A child with a launcher made during a DoSeum workshop. Credit: The DoSeum

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A 7-year-old arriving at The DoSeum with a teddy bear in hand is not an unusual occurrence. But on the day that Emma visited Clint Taylor in The DoSeum’s Maker Workshop with her special bear, it was a memory that he will always cherish.

Taylor is an educator at The DoSeum, and Emma had attended one of his Maker Workshop classes a few months prior, where she had worked on skills in hand-sewing. During the workshop, as Emma learned to sew a button, she made some rookie mistakes, unthreaded, rethreaded, and had some real successful moments. A few months later, when she arrived with teddy bear in hand, she was so excited to show Taylor how she had sewn her bear’s eye back on all by herself.

Emma had developed the confidence to try something on her own and was so proud of her accomplishment. Maker-centered learning, a practice at the heart of The DoSeum’s educational portfolio, is about more than skills and tool use; it is about the agency that learners have when they can problem-solve and create in order to fix problems or create outcomes in the world around them.

The word “maker” conjures many associations. Is a maker someone who tinkers with their hands, creating one-of-a-kind objects and products, like a woodcarver, sign painter, or sculptor? Or is a modern maker “techier,” a computer programmer, a robotics engineer, or someone who uses laser cutters or 3D printers? While competency with tool use – from screwdrivers to coding programs – are often at the foundation of making, becoming a maker is about developing a growth mindset and flexibility in problem-solving.

Calling oneself a maker does not require a degree or certified skill set. Rather, a maker is simply anyone who makes things. And maker-centered learning is an effective educational framework that is rooted in problem-based learning, a sensitivity to design, and systems-based thinking – all skills relevant in our developing 21st century.

Ann Marie Thomas, author of Making Makers: Kids, Tools and the Future of Innovation, shares these maker mindsets:

  • Makers are curious and explorers of the world around them.
  • Makers are playful and can use whimsy to design solutions.
  • Makers are willing to take on risks and do not trying new things or failure.
  • Makers are responsible and take on projects that can help others.
  • Makers are resilient and resourceful.
  • Makers share – their knowledge, their tools, and their support.
  • Makers are optimistic. They understand that they can and will make a difference in the world.

Making is an all-inclusive term at The DoSeum, and we celebrate makers through our signature programs and exhibits. Makers at play can be found all over The DoSeum – from a toddler building a ball run with simple machines in Force Course to an 8-year-old programming a pocket-sized micro:bit computer in a camp, to a family engineering a music and light arrangement together in Sensations Studio and more.

Why is this type of hands-on engagement so valuable for kids? Think of tinker time as exercising the muscles of curiosity, creativity, and competence with tools. It invites learners to study the design of an object, investigating the system created by that object’s parts and their purposes. Maker-centered learning is a framework that can also be applied beyond the expected. Examine the details of a flower or insect. How are the parts of an organism important to how that organism functions?

How can you bring more making into the experience of your child? Kids are natural inventors, artists, engineers, and designers. Simply providing regular opportunities for kids to create will get your learner’s gears turning. Engaging in one of The DoSeum’s DIY challenges can be a starting point.

Or present them with surprising challenges. What would a chair look like if our knees bent in the other direction? That type of problem-solving and attention to design and creation are at the heart of maker-centered learning, developing minds that are adaptable, innovative, collaborative, and creative.

To even further celebrate the maker mindset, on Nov. 7, The DoSeum will host our first Tinkerfest. We will offer activities throughout the day, including workshops with our 2020 artist-in-residence, Sarah Sudhoff, ATV and motorcycle take-aparts, special behind-the-scenes tours of how our DoSeum team tinkers and creates in our onsite shops, while the littlest of learners (0-5 years old) can explore mess-making in a special activity area. We invite you to join us as we celebrate innovative minds at play as a community at Tinkerfest and beyond!

For more information on Tinkerfest, visit www.thedoseum.org/tinkerfest.

Sheena Solitaire is a museum educator who believes that imagination plus hands-on experiences spark innovation in learners of all ages! As The DoSeum's Director of Public Programs, her work has focused...