Maker Mornings

Over the years, I've been adding more and more outreach to my schedule, making additional programming more challenging as my daily routines have shifted to accommodate being in more places in our community.

But I didn't want to stop offering programs for preschoolers that weren't storytimes altogether. I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about making, tinkering, and STEAM and inquiry-based learning recently.

The result of this reflection has lead to two things: a STEAM series highly inspired by the awesome WonderWorks programs by Carissa over at Library Makers, and "Maker Mornings."

Maker Mornings

The focus of Maker Mornings is hands-on, child-led, inquiry-based invitations into learning centered around an idea.

I purposefully kept the program design simple, with minimal directions, and signage for caregivers that addressed the why of what was happening vs. just the what.

Maker Mornings start off with a picture book or easy nonfiction read aloud introducing the idea or an aspect of the topic. I then point out the different ways to explore the idea and participants are free to move from area to area as they like.

wooden box with several compartments filled with small items like beads, sticks, and plastic drinking straws
One table is for loose parts. Loose parts is a theory developed in the 1970s by an architect named Simon Nicholson. [read his paper here] Loose parts are things that can be sorted, patterned, used for symbolic play, encourage problem-solving, and manipulated or combined in endless ways. They might be wooden blocks, a basket of interesting rocks, an assortment of beads, a collection of buttons, a jar of nuts and bolts. I found two knick knack boxes, the kind with lots of different compartments, at a thrift store and then simply pulled out bits and pieces from around the library (inside and out!) to fill the compartments. I do change out the items for each program, depending on what the focus is-- but you wouldn't need to. Sometimes I'll add a tool like a mirror, magnifying glass, or ruler to see how kids utilize them.

For more on loose parts, I highly recommend Loose Parts and Loose Parts 2 by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky.

Then I have 2-3 invitations. Invitations and provocations are used in Reggio Emilio inspired learning environments, and provide opportunities to explore. At the basis of making and tinkering are behaviors and character traits like curiosity, problem-solving, intrinsic motivation, and creativity. Rather than design programming that would (always or most of the time) result in portable products, I try to shoot for activities or stations that (always or most of the time) give kids a chance to practice developing behaviors and traits (and occasionally, a take-home project!)


I do two Maker Mornings a month (along with two STEAM programs a month) for 1 hour. Since I am intentionally using lots of choking hazards, I set the age limit for 3-6, but the upper end could be extended if you wanted to use this kind of program with families or a homeschool group. I was curious to see how such open-ended activities would be received by the caregivers and the kids.

My experience has been caregivers have just as much fun as the kids do at the loose parts station, sorting, patterning, just running their hands through the sequins or pumpkin seeds. Sometimes children last 5 minutes at an invitation; others have to be pulled away after 30 minutes. So far, no one has commented after programs where there wasn't something tangible to take away. From my perspective, the "vibe" of these programs is relaxed, slower-paced, and exploratory.

I hear lots of questions being asked--by both kids and caregivers--about what things are, what you can do with them, or why this or that choice was made. I hear kids describing what they have created (the straws and game board pieces have been cars and water pipes so far), and asking for help when they can't quite theorize a solution to their current problem.

Next Steps

If you're interested in learning more about making and tinkering, I'd recommend checking out:
Make: Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff by Curt Gabrielson
Make: Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation by AnnMarie Thomas
Tinkerlab: a Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley
Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT



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