Looking for ways to reboot kids' brains as the school year approaches? Consider a makerspace visit. For parents not familiar with makerspaces (also known as hackerspaces), think of them as similar to art classes—with an engineering twist. People go to create something through free expression with tools they otherwise don't have, but instead of oil-based paints and canvases, makerspaces provide 3D printers, computer-aided design software, and other technology.
Although folks of all ages can participate in makerspaces, the best ones for kids have an emphasis on youth-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning. Here is a rundown of fun and kid-centric makerspace options in the Boston area.
1. The Clubhouse—Roxbury
Long based in the Museum of Science, The Clubhouse is operating out of a new space in Roxbury's Dudley Square starting in August 2018. The new space allows for more toys, gadgets, and tools than ever, and provides open studio hours as well as camps and other programs.
Photo courtesy of HATCH/Watertown Free Public Library
Although not aimed solely at children, the Watertown library-sponsored HATCH (pictured above) is free and welcomes kids who are 8 and older, all in the spirit of community collaboration. Be aware that adults without kids may also be at the gatherings. Topics range from coding to 3D design to machine-to-machine learning. Some HATCH activities and equipment require a library card from either the Watertown Free Public Library or Minuteman Library Network. Free
3. Parts and Crafts—Somerville
Parts and Crafts brings a sense of pop culture to makerspaces – witness the center's lightsaber building class, for example. The main makerspace gathering, Open Shop, takes place on Saturdays, and there are also themed weekday workshops to learn new skills such as how to code, build mouse-bots, and create jigsaw puzzles. Free to $$$
Another Somerville gem, Fabville is based in Somerville High School and focuses on nurturing creativity in students in the 'hood and beyond. Fabville runs classes for organized makership, but also hosts an open shop full of fabrication and computation equipment on Mondays and Tuesday afternoons. Free to $$$
5. Fab Lab—Boston
Fab Labs are cropping up all over the country, but this is the first to emerge from the MIT Media Lab where the concept was first developed. Find laser cutters, Shopbot, digital sewing machine, and more at the South End Technology Center. Cost: Free to $$
The Tech Kitchen at Boston Children's Museum. Photo by Alissa Daniels
6. Boston Children's Museum—Boston
Saturdays are tinkering days at the museum's Tech Kitchen, where visitors are encouraged to play with a variety of STEAM-inspired materials. Makers can mark their calendars for the Mini Maker Faire here at the museum on October 6-7.
7. Einstein's Workshop—Burlington
An impressive schedule is the first thing many parents will notice about Einstein's Workshop, with drop-ins on weekdays and deep itineraries on the weekends for kids in Kindergarten through grade 8. Saturday and Sunday classes include topics such as Minecraft modeling, Lego robotics, and Scratch programming, while drop-in hours have less formal activities. Cost: $-$$$
8. Empow Studios —Lexington and Newton
Empow Studios runs weekday after-school sessions and weekend clubs for kids in grades 2 through 8, all with a goal of creating something. Weekday gatherings tend to be free-form, while weekend clubs are more specific, such as sessions for video game design and 3D exploration. The center also offers a series of single-day Nano Camps in which students tackle a technology project from start to finish. Cost: $$$
If you can think it, you can 3D print it. Photo courtesy of Empow Studios
9. The Maker Mill —North Andover
Founded by parents who enjoyed tinkering as youngsters, this 3,000-square-foot space offers activities for ages 5 and up that run the gamut from design sketching to circuit board soldering. The Maker Mill offers drop-ins (in which parents explore with their kids), parent-free drop-offs for kids fourth grade and up, and workshops. You may be able to get a pass to visit through your local library. Cost: $-$$ (family memberships available)