With the advent of the maker movement, there has been a new push to explore how learning spaces ought to be designed. The purpose of this project is to integrate traditional approaches for space design and design principles from Bers’ Positive Technological Development (PTD) framework. Researchers from the DevTech Research Group are exploring ways to create a makerspace specifically designed for early childhood. This research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Marina Bers, in collaboration with Dr. Brian Gravel in the Education department, Dr. Chris Rogers in the Engineering department, and Dr. Bruce Johnson in the Child Study and Human Development department. Doctoral student Amanda Strawhacker is playing a key role. This work is made possible with generous funding from the LEGO Foundation, Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, and the Evelyn G. Pitcher Curriculum Resource Lab.

Two makerspaces were designed and launched as part of this research:

The Early Childhood Makerspace at Eliot Pearson is housed in the Evelyn G. Pitcher Curriculum Resource Laboratory, and shares the Curriculum Lab’s goal of presenting a space for developmental researchers, pre-service teachers, and education professionals to gain hands-on experience with current trends and best practices in the field of Child Development. The ECMS was created to foster and serve an active making community of children, educators, and families, and to provide a venue for the DevTech Research Group and students at the Eliot-Pearson Department to research novel tools and practices related to making in the early childhood context. The research team held brainstorming events with local educators, engineers, artists, parents, and others involved in the maker movement to generate ideas. The ECMS was launched based on these ideas. Currently, the space continues to grow and change as children from the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School and surrounding area schools, as well as researchers and community members from Tufts University, explore making in this new setting.

The second makerspace is the Kintergarten Creator Space, designed for young children attending the International School of Billund in Denmark. The ISB, an English-instruction International Baccalaureate World School, is located in the municipality of Billund, Denmark – headquarters of the LEGO company, and self-declared Capital of Children. This school has a commitment to innovative education techniques, including makerspace education. Their Creator Space is a multi-room makerspace at the center of the school that offers a wood shop, LEGO robotics lab, clay and paint studios, a textile workshop, and more. Despite the Creator Space’s rich resources, the school’s early childhood educators felt that it was missing key design elements that would allow them to invite their three- to six-year-old children to the environment. This led to a co-design collaboration among the Tufts University research team, the ISB Kindergarten teaching team, and the Kindergarten children themselves. Researchers collected teacher’s thoughts and also made observations of children in various spaces around the school. Children were aware of their role as co-designers of the Kindergarten Creator Space and were happy to test it and provide feedback and ideas. Teachers drew on their classroom experiences to identify needs and goals for this new space. This co-design process resulted in a shared environment that gained support from all levels of school administration and is personally meaningful to the children and educators who use it.

Curriculum Resources

Inventory List for the Early Childhood Makerspace at Eliot Pearson: This chart contains lists of the construction materials, robotics kits, softwares, books, and furniture offered at the Early Childhood Makerspace.

Makerspace Values Cards: Based on research from the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, this card-sorting task is designed to help educators and community stakeholders identify their “Maker Values,” and shape the mission of their early childhood makerspace.

PTD Checklists: The Positive Technological Development (PTD) checklists allow educators to observe their students and their makerspace. These observational scales reveal how closely aligned a makerspace and its child makers are with behaviors of Positive Technological Development.

Curriculum Planning Resource List: This list includes several curriculum planning and activity development resources created or curated by DevTech researchers for young children in makerspaces.