Recently, all the news about high-stakes testing and changes to the Common Core Standards has made me feel like NYC public schools are moving even further away from arts and creative learning and turning into what my father called "conformity factories." Luckily in New York City, innovative, cutting-edge learning is just a subway ride away.
Right now, one of the coolest things to do with NYC kids is to visit a makerspace where they can get hands-on experience with 3D printing, video game design, animation, Arduino electronics, digital music and more. Makerspaces are popping up all over NYC. Some allow you to drop in and try out avant-garde technology, others offer workshops, classes or summer camp programs designed specifically for kids.
Our kids are living in an age when they have the tools to bring their ideas to life like never before. My daughter created the necklace shown in our gallery at a local makerspace in under an hour, no major investment or factory needed. She has since started a blog for her jewelry designs and even has her own Etsy store.
Who knows what kinds of creativity and innovation this new technology will lead to? Today's young inventors will certainly lead the way. In the meantime, 3D printing is like having a factory at your fingertips, conformity be gone.
I'm sure this list will change as the makerspace movement continues to grow, but here are some of the coolest maker programs for kids in NYC right now.
Pixel Academy – Cobble Hill
163 Pacific Street between Clinton and Court Streets
When I visited this program in early 2013, it was being run out of a small pop-up shop a few blocks away. But as of May 2013, it has moved into its new permanent digs. I was impressed with how well the instructors worked with the kids, providing a great mix of instruction and hands-off time so students could do what they wanted. It helped that there were two instructors to just five kids on the day we visited, so everyone got lots of assistance when needed. Plus all participants got their own computers instead of having to work in pairs or teams, which is a big deal for kids.
Right now, Pixel Academy is open on select days after school and on Saturdays for children ages 6 to 13. Two workshops are offered each day or kids can opt to work on their own projects. The day we dropped in they offered 3D printing and computer game design, but there's a long list of other options on the website, including filmmaking, digital music and animation. There's no workshop schedule online, so, if you have a particular project in mind, contact Pixel Academy beforehand to make sure your kids can do what they want when they arrive. A day pass is $40, but multiple passes can be purchased at a discount. Bonus: Your first visit if free. Pixel Academy will also offer a summer camp in Lower Manhattan and the owners are looking for a larger permanent space so they can expand their offerings. We'll keep our eyes on them.
Beam Center – Columbia Street Waterfront District
60 Sackett Street at Van Brunt Street
Beam Center moved to a new space in February 2015. The review below refers to its old studio in Cobble Hill. Just walking into Beam Center's loft space has to lift your cool factor a few notches. The program's signature Inventgenuity Workshops allow kids to be creative and hands-on in both high- and low-tech ways. The day we stopped by, kids in one half of the room were creating decidedly analog medieval alarm clocks out of cardboard and wood, learning skills like cutting with a saw and making gears. On the other side of the room, a group was learning Arduino electronics.
Aside from special events like the annual Inventgenuity Festival, Beam doesn't offer drop-in sessions. Instead, children in second to ninth grades can sign up for four- or eight-week workshops. The workshops change constantly and always offer some cool twist on filmmaking, sewing, woodworking, electronics, programming, video game design, art and more. Despite the more structured programs, Beam Center has a decidedly makerspace feel by design. Co-founders Brian Cohen and Danny Kahn regularly bring in cool artists, designers, engineers, musicians and makers of all stripes with big ideas to keep the creativity flowing.
The Makery – Citywide
The Makery is a pop-up program that transforms NYC storefronts, galleries, atriums and other available spaces into temporary makerspaces with hands-on events and interactive installations. When open, the studio offers three-hour workshops on weekends in subjects like 3D design and printing, electronics, video game design, robotics and Arduino for anyone ages 8 and up. In each workshop, participants tackle a specific project, usually creating something they can take home at the end. Check the website to find out where the Makery will appear next, or sign up for the email list.
Staten Island MakerSpace – Staten Island
450 Front Street with the entrance on Thompson Street
The first makerspace on Staten Island, this 6,000-square-foot studio features a wide variety of low- and high-tech tools and stations, including a metalshop, a woodshop, a computer lab with 3D printers, a sewing studio and a jewelry station. While most members are adults, Staten Island MakerSpace does offer some workshops and after-school programs for kids and families, including a super-popular Minecraft club. Read our in-depth post for all the details.
Unfortunately, this company closed its retail locations in early 2015. It now directs customers to Home Depot and Staples stores to test out its 3D making tech.
Makerbot Store – Soho
298 Mulberry Street between Bleecker and Houston Streets
Makerbot is the first store dedicated to 3D printing in the entire world. Visitors can view demos of 3D printers in action, have a 3D portrait taken in the photo booth, buy supplies for Makerbot printers, see some incredible creations or buy a small 3D printed tchotchke out of the gumball machine. Makerbot Store also hosts hour-long 3D Design and Printing classes on Saturdays for children ages 8 and up. The classes are a bargain at just $10 and teach kids how to design and print their own simple creations.
The annual Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science is also a great place to see 3D printing and other state-of-the-art technology in action. Every fall, makers from around the world descend on the Queens museum to show off their inventions, sometimes insane, often amazing. The NY Hall of Science also has a small Maker Space studio equipped with 3D printers and other tools, though it's only open to the public during specific workshops. You can find the schedule online.