When you think about makerspaces, do you consider their usefulness for learning history and language arts? Like most people, you probably associate makerspaces with STEM education. Make no mistake, makerspaces are an excellent way to extend learning in STEM subjects. Makerspace ideas come with many study backgrounds in mind, and these spaces provide an excellent setting to boost understanding and enthusiasm for history and a great way to launch some captivating language arts experiences. Tapping into those experiences might not seem as natural to you, though, so let’s take a look at how the makerspace experience can be tweaked to inspire our kids in those subjects as well. 

This is Part Two of a Two Part series. In this article, Maggie shares a few ideas for using your makerspace to explore history and language arts. In Part One of this series, she offers ideas for STEM-focused experiences in your makerspace

Problem-solving through hands-on learning

When I use our makerspace for STEM learning, I often feel that we’re starting with a little kernel of knowledge and then blowing that knowledge nugget wide open as the kids experiment, add new ideas, and attach their new learning to other real-world knowledge. For example, after a lesson about simple machines, I challenged my kids to build something that uses a pulley. Though we started with the simple knowledge of what a pulley is, by the end of our makerspace time, my kids had imagined a “problem” their toys had, brainstormed how they could solve the “problem” with a pulley, worked through deciding which of the available materials would lead to the best product, and built something that gave them a new way to play as well as built a deep understanding of pulleys that connects to their place in the world.

When I use our makerspace for history learning, I tend to think of working in almost an opposite way. Before we step into the makerspace for a unit of history learning, I like to load us up with lots of information. The History Odyssey series from Pandia Press is a great place to stock up on learning as you head into a history makerspace project with plenty of readings, maps, primary sources, and activities. Once you’ve painted a very broad understanding of a history unit, makerspace work is ideal for helping a child to go deeper. At least for us, the history makerspace is where my kids pick up a piece of history that they choose to own.

“Making” to remember

This year we decided to amend our study of early American history with a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. It was truly an amazing trip, and I highly recommend it for every homeschool family. There was one big problem, though. It was hot. So hot. In fact, the daytime high temperatures were literally 100 degrees and upward while we were there. My son, in particular, seemed so miserable. I was afraid that he just wasn’t getting much out of our visit, and as we walked around Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, I thought that maybe our bad weather luck meant he wasn’t learning anything.

Anything can serve as inspiration for a history-focused makerspace: architecture, period clothing, landscapes, tools.
The thing is, he’s a maker through and through. When we got home, he couldn’t wait to get going in his makerspace, and I saw that all of those sweaty tours had paid off. He started work on a diorama that he calls Williamsburg. It’s more or less a melange of all of the places we visited. He pulled in the H-shaped chimneys we saw at the Jamestown archeological site, the military uniforms we saw at Yorktown, and the fire engine we saw in Colonial Williamsburg, among other things. Is it a perfect model of any of those places? Nope. But I don’t care, because by constructing his own little world, he’s developed a representation of life from that time period that’s pretty advanced for an eight year old. He picked out some things from his learning that spoke to him, developed an ownership of that knowledge by tinkering with it in his hands, and crafted a representation of early American life that he won’t forget after a test has come and gone. I have no doubt that as he gets older, he’ll be more concerned with exact accuracy, which is a reasonable expectation for older makers.

Makerspaces foster deeper understanding

The learning doesn’t stop there, though. There’s still room to extend history learning in a makerspace even further. Let’s talk about how what kids make can launch a captivating writing experience.

Making causes learners to slow down and be more deliberate. Rather than just checking boxes or racing through the items on a worksheet, a maker project lets kids slow down and explore ideas both as they manipulate them in their hands and in their minds.

Crafting an H-shaped chimney will probably lead to some thoughts about the people who lived in the dwelling and what their lives might have been like.

Constructing a pyramid might spark imaginations to wonder what an afterlife surrounded by mummified pets and treasure would be like.

Painting a portrait of Pocahontas might get kids thinking about what Pocahontas’ inner life might have been like.

Those sparks of imagination that are ignited by taking the time to work through a maker project can really catch fire. Go with it, and let history makerspace projects set some historical literature-creative writing in motion that can lead to still deeper understanding.

Makerspaces help organize and visualize stories

Don’t leave the makerspace behind, though, when it’s time to write. Makerspaces are also the perfect aid for writers.

Makerspaces are an ideal setting for working through the challenges of ordering a story. Some writers might enjoy creating a visual organizer to help map out their ideas. Writers who want to be careful about representing history accurately might enjoy creating a timeline with historical events plotted out on one side of the timeline with more specific details of their story’s character’s lives on the other side. Other writers might like jotting down story elements on sticky notes and moving them around in a way that helps them figure out just the right order of events for a story.

Once a story is devised, writers in a makerspace could decide to take things even further. Maybe they’d like to create a screenplay and craft a setting for real stop-motion animation filming.

“Show me what you learned”

As with STEM-focused makerspace learning, it is key to let the history and language arts learning activity in a makerspace fall under the child’s ownership as much as possible. The more child-led learning in the makerspace is, the more it will benefit the child. Again, as with STEM makerspace projects, formulate your invitations to work in the makerspace as challenges rather than mandates. Instead of saying, “Build a model of the Jamestown fort,” try saying, “Build something that shows me what you learned about the winter of 1607 in Jamestown.”

Kindle a genuine love of learning

I hope that I’ve convinced you to give a makerspace a try in your homeschool. I truly do believe that makerspaces emulate the mission so many of us have for our homeschools: to kindle a genuine love of learning in our kids, to encourage our kids to be thoughtful people, and to empower them to be capable people.

In a former life, Maggie Martin was a high school English teacher, and now she’s a homeschooling mama to eight-year-old twins. She loves sharing her insights about helping kids become excellent readers and writers, what’s working in her homeschool, and the joys and challenges of a homeschooling lifestyle at her blog, thelanguageartscoach.com.