Affordable, accessible maker learning resources for parents (Part 1)

On Friday we had a parent ask us to create a list of resources that he could work on with his daughter. This request came out of a discussion of the cost of after school classes and children’s camps. The parent in question remarked that while getting his daughter invested in learning is his top priority, as a lower-income parent he felt that many programs were inaccessible.

While the internet has made learning at home easier than ever, it’s difficult to find a good starting place. If you search for a phrase like “How to learn Arduino” you receive millions (2.2 million to be exact) hits with no clear path for getting started. This post will be the first of many exploring how parents can find accessible and affordable resources for engaging their kids in the maker movement at home.

We would love to hear about your experiences and recommendations – please share your knowledge with us in the comments below!

1. DIY.org – Harness your inner scout and earn digital achievement badges through DIY.org. From beekeeping, to building costumes from cardboard, to video game development, DIY.org offers free tutorials for all levels of learners. As you complete challenges you can earn digital badges to recognize your achievement. And while some tutorials require specialized equipment (like bread boards or soldering irons), a significant number of tutorials use materials you’re likely to already have around the house.

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2. Scratch Programming – Scratch is a visual programming language developed by MIT as a free way to engage children (or any learner) in programming. Since this free program is web-based, it will run on a variety of computers (Windows, Mac OS, Linux). If you want to start experimenting with Scratch, visit learnscratch.org.

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3. Twine – We’re massive fans of Twine at the MakerBus. This free web-based or downloadable program allows people to create their own choose-your-own-adventure style stories and learn some basics of HTML coding. Like Scratch it uses a visual programming language that makes getting started fairly intuitive. Not only do people gain an introduction to HTML, Twine makes practicing literacy skills fun.

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4. Google Cardboard – Create the virtual reality technology of tomorrow today using cardboard, a smartphone, and two lenses. With Google Cardboard you can create a sophisticated virtual reality headset for only a few dollars. You can make your own (instructions are found here) or buy one online for as little as $3. Using Google Cardboard users can play interactive VR games, create photo sphere pictures, and experience augmented reality. If you have an Android phone, this is a great way to get your children engaged in virtual reality.

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5. 123D Catch – If you have a smartphone, tablet, webcam, or digital , you can use 123D Catch to create highly detailed 3D models at home using a process call photogrammetry. Photogrammetry works by taking a series of pictures of an object from different angles and stitching them together into a 3D model. 123D Catch is a free program that makes it easy to create 3D models. Once you create these models, you can even export them to a 3D-printable file format.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10.09.17 AM6. Raspberry Pi – If you are able to make a small investment in equipment, Raspberry Pi micro-computers are one of the best ways to get children programming and coding. Raspberry Pi’s are $35 micro-computers that can be plugged into a monitor to create an affordable and powerful computer. To learn more about getting started with Raspberry Pi, visit the resources section on raspberrypi.org. One of the most exciting applications for using Raspberry Pi’s to engage young learners is Minecraft Pi. Minecraft Pi is a free version of the popular world-building video game that runs on Raspberry Pi. Using Minecraft Pi users can alter the game world using the Python programming language. If you have a Minecraft fan at home, this can be a great way to engage them in computer programming.

Raspberry Pi computers can be purchased online or locally at ElElSu.

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Even though all of the resources mentioned in this post are either free or under $50, we recognize that they still aren’t necessarily accessible to all families. Many families in Southern Ontario don’t have access to home computers, the internet, or smartphones and many families aren’t comfortable with teaching themselves digital and online tools.

When it comes to accessing free resources, tools, and education, London Public Library provides excellent public programming. We are always happy to help connect families with information and guidance about ways to engage children at home – send us an email, we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

If you liked this article, why not follow the MakerBus on twitter (@DHMakerBus) or like us on Facebook (/dhmakerbus)? We post some of the most creative maker projects found on the web every day. If you #getonthebus, we promise a fun ride!

-The MakerBus team

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