Seattle-area guide for 'maker' kids
Projects change weekly at Pacific Science Center's Tinker Tank. Depending on when they come, kids can program model cars, build air rockets, design sailboats, use strings, straws and articulated tubes to make artificial limbs.
Pacific Science Center
In an age where vast universes of entertainment are available a few clicks away, there's something exhilarating about making something with your own hands, putting tools and materials together, trying and testing ideas until one works out right.
Enter the Maker Movement, which has been building momentum at least since the first Maker Faire in the Bay Area in 2006. The Seattle Mini Maker Faire first happened in 2012.
The maker movement is a network of enthusiasts and professionals dedicated to sharing tools and methods and encouraging people to create things themselves. It includes knitters and metal sculptors, woodworkers and robotics enthusiasts, engineers and teachers. They take advantage of the Internet and social media to share ideas and feedback. We live in a world where there is no interest too obscure for people to club together over it online.
So this wave of industrious inventiveness owes its vitality to the screen-saturated world we live in. But it also offers people an incentive to escape the displays, to stop navigating games that other people created, and to create something of their own. For parents worried about losing kids to screens, this is great news.
Consider the Pacific Science Center's Tinker Tank. This hub of hands-on activities has been happening for 6+ years now. When it opened, it operated only on Friday afternoons in the center's Building 3. Now it's open all day, every day in a big bright space in the Carnevali Pavilion, where passers-by crossing Seattle Center can get a view of what is going on.
At one end, kids test the flight properties of various paper creations in a wind tunnel. There's a table of Legos – not the kind you can buy in sets in the store, but piles of old-school 2-by-4 bricks in a variety of colors. There's a table of duplos, and a table of wooden Keva blocks. And then there's the project area. One week kids might be inserting various parts – pvc pipes, pieces of wood trim, bendy plastic rods – into a tilted pegboard to make a path for a ball to follow down. The projects change every week. Depending on when they come, kids can program model cars, build air rockets, design sailboats, use strings, straws and articulated tubes to make artificial limbs.
Kids working with their hands
Some kids stay for about half an hour and some stay all day, says Daniel Rother, manager of the Tinker Tank. Some kids are regulars. Because they work according to their own interests, once in a while consulting a parent, volunteer or staff member, kids go at their own pace. How well they take to it isn't related to how well they work in the classroom.
That's a pattern he noticed from when he first started doing Maker workshops with kids: "We ended up attracting kids who were not necessarily fitting into the educational model."
Loren Kite, director of Kids' Carpentry Seattle, a Columbia City-based organization that introduces kids to woodworking techniques, says that sensory and attention problems that make classroom life challenging don't necessarily affect a kid's ability to make something: "It really is about what the individual can accomplish," Kite says.
The experience of measuring, cutting, and assembling a wooden toy gives kids a wonderful sense of accomplishment of a kind that is increasingly rare in today's educational system, says Kite. Kite believes all kids need the chance to get away from screens and work with their hands.
"I feel like a lot of the skills they are just losing," he says.
Rother agrees that kids need more opportunities for handicrafts. "There's a big emphasis in getting away from screens and getting your hands on stuff," he said. But being a maker is about learning to use the tools you have, and sometimes the tools have screens.
"Some of the tools are, 'How do you Google that problem?" he says.
At the Seattle Mini Maker Faire, kids are enthusiastic participants, says Kwapi Vengesayi, public-engagement producer for the Museum of Pop Culture. Some of the makers showing off inventions in Seattle Center are in middle school.
"It’s very fascinating to see what Maker Faire does in terms of inspiring young minds and giving kids a chance to showcase their creativity," he says. "It’s not just young people watching adults show them what they can do. They’re taking ownership of it, and it’s something very powerful in itself."
Seattle-area maker resources for kids
If you're looking for ways to interest your kids in making things, here are some places to check out.
Maker space open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily200 Second Ave N
Free with Pacific Science Center admission
Carpentry classes for kids using hand tools4739 Rainier Ave S and various community centers
This Greenwood-based organization runs a reuse store with an eclectic collection of supplies, a maker space and a variety of classes for kids and adults, including sewing, art and woodworking.8408 Greenwood Ave N
This Central District-based group offers a wide selection of pay-what-you-can classes for youth aged 10-15. The mission, to challenge adolescents to "build skills, creative thinking, self-awareness, and social awareness through hands-on projects with professionals in creative fields." These include, art, woodworking, bicycle mechanics, cooking and a variety of other creative endeavors. They just opened a new location in Lake City.2300 E Cherry St
and12325 Lake City Way NE
From noon-3 p.m. last Saturday of each month, MOHAI hosts an all-ages drop-in workshop, led by someone from the community. Some past projects: fantasy LED balls, shadow puppets, pinhole cameras and beginning soldering.860 Terry Ave N
Free with museum admission
This SODO museum offers a variety of camps and workshops for kids and adults interested in exploring computers and electronics. Topics include soldering and hardware.
2245 First Ave S
This work area within Bellevue Library has open hours a few times a week, runs workshops and has reservable hours. Tools on hand include a 3D printer, laser cutter, sewing machines, Arduino, Snap Circuits, Mindstorm, Ozobots, cameras, sound recording gear and ukeleles. More information here.1111 110th Ave NE
This South Lake Union maker space, which has equipment, space, and courses, offers memberships and day passes for youth aged 11 to 17. Take note their insurance requires all kids under 16 be accompanied by an adult.Corner of Mercer and Dexter
Along with classes for all ages, and birthday parties, this business offers "open studio hours" where interested people can pay a fee and use the space and equipment.124 N 103rd St., Suite A
This sewing, knitting, and general craft-making hub in Occidental Square holds classes for kids and adults, as well as open studio hours.301 Occidental Avenue S
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated for 2020.