Makerspaces added a new dimension to our library when we started them a few years ago. Our students quickly gave up recesses to come and use them. They brought in family when they visited campus. They came to the afterschool events. Teachers signed up for maker instruction. In some ways, our makerspaces changed the culture of our campus as teachers added more hands-on spaces in their classrooms, too. Clearly, makerspaces were a success, but was that enough? Several years in, it felt like we were ready to do something more. I just wasn’t sure what was next.
This past summer, I figured out a solution. The Collier County Public School district expects our secondary students to perform community service hours, an expectation that benefits our community as well as our high school students. I’ve been grateful when high school students have helped me get the library ready at the beginning of school. This got me thinking. While our elementary students can’t do the same type of tasks as our high school students, they can still do activities that benefit others.
When we started the school year, I told our staff we would be focusing on “Compassionate Makerspaces.” Students would continue to make items for themselves, but we would also use our materials to make other people’s lives better. We could influence lots of areas in our community if we put our minds to it. I wrote a grant to our local educational foundation and was fortunate that some local sponsors saw the value in the idea and funded it.
One of our students’ favorite art projects was making bead bracelets. Now they are making bracelets for students who suffered losses when Hurricane Irma struck our area. Our animal shelters are harboring additional animals because of the storm, so we are going to make simple animal toys. We have several assisted living facilities in the area and we will be brightening residents’ days with pop-up cards. Students will use their math skills to design the cards.
Are we creating world peace with our compassionate makerspaces? No, but we are making our part of the world a little kinder. We don’t know what jobs will be available when our elementary children are adults. However, we do know they will need to collaborate with others and seek solutions to problems. Working in a compassionate makerspace provides them the opportunity to hone those soft skills that are critical to society now and will continue to be in the future.
Compassionate makerspaces aren’t dependent on having a major storm hit the area. They require looking at your community and seeing where the needs are.Brainstorm with students how they could help develop solutions. Look for funding through grants or use current materials. Just as the community service provided opportunities for our high school students to learn the importance of volunteering, so our compassionate makerspaces have let our elementary students see that you are never too young to make a difference in your community. I believe that through these experiences our youngsters will learn the skills to be helpful and kind adults.