The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has led the way in creating maker spaces for kids since 2011. Now, that pioneering work has gotten the museum a $425,192 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to lead other institutions across the country in bringing maker spaces to their own children’s facilities.

“There’s been a need in this field to learn more about, and study more about, maker spaces,” says Gina Evans, the museum’s director of development, “and that’s something IMLS had been hearing from museums and libraries all around the country.”

Kids and adults who come to children’s museums “want to be involved, be a part of what’s happening and what ‘s on display,” she explains. “They don’t want to be just consumers of the experience, and children’s museums are a natural fit for this, because that’s what Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has been focused on all along. Playing with real stuff – that’s been our philosophy.”

Since the museum’s Makeshop debuted, reps from more than two dozen museums and libraries have traveled to Pittsburgh to check it out. The museum has held training sessions, shared their Makeshop user data and partnered with IMLS to study how families learn in the maker environment.

“For skills like persistence,” says Evans, “what’s the best way to create an activity to encourage a child to keep trying?” Data from the museum’s research with IMLS shows that parents are learning at the same time as the kids – everything from sewing to the 3-D printer. One key to effective learning here “is the people who work in the space … engaging, knowledgeable teaching artists.”

“This grant will allow the museum to do research on what are best practices out there,” she says, visiting other sites, conducting case studies, interviewing experts and making recommendations.

Evans is so enthusiastic about this project that she sounds like a kid herself: “It’s very, very cool that the museum was chosen to work on this project. I can’t say enough. We’re super psyched about it.”

Photograph by Larry Rippel.

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.