This unique DIY workspace provides children with a hands-on education in power-tool usage and, if they’re so inclined, the opportunity to invent something.
While DIY makerspaces are popping up in Toronto’s west-end, MakerKids is one where children can learn how to repurpose common household objects for a different use. At one recent inventions class, a girl connected a mannequin to a heater and her iPod alarm to warm up her clothes when she wakes up; another created a cotton candy machine using a drill, a blowtorch, a bowl, metal, and a wooden frame.
MakerKids is the brainchild of Andy Forest, who first developed the idea in his garage three years ago when he ran a summer camp for his daughters and their friends and realized they were lacking a hands-on education at school. The workshop moved into its current location just north of Roncesvalles Village and was incorporated as a non-profit last year.
“At every inventions class, there’s half a dozen or 10 different crazy projects [the kids] come up with,” Forest enthuses. “They’re always surprising us. We tell them they’re only limited by their imagination. And they are always coming up with unique and bizarre things.”
On Thursday evenings, computers are brought in and the space is transformed into a Minecraft playground. Minecraft is a 3D game wherein players can build structures and explore a user-created virtual world, like an online equivalent of playing with Lego blocks. Children can learn how to make skins for their avatars, design different structures, and print physical models from the game using a 3D printer.
Given MakerKids’ non-profit status, there is a pay-what-you-can donation for the kids’ open shop and Minecraft programs, while adults can use the space on Mondays during the “MakerKids at Heart” time slot for $20.
Tools are not toys
Safety is of utmost important to Forest, who trains the children on how to use tools properly and ensures that either an adult mentor or parent are on-hand when kids are soldering, cutting, or drilling. And when a child needs to use a table saw or drill press in the closed-off wood cutting room, they must first request access from Forest or a trained volunteer, while children and instructors alike have to wear safety glasses in the space.
Curiously, next to the butane on the top shelf, you’ll find a decidedly less-hazardous material being stored out of children’s reach: Lego. However, according to instructor Misha Dubrovsky, use of MakerKids’ Lego bin is subject to the same permissions process as a gas can because the tiny blocks are costly to replace if they’re lost.
The movement is growing
MakerKids is expanding beyond its current basement space. Forest’s own web design company moved to the second floor last week and soon, the first floor will soon house the 3D scanner and computers for digital work and the Minecraft nights. This will also free up space for summer-camp programs and a small area to sell motors and pre-made parts.
Kids’ open shop happens every Tuesday and Friday from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Classes and other open shops run throughout the week. You can contact MakerKids at 416-534-4560 and firstname.lastname@example.org.