The evolution of our 'maker space'
Both of our children enjoy painting, drawing, cutting, gluing and play dough as much as most young kids. However, I’ve been reluctant to give them free access to most of these materials as they can also create a huge amount of mess. Even when I would bring out coloured pencils under supervision we would sometimes end up with pencil on the walls (or cupboards, or floor….). I could see the satisfaction they got from exploring the materials and creating things, but I just couldn’t be bothered constantly worrying what would get drawn on next (or cut with the scissors). Most of our art supplies remained on a high shelf of the cupboard, brought down only for short sessions with a specific purpose (eg to make a birthday card).
Late last year, I bought an easel. We set it up to the side of our outdoor living area, but the paints were still locked away in the storeroom (and it was a bit too close to the clothesline for comfort, and A kept on eating the chalk for the blackboard). A couple of months ago, one of the children asked to do some painting one morning and we discovered the easel in full sun (it was the middle of the dry season and the sun was shining right in from the north under the stairs). So, I carried the easel around the front to the carport.
Having only one car (our cargo bike is our second vehicle), the spare carport space had become home to cardboard box houses, pallet bike ramps and our children’s clothesline. We moved these things to the side, brought around some chairs, and realised it was the perfect spot for painting. The floor and walls are concrete, there’s a tap at one corner, and it slopes downwards so if we do have to wash something the water just runs away (and the little clothesline can hold the drying artwork and cleaning cloths). We were inspired by this discovery and started thinking big.
A couple of days later, we picked up an old filing cabinet and a small children’s drawing table from the tip shop (and a cane chair for me). I stocked up on art supplies and we filled the top drawer of the cabinet with recyclables, glue, scissors and tape, and the bottom with butcher’s paper, paints and brushes. Not long after, we went scavenging around our block during a ‘pre-cyclone clean up’ (annual hard rubbish collection) and came across a sturdy wooden coffee table that X proudly towed home, balanced on top of his wagon.
By this stage, the space was getting used on a daily basis. Some materials (such as squirty bottles of paint, the pointier scissors, and marker pens) were still locked in the storeroom, but there were enough other supplies available for the children to be able to use the space by themselves whenever they desired. We added a tub of homemade playdough (they like to ‘cook’ it on a toy barbecue that we also found in the pre-cyclone clean up), some colourful chalk, and paint rollers to our collection.
Having a comfortable space to work in, with a chair for me, too, meant that I could sit with them and explore the materials as they worked, experimenting with different techniques myself as they did their own thing. They also became increasingly comfortable for me to start to work on my own projects or to read a book or my iPad while they worked. There was paint spilt and mess to clean up, but it wasn’t stressful for me anymore as the space was designed for it (I still remove materials that are repeatedly misused, but a combination of constant access and increased familiarity with the materials along with being consistent with this boundary has meant that I have had to do this less often).
We are still adapting the space to suit our needs. With the weather getting increasingly hot and sticky, we picked up a floor fan to cool us down. We have also bought some shadecloth blinds to install so we can use the space in the late afternoon (and to stop the sun coming in along the north side next dry season). I am also looking out for an adult-sized workbench that Joël and I can use for our own projects (we have one in the shed, but it’s hot in there and would be nice to work alongside our children). Nevertheless, I am really satisfied with the way this space is turning out. It’s getting a lot of use, our children have free access to creative materials and I don’t have to worry about mess and misuse.
We still have a scaled-back drawing table upstairs, with coloured pencils, drawing stencils a couple of activity books the children have been gifted, which is handy when someone is feeling creative after dinner or in the early morning, but most of our creative activities are now carried out downstairs.
I’m not sure our ‘maker space’ will ever be ‘complete’, I think it will continue to evolve as projects and interests change, but I’ll try and remember to post some updates to show how the space grows alongside our family.