other people’s designs, and how to design in 3D.  I also include a “fun” and/or “wow” video. I’ve used cake and chocolate printing videos, car printers, house printers, and body part printers. I pass around some of our sample printed objects so participants have a sense of what they look like. We also mark our samples with the time they took to print, which is important to know and share with the kids. 

I usually spend at least half this class having kids pick what they want to be printed. I suggest having a limited number of pre-selected choices if you aren’t terribly comfortable with your printer. I have tried pre-printing and letting kids choose, but I don’t recommend it. 

We log in to TinkerCAD if possible, and I have all the children complete the first 3 exercises. 

During the week between the sessions, we print everyone’s chosen design. Plan on starting early. It is possible that at least one won’t work, or you’ll run out of the color they wanted.

Week 2

This session is when we all log in to TinkerCAD, and take a deep dive into CAD. Have everyone do at least the first three tutorials if they didn’t get to it in Week 1. Then have each person create something. I used to start everyone with the same project, and then let them customize it. Now I have that as a backup, but I invite participants to try making something on their own. I’ll provide a suggestion if anyone seems stuck. 

I usually ask to see everyone’s design at the end, and we put them up on the screen and talk in a non-judgmental way about why the design is or isn’t printable.

I sometimes pull out the 3D pens for anyone who has downtime while I help other people. We have a ton of these in the library, and they’re an easy thing to use that is aligned with the purpose of the class.

In the last ten minutes, I hand out the printed objects.

I have tried adding a third week, so we get more design, and time to admire and decorate our objects with paint and rhinestones and things, but there really isn’t enough to hold their attention for an hour, unless they really want to dig deep into TinkerCad.

Image of a menu of 3D printed items behind three flexible 3D print animals, a green triceritops, a white shark, and a purple triceritops. To the left is a 3D printed cat phone holder in red, to the left, a purple 3D printed bookmark with an 8-bit image of a tyrannosaurus rex on top.


Every now and then I get a kid who wants to know a lot more. Usually, their teacher emails me. I tell them to put me in touch with the parent, and we schedule time for an hour-long session. You really can get through everything you need, and a lot of design, when it’s just you and one child – especially if the parent sets up a TinkerCAD account before and the kid has had time to finish tutorials or play around with the program. 

I have been doing this for years now, and I do hope that if you love technology and kids – and have the opportunity to use a 3D printer with them – that you will give it a try. It is fun to introduce the next generation to a maker space tool that is often thought of as just for adults, and that’s really important if we want to keep having these amazing spaces in our libraries.

All photos taken by the author.

Polly Ross-Tyrrell is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee. She works currently in a mid-size public library a little bit north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, as the Children’s Librarian, where she has a wonderful time playing with technology and generally being a giant children’s services nerd. You can contact her if you have more questions about this post or 3D printing and children at

This blog post relates to ALSC Core Competencies of: III Programming Skills.

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