Pittsburgh has always embodied the spirit of making, but now kids and families have more opportunities than ever to get their hands dirty and join the movement. Here are six spaces and places where kid-friendly creativity reigns:
- Carnegie Science Center Fab Lab
The Fab Lab at Carnegie Science Center opened to the public in August of 2015. This innovative workspace welcomes children ages 6 and up (and their parents) to come and experience the wonder of digital making. If you’re new to digital making or are just curious about some of the technology, the Fab Lab is a great place for an introduction.
Fab Lab focuses on digital fabrication, helping kids bring ideas to life with 3D printers, CNC milling machines (including a ShopBot), vinyl cutters, embroidery machines, as well as design computers. One of the most popular attractions at the Fab Lab is what the team there calls “the ultimate selfie,” where kids can scan a photo of themselves, and then 3D-print a miniature bust of their heads.
With its location inside the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore, museum-goers can pay an additional $8 during their weekend visit to design, test, modify and produce products. Families can also purchase an hour-long Fab Lab session without paying admission to the museum.
Fab Lab is currently offering a “Design Your Own Laser-Cut Snowflakes” workshop; in March, another laser workshop lets kids design their own ranger badges.
At TechShop in Bakery Square, kids ages 8 to 16 can get a strong start in engineering design. TechShop offers a Saturday Youth Studio from noon to 4 where parents can work
alongside their children to learn everything from building robotic cars to getting their hands dirty the old fashioned way— trying out traditional blacksmithing skills.
Although TechShop boasts tons of equipment for kids to learn, the people are really what make the experience special. “This creative collaboration and community of makers, engineers and artists who are passionate about building their dreams are really the heartbeat of making,” says Erin Oldynski, TechShop’s STEAM Coordinator.
Including the Saturday workshops, TechShop also offers prototyping and design-and-build clubs, plus annual membership opportunities. Stop into the TechShop and check it out: They’re open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
3. The Labs @ CLP
The Labs @ CLP is a teen-driven, interest-based learning program offered by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Launched in September of 2012, Labs is all about getting Pittsburgh teens to learn and explore their interests using creative technology like the Adobe Creative Suite, 3D printers, guitars, electronic keyboards, sewing machines, fabric, DSLR cameras and more.
The Labs offers weekly workshops and open lab sessions at five of its locations throughout Pittsburgh: Allegheny, East Liberty, Main (Oakland), Beechview and Hazelwood. But to reach even more kids, Labs travels throughout the city, hosting “Labs on Location” (LOL) programs at a different neighborhood CLP branch each week.
During workshops, mentors work with kids on guided projects or particular skills that teens are interested in. And in the open lab sessions, kids can return to work on their projects— or start their own creative venture. They often make use of these open sessions to take a creative approach to school assignments.
The Labs is also great place for kids to collaborate: Teens at the East Liberty branch have planned an annual Haunted Library event for the last two years, collaborating with the folks from MakeShop to build spooky set pieces.
Labs programs are free to all interested teens with no advance registration required. Check out the schedule on the CLP website and drop in any time.
4. YMCA Creator Space
The YMCA Creator Space is an ongoing initiative of the Hilltop YMCA that aims to engage youth in STEAM-exploration. A year-round after-school and summer program, the program acts as a unique “third space” between home and school for youth in the Mt. Oliver area.
Originating in 2011 as the Hilltop Computer Center, the YMCA Creator Space has evolved into a full-fledged maker center that focuses on hands-on learning through 3D design and printing, physical prototyping, coding, robotics, circuitry design and more. With such a wide array of equipment and technology, YMCA Creator Space classes have ranged from DJ 101 to Photoshop to yoga!
Kids at the YMCA Creator Space can create projects with Minecraft, then use a program to scan and 3D-print their structure. They can also fabricate their own keychains, toys and personalized items. But they also have the freedom to make anything they want with the resources available in the space.
The YMCA Creator Space is a completely free resource for the community, says Patrice Gerard, coordinator at the Hilltop YMCA.
“Students acquire the ability to think like designers and iterate through our ‘Imagine, Design, Create’ mantra,” “They’re preparing themselves for a world of advancing technologies and working through ambiguity,” Gerard says.
Following a similar model to the YMCA Creator Space, the Homewood-Brushton YMCA will undergo a $6.5 million transformation to become the Homewood community’s dedicated Creative Youth Center.
5. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
Looking for a space that allows kids of all ages to truly exercise their creativity? The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse is a maker’s dreamworld, offering an incredible collection of previously used items, from arts and craft supplies and sewing notions to
trophies and industrial discards.
Admission-free and open to the public seven days a week, families, teachers and artists visit the center regularly to collect materials for projects and maker spaces in their own home, says Erika Johnson, executive director of the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. She notes that kids and families often kick off a weekend of creativity by coming to the shop and diving into the center’s bulk section.
“Each child can fill their own bag with anything they can find for $5,” she says. “Kids find this really exciting; they can touch and feel all the things they’re going to buy, build and create with.”
“We want everyone to know that creating with reclaimed materials is not just something to do if you can’t afford to buy Legos or go to a fancy place. Creating with these materials is actually better than buying a ready-made kit, because it cuts down on waste in our landfills, but also because it truly activates your creativity in ways that go beyond following directions.”
6. MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Designed as a real workshop, MAKESHOP became a dedicated space in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in 2011. Kids and their caregivers can explore circuitry, woodworking, sewing, stop-motion animation and more alongside visiting indie crafters, hackers and inventors who stop in from time to time. For slightly older makers, Youth Make is a monthly after-hours event for kids aged 10-15 to use the real tools and materials in the MAKESHOP.
More spaces for making
Greater Pittsburgh abounds with opportunities for making, including Assemble in Garfield, a space for makers of all ages with interactive gallery shows, learning parties and STEAM workshops. The Millvale Community library hosts mini-maker workshops for kids ages 1 to 5 every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. And the Children’s Innovation Project, hosted by Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, encourages children to learn about technology through hands-on exploration of electronic toys and components.