February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Read It, Make It: Low-Tech Maker Projects and Titles | Nonfiction Notions

When you think of maker programs and maker spaces, what comes to mind? Coding, 3-D printers, and computers? With all the new and exciting technology available, it can be easy to forget that “making” encompasses a wide range of hands-on projects and skills. Youth services librarians have a long history of making things, from helping with school projects to arts and crafts. The maker movement is more than technology and with a few simple resources, supplies, and, of course, books, you can not only catch the interest of tweens but also boost your circulation.

Most maker projects require at least some degree of adult guidance. But there are also hands-on projects you can let tweens do on their own with just a few inexpensive supplies and minimal supervision. First, think about your audience: Are the kids willing to work on a long-range project that could take several days or weeks, or do they want something quick to distract them for a single afternoon? Can they read and process directions or do they struggle in this area? Make sure you have a variety of projects at varying difficulty levels and change them out regularly to target different skill sets. Below are a few easy, low-tech maker project suggestions with a selection of titles that will inspire beginners and experts alike.


Origami Station

Origami is a popular choice for good reason. It’s cheap and can be enjoyed by both newbies and advanced folders. If you don’t have the funds for origami paper, regular paper cut into squares is 000 Origamifine. Add a tub with some scissors, cheap rulers, markers to color the paper, and a display of instructional books and—voila!—your origami maker space is equipped!

For absolute beginners, John Montroll’s Easy Origami is still one of the best titles to gain basic folding skills. To grab the kids’ attention, you might also add some fun new origami books tied into pop culture, such as Capstone’s “DC Origami” series. Each title in the series, like Batman Origami, includes 11 different projects. Origami, especially with these titles, is one that I’d set out for children with more concentration, focus, and higher reading skills. The projects are advanced and most have anywhere from 15 to 30 steps.  To produce origami projects, kids must slow down to read and digest instructions, thereby improving their skills in reading and comprehension.


Coloring Craze

For kids who don’t have the focus or interest in creating a specific project like origami, you can take advantage of the recent coloring craze. Though purchasing numerous high-end coloring books may be unsustainable for most budgets, it’s easy to find intricate and beautiful coloring sheets online. 000 DoodlesColoring in detailed designs has been shown to have an effect very similar to meditation. For tweens looking to keep their hands busy and their minds open, coloring could be a great way to help them achieve focus and balance.

If pre-made coloring sheets are too restrictive, free doodling is a great, creative alternative. I highly recommend a new series from Capstone’s Savvy imprint, “Doodles with Attitude”. Both Quirky Cute Doodles and Free Spirit Doodles offer lots of open-ended ideas, from basic outlines to trace to suggestions on how to create a pattern. All you need is some paper, drawing materials, and some books with patterns to spark ideas. Put out some of your neglected art books and you may find kids checking out titles to take home or to share with their friends for inspiration.


The Neglected Art of Sewing

Sewing can be one of the more difficult handicrafts. It needs some basic knowledge and can be hard to get started if your tweens (or you yourself) don’t have the necessary skills. Kids like to see quick results and sewing requires patience and focus as well as planning. However, don’t give up! There are several ways you can get tweens involved in sewing projects and sneakily teach some patience, focus, and manual dexterity along the way. For starting sewing programs, I recommend starting with several good pairs of scissors, felt, embroidery floss, poly fill, tracing paper, and pencils. Also, invest in plenty of needle-threaders—they’re cheap and will make your life easier. For younger audiences, especially in multi-purpose rooms, stick to embroidery needles and even darning needles; they are easier to thread since they have a larger eye and will still puncture felt. Older sewers can take on the challenge of a “real” needle or sharp. My final tip for beginning sewers is to always double-thread; this will save you from constantly having to help re-thread needles. There are many basic tutorials online that teach you how to thread a needle and you will want to be familiar with this skill before you start.

Sewing sessions are best done as planned programs, since the kids will need some guidance and 000 Crafty Creatureshelp planning. Some of the best titles for beginning sewers are Jane Bull’s sewing/craft titles from DK. Crafty Creatures has a wide variety of projects with clear instructions as well as supply lists and patterns. To get started, first figure out what basic sewing skills your audience already has: can they thread a needle without help? Do they know how to make a basic stitch? Use the stitching guide on page 114 to make sure everyone has a solid foundation to start. A whipstitch is often the easiest to learn for beginners and works well on felt.

Next, give everyone time to choose and plan their projects; Crafty Creatures has many easy beginning projects but the felt animals on pages 38-63 are especially great for beginning sewers. The only drawback to the DK sewing books is that they can be heavy on the pink and cutesy projects, which may turn some kids off. I recommend making black and white copies of the projects and patterns to pass out among the kids and then remind them that they can embellish any way they want to, making their projects cute, creepy, or anything in-between.

At this point, you should be able to stand back and assist as needed, letting the kids experiment and work their way through their chosen project. Be prepared to send extra materials (needles and thread) home with those who can’t finish before the program is. If you have the time to make some felt friends beforehand, it’s a great way to advertise the program and have some samples for the kids to examine. If you’re not a sewing expert, the good news is that kids will be more inclined to try it for themselves when they see your less-than-perfect projects! Don’t forget to have the original book you got the project from, as well as other sewing books, on hand for checkout.

Sewing programs are relatively inexpensive and they help teach kids to plan ahead, correct mistakes, and use math.


Duct, Duct, Make

Duct tape projects have become a classic activity in most maker 000 Duct Tapespaces. Relatively cheap (while fancy, patterned duct tape can get pricey, plain silver or black tape from a hardware store is a cost-effective alternative) with nearly endless possibilities, tweens can create wallets, folders, jewelry, and even clothes from this versatile material. While a simple web search can bring up thousands of project ideas, it can help first-timers to narrow selections to just a few starter projects. A Kid’s Guide to Awesome Duct Tape Projects: How to Make Your Own Wallets, Bags, Flowers, Hats, and Much, Much More! features step-by-step instructions with full-color photographs. In addition to reading and following directions, duct tape crafts can help kids find creative solutions to challenges. Due to its sticky nature, duct tape is a tricky medium.



Green Creations

If you have the space (and the courage to let kids use hot glue), there are a plethora of recycled craft000 Amazing Recycled project books available. Amazing Recycled Crafts You Can Create offers good examples of simple, easy projects, ranging from soda tab bracelets and rubber band cars to marshmallow catapults. All of these can be created with a few inexpensive materials and most require nothing more advanced than a little hot glue or an iron for a few minutes. Once you’ve put out some recycled materials and made a great display of these books, watch kids get pulled into the making fever. When they’ve gotten bored with the simpler projects, it’s the perfect time to suggest they check out the books with the more advanced projects. Eco Gifts: Upcycled Gifts You Can Make has more advanced projects like melting candle wax and shrinking plastic as well as creating paper flowers and bows and upcycling bags and jars.


When selecting maker books for your collection, programs, and displays, look for titles that balance simple, easy-to-follow instructions with ample room for creativity and experimentation. The best types of maker projects focus on processes, not product. It’s important to help kids understand that their finished creation need not match the picture in a book. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Another important criterion for selecting craft and maker books is the visible diversity. Like all nonfiction with illustrations or photos, it’s important that kids see themselves reflected in the books they read—and that making is something everyone can do.


Titles Referenced

  • Easy Origami by John Montroll. Dover. ISBN 9780486272986
  • Crafty Creatures by Jane Bull. DK. ISBN 9781465409140
  • Batman Origami: Amazing Folding Projects Featuring the Dark Knight by John Montroll. Capstone. ISBN 9781491417867
  • Free Spirit Doodles by Stephanie Corfee. Capstone. ISBN 9781491479452
  • Quirky Cute Doodles by Stephanie Corfee. Capstone. ISBN 9781491479445
  • A Kid’s Guide to Awesome Duct Tape Projects: How to Make Your Own Wallets, Bags, Flowers, Hats, and Much, Much More! Sky Pony. ISBN 9781629148014
  • Amazing Recycled Projects You Can Create by Marne Ventura. Capstone. ISBN 9781491442920
  • Eco Gifts: Upcycled Gifts You Can Make by Mari Bolte. Capstone. ISBN 9781491452028


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Jennifer Wharton About Jennifer Wharton

Jennifer Wharton is the youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. You can follow more of her library adventures at jeanlittlelibrary.blogspot.com.

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