Becoming Makers: Imagining, Feeling, Doing

By Blake Ward, Museum Experience Manager

In his book, Making is Connecting, David Gauntlet argues that the process of making connects us as humans to each other and to the world around us. Gauntlet juxtaposes making with passive consumerism, and argues that human beings are able to know the world more intimately when they create things rather than simply receive them. Gauntlet suggests that “small acts of creativity can change the world” and that what people need is platforms for creativity to help them along, give them a nudge. He says,

“If we have generations of people connected, engaging with the world through making, we can come up with answers to the world’s most complex and challenging problems.”

Here at Minnesota Children’s Museum, we offer many platforms for creativity, including our very own maker space, The Studio. In our studio space, children and adults have opportunities to make connections through the use of real materials and real tools in a playful and beautiful environment. Playful exploration and tinkering within playful environments makes an incredible platform within which creativity can thrive. Spaces for making do what educator Kiran Bir Sethi calls “blurring the boundaries between school and life.” In a recent TED Talk, Sethi insists,

“If learning is embedded in real world context, if you blur the boundaries between school and life, then children go through a journey of aware – where they see the change, enable – be changed, and empower – lead the change.”

It strikes me how three of the powers of play; critical thinking, confidence,  and creative thinking, so nicely mirror Kiran Bir Sethi’s described process of awareness, enablement and empowerment, and that if spaces for making allow capacity and time for playfulness awareness, enablement and empowerment are naturally fostered. Maker spaces provide platforms for connection and support children in becoming aware, enabled and empowered. Especially for young children who exist on the cusp of having enough verbal and written language to be able to express their ideas, use of materials provide accessible vocabularies for the exploration and expression of the most complex ideas. My friend Susan Harris Mackay, of the Portland Children’s Museum Center For Children’s Learning, argues that “materials are metaphors you can hold in your hand”.  In a recent blog post she writes,

“Metaphor is how we use the traces of memory left by our senses as we’ve encountered the world to make sense of something abstract. That is why metaphor is such a powerful tool for making meaning — to understand the abstractions that are words. Metaphor is, at once, context and connection. The things we’ve seen, heard, tasted, and felt before become references for the things we can only share by thinking about them and imagination is the tool we use to build the bridge. We use metaphor to invite others to be inside our ideas – to see what we see when neither of us can see anything. We use metaphor to stand inside memories with others – to name the patterns we’ve observed — and to check out whether others have noticed them, too.”

I encourage you to try tinkering or making something. Make connections, delight in a metaphor you can place in your hands, soak up the powers of play, imagine, feel, do, change the world.

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