Forget the Enchanted Forest and even Sherwood Forest. Now, there’s Geek Forest, a hybrid electronics retail store and maker space, and it’s located—where else?—in Brooklyn.
Founded late last year as a pop-up, Geek Forest is celebrating its move to a new, permanent space in Williamsburg with a grand-opening on Saturday, April 2. Founder Carmen Sutton envisioned a retail and educational space similar to Maker Faire, welcoming all those who want to invent, create and learn (and then buy the stuff to do so). As a parent with an interest in the tech field, Sutton believed her neighborhood could benefit from a year-round STEM site for kids and worked diligently to make it happen.
Spring classes began on March 28. In advance of the grand opening, we got a sneak preview (and playtime).
What sort of classes does The Geek Forest offer and for whom? Short answers: All kinds, and for everyone.
Kids build a battle bot with Lego Mindstorms EV3. In upcoming classes, they will program them to battle each other. Photo courtesy of the venue.
More specifically, it has partnered with Engineering for Kids to provide after-school STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), instruction, including lessons in Lego's WeDo Robotics and Mindstorms and the programming language Scratch, which leads to an advanced game design class. It also offers robotics with LEGOs, as well as old-school comic-book illustration. Yes, with pens and paper.
There’s a 3D printing class in the works in which students will design gadgets and watch them come together layer by painstaking layer. Students also can dream up layouts at home and drop into Geek Forest to get them 3D-printed. Mention that you heard about these sessions on Mommy Poppins and get a last-minute, 15 percent discount on all spring session classes.
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Kids can create wearable electronics using Teknikio. Photo by Josephine Sedgwick/courtesy of the venue.
Robotics was on the agenda the day my sixth-grader and I visited. The Geek Forest is full of kits even the youngest builders can use to create moving machines, sensors, circuits and even wearable technology, which is something I haven’t seen much of in my exploration of all things NYC Kids Tech.
My son was enchanted by two games. One featured three magnetic blocks with sensors that could be triggered by a hand wave. In the other, a racing game, players literally programmed by drawing colored lines and shapes on a piece of paper. It's a unique way to teach programming: Each color and shape moved the vehicle in a different way, teaching kids how to think in the linear fashion required by coding, only without a keyboard.
All kits at The Geek Forest are for sale, including Arduino (an open-source electronics platform), Raspberry Pi (tiny, single-board computers), Teknikio (toy building sets) and modular robotics. It is an official littleBits chapter and host of its upcoming NYC workshops.
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Checking out the library offerings. Photo by the author.
There are shelves of books for those who like learning the old-fashioned way. Currently, The Geek Forest stocks mostly tech manuals for kids, some of which are funny and entertaining, and a small collection of comic books. Sutton, as a fan herself, promises a sci-fi section in the near future.
Kids ages 5-12 can sign up for a Minecraft Spring Break Camp to be held April 26-29. The Geek Forest also will offer morning sessions for home-schooled children.
Plans for single-topic workshops, community events and maybe even a hack-a-thon-style gathering, where groups of kids work on their own things, are in the works.
And don't overlook its summer camp. Two age groups, 5-7 and 8-12, run simultaneously. Its one-room space is big enough to be divided into halves for separate activities. There are morning-only, afternoon-only and full-day camp options.
Good To Know Before You Go: The Geek Forest at 329 Grand Street, Brooklyn, is accessible by public transportation. It is only a few blocks from the Grand Street station on the L subway line and the Marcy Avenue station on the G, J and Z lines. The day we made the trek, despite rain and subway delays we still arrived from the Upper West Side in less than 45 minutes.
Top image: A young girl builds an airplane with Lego WeDo. Simple block programming will help her to create a propeller that spins. Photo courtesy of Geek Forest.