This month we opened our new maker space, Play Lab. It’s a bright, busy place, filled with equipment for assembling, building, crafting, cutting, designing, fashioning, gluing, hammering, programing, soldering, and weaving. Our public programming team and guest services staff will hold facilitated sessions where kids (and adults) can create. It’s hands-on fun!
For kids, making things is an essential type of play, one that teaches as it engages. Scholars note the benefits of construction play. Construction play trains spatial skills. It enhances creativity. Doris Bergen, in an article in our American Journal of Play entitled“Play as the Learning Medium for Future Scientists, Mathematicians, and Engineers” clarified how construction play teaches and is especially important for the STEM fields:
“children experiment with building objects in order to learn more about the physical world and the laws that operate in the world. Higher-level thinking occurs when they attempt to solve problems that the construction materials (wood, clay, metal, and paper, for example) pose because the solution requires divergent rather than convergent thinking. Their constructions are really designs involving dynamic systems. All the scientific and mathematical professions value this type of systems thinking.”
I was reminded of this when I was standing with our President and CEO Steve Dubnik in front of Play Lab shortly before it opened and he recalled how his childhood experiences taking things apart and reassembling old equipment prepared him for his future training as an engineer. Plenty of others had parallel experiences. The Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman set up a lab as a boy where he fooled with electricity and tinkered with crystal radio sets. Pioneering video game developers often told similar stories. Jerry Lawson messed with radios and walkie-talkies as a boy. Joyce Weisbecker spent her free time as a teenage girl programming computers, manipulating code like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (sometimes making is virtual as well as physical, and we’ll be hosting game design workshops in the new space).
Construction play is vital for adults too. When we engage in such play, we reap many of the same benefits as children, flexing our creativity, sharpening our problem-solving skills, and honing the deft touch it takes to work with diverse materials. But construction play (what we often call “hobbies”) also contributes to our overall well-being. Using our hands and brains to make things is a form of re-creation as well as recreation, especially for those who have spent the week enmeshed in meetings or stuck in front of a computer screen. When we retreat to the workbench or sit down at the sewing machine after a long day, we are made new by the process of making something new. There is something intensely fulfilling about the curl of wood as you push a hand plane across a board or the way a piece of clothing takes form as you stitch the fabric together.
Whether we call it construction play, making, tinkering, or just plain fooling around, getting your hands messy making things is a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see the variety of things that people make. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” It’s wonderful to open Play Lab, a maker space where people can engage their infinite creativity.
By Jon-Paul Dyson, VP for Exhibits and Director of International Center for the History of Electronic Games at The Strong National Museum of Play.