Teen Librarian Toolbox
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MakerSpace: 5 Low or No Tech Activities for a Teen MakerSpace

makerspacelogo1When I first began transforming my teen space into a Teen MakerSpace, I was adamant that the space had to be tech, tech, tech heavy. All tech, all the time. I pushed back hard against suggestions that I should do things like have gel pens or paint. Part of my concern was legitimate, cost and clean up. Having consumable materials increases your cost right out of the gate. But there are a lot of consumables in tech making as well; see, for example, the 3D pen. You constantly have to replace the filament.

The clean up concern is legitimate as well. We work hard to try and keep our surfaces and floors protected, but there have been accidents. Tables and counters are easier to protect than floors, we simply cover them with cutting mats and it works pretty well.

I have slowly changed my idea of what a makerspace can and should be, in part because of my teens. It turns out, they like to do a lot of traditional arts and crafts just as much as they like to do coding, robotics and electronics. And many of our teens don’t have access to the tools necessary to learn these traditional types of arts and crafts anymore than they have access to the tech to learn coding and electronics. So we – so I – have expanded my idea of what a makerspace is. If it involves making something, I will consider it for the space. So today I am sharing with you 5 of their favorite more traditional arts and crafts activities that we do in our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH).

Sculpey Clay

Desiree making jewelry out of Sculpey clay beads

Desiree making jewelry out of Sculpey clay beads


Making things out of clay has turned out to be really popular for us. We have a toaster oven in the space that we use to bake the clay. They make anything from figures to jewelry using the clay. Desiree, one of our TMS assistants, has become quite good at clay art.

Teen Coloring

We have a dedicated teen coloring station with blank cartoon and graphic novel strips that teens can create, but we also just print off coloring sheets. We provide colored pencils, markers, and gel pens. I really pushed back against gel pens in the beginning because they are so expensive but found a great set at a reasonable price and we keep them locked up when the room isn’t staffed. It’s a relaxing activity and it’s pretty easy from a staff perspective, and the teens love it.


Although many of our teens do use our supplies, we have a small handful of teens that come regularly and bring their own supplies and art books. They will also often draw pictures for us. A couple of times they have drawn pictures of us, which is an incredible honor.

Shrinky Dinks


A bracelet made out of Shrinky Dink charms

A bracelet made out of Shrinky Dink charms

Who knew this childhood favorite would once again be so popular? We buy plain Shrinky Dink sheets at the local craft store and the teens are welcome to create anything they would like. They often trace and color their favorite manga characters. But you can also use Shrinky Dinks to do things like create jewelry.


today5 today6 Lego can be very tech savvy. For example, you can use Legos to create a Rube Goldberg machine. Legos can also be combined with tech like LittleBits or Raspberry Pi to make remote control vehicles or small robots. But sometimes, the teens just like to build with them. In fact, we now host a daily Lego challenge. We put up a sign with a small pile of Legos and ask teens to do things like build a car, make an animal, or even create a campfire scene. We get a lot of our daily challenges out of this book.



today7I suppose in some ways this is just an extension of the coloring/drawing type of activities, but I have to go on the record as saying that I pushed back hard against buying pain and paint brushes. For one, we really do try and limit the amount of money we spend on consumables because you have to replace them a lot. But the truth is, it’s not as high of a cost as I thought it might be. You can buy a value pack of acrylic paint at Michael’s for $8.00. And a value pack of brushes for around $5.00. We don’t provide high quality materials by any means, but they get the job done. The teens not only paint on paper, but they will bring in t-shirts to paint, they paint their cell phone cases to personalize them, and more.

So here’s my takeaway.

1) The idea of a makerspace is always evolving.

2) Don’t be afraid of more traditional arts and crafts.

Teen Coloring Postcards: Outreach at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Day 5

postcard4Although we have a Teen MakerSpace that tends to be technology focused, we have also found that our teens want and enjoy a lot of more traditional arts and crafts. In fact, we have created both a drawing and teen coloring station in our Teen MakerSpace and both have proven to be very popular. So when we were trying to think of a 3rd quick, easy and inexpensive outreach module, teen coloring was the winner!

We have a variety of coloring sheets. We also have some high quality colored pencils, fine tip markers, and – after suggestions from our teens – a large assortment of gel pens. But I recently went to a very cool crafters conference and they had made coloring postcards and I thought – I can do that.

I am here to tell you that it was harder than I ever thought it would be. But I did, in fact, do it and I am quite happy with the finished product. I designed the postcard in Canva, which is an online site. The most difficult part was trying to find image outlines that had places to color as opposed to actual graphics. I used Canva because it has a preset postcard size that worked. I then downloaded my image and laid it out in a 4 part piece in Microsoft Publisher so I had a master to photo copy onto a thicker card stock.


I will also say, you can use portion of a coloring sheet to make fabulous buttons if you have a button maker. You could also provide stickers and teens could make names or sayings on their buttons using their coloring page as a background. And because I always get asked, we have American Button Machines button makers and we adore them. They are one of our most popular items in our Teen MakerSpace. We have both the 2.25 and 1.25 size and they are equally popular. It costs on average about 10 cents per button.

Coloring pages buttons

Coloring pages buttons

Where to find coloring pages:

I recommend having higher quality coloring tools – not crayons, though you will notice above that we bought name branded crayons for outreach. You can buy logo crayons at places like 4Imprint.com and GoImprints.com. Gel pens can be expensive but we bought this set at Costco for only $20.00.


So there you have it, 3 different outreach modules that are all set up and easy for us to grab and go when we are invited to go outside the library to promote our Teen MakerSpace. As I mentioned, our goal was to make them easy to carry and set up/take down and inexpensive, but they had to be hands on because we are promoting the idea of making and our teen makerspace. We do have some remote control robots that we can take with us for the “wow” factor. Now I have to get out there and go do some outreach!

What kinds of outreach activities does your library do? We’re always looking for more great ideas.

Outreach Week

Teen MakerSpace Outreach at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Day 1 – Getting Organized

Building Our Portable Photo Booth – Outreach at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Day 2

Making Photo Booth Props: Outreach at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Day 3

Making Text Transfer Chalkboard Speech Bubbles: Outreach at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Day 4