Makerspace: Some Key Concepts

4 students are sitting at a table. 1 student leading the pop-up makerspace and the other 3 are participating

Makerspace is the hot topic this year. The American Library Association is running online classes on it. The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report lists it as one of the hot up and coming topics. It is the theme for a number of conferences. Makerspace is a buzzword for remaking unused space into community involved space and extending the offerings of schools, libraries and other organizations. The skills required to conceive and operate a makerspace can be all over the map depending on the focus of the organization. But they are not calling for strictly defined skills. There are few places that even teach makerspace as a discrete field. In the spirit of the dot.coms of the last decade it is a field in development and most skills are self-taught or learned on the job.

4 students are sitting at a table. 1 student leading the pop-up makerspace and the other 3 are participatingWho is your audience?

Before choosing the space and the stuff you need to know who your audience is? Is it children, adults, a combination of both? Are they students?, student teachers?, hobbyists? crafters? Are they already makers? Local business people? Or a combination of a number of these groups? Libraries already serve a broad population depending on the type of library you may already have things in place. Obviously you can’t serve everyone at once so targeting the times the space/event is available is desirable. And, you don’t have to know it all. Each of these groups has or can develop expertise across a broad range of activities. Ideally your goal is to empower them to take the lead. It’s no longer a world of “sage on the stage” and even the youngest children have something to bring to the table—even to teach—and potentially create something new. As a practice I don’t let anyone get away who expresses some familiarity with something we haven’t offered yet. I recruit them as engineers of experience and expand the pool of expertise and enthusiasm that we can tap into.

Science, Technology and STEM

Libraries remade themselves 30 years ago when computers hit the scene. Computers were embraced and incorporated into the information and back end of the field. Like the rest of the world though, the inner delving and practical applications of the software were largely ignored except by systems librarians and IT people. The rest of us were satisfied that learning how to construct a proper Boolean argument was sufficiently high tech and alarming enough.  In schools, shop and home economics departments were repurposed into computer and technology departments. Shop tools were phased out. The push for STEM (or STEAM-science, technology, engineering, art and math) has changed the playing field in education and in some cases added additional job qualifications or opportunities to the library field. Yet, I have been watching the job postings as they come up and realize that the idea of makerspace/hackerspace is still quite new and as undefined as the early days of computers. The desired qualifications range from engineers to artists and craftspeople. The way to learn it is “on-the-job” and it is more often driven by the passion of the person than any academic qualifications. Given the creative and innovative nature of the new discipline that makes sense. It also makes it hard to figure out how to get the experience that will qualify you to do it. At some point there will undoubtedly be an authority who declares that thus-and-so degree, accreditation or certificate will qualify a person as a maker. Until then it will remain passion driven and self-taught.

Art and craft with some design thrown in

Usually the artistic field coincides with the library field in the children’s area where crayons, markers and cut paper abound. These are key tools for teachers. But it’s not just child’s play anymore as both teens and adults are also learning to expect some sort of engagement with handwork and access to technology beyond word processing.

A class of natural makers has risen out of the creative sector. Artists and craftspeople who have been “making” as a way of life are finding their way into library and school makerspaces. Sometimes these folks happen to be librarians and teachers too. Creativity and problem-solving are the hallmark of creative workers and ironically are key factors in the success of makerspaces. They are also key to developing an innovative and nimble organization.

Makerspaces require staff. In the absence of hiring a person trained in science or art developing the current staff in the ways of makerspace is the often challenging goal. When activities perceived as “creative” arise they can be the source of a great deal of stress to individuals who don’t generally engage in creative activities or think of themselves as creative. With adults there is also a fear of looking foolish if one attempts something new and untried, particularly in front of teens or younger patrons.

You don’t have to be an expert

Makerspace activities can exhibit the best in effective teaching by transforming the old ways. Too often in libraries materials and devices are “over controlled.” That is, in the spirit of making sure things don’t get broken or stolen they are locked up and non-apparent. The very nature of makerspace calls for trying and failing and sometimes breaking things in the course of innovation and experimentation. The strength of the process lies in giving up and become a facilitator or co-learner. The most empowering statement can be, “I don’t know how it works/how to do it either, let’s figure it out.” For the patron, particularly a teen or child this opens up acknowledgement that they bring their own unique knowledge and experience to the table. To the librarian it opens up the freedom to experiment, learn and not have to feel like they have to be the expert. In the case of technology, the current world is one where the children are in their medium. It’s all they have ever known and there is a base comfort level that an older staff member might not feel. While there should be some oversight when starting out engaging the user as a knowledgeable learner and encouraging them to take ownership of their learning and the makerspace will go much further to preserving the equipment than keeping it locked up. If something does get broken then that opens up a whole new area to explore—that of fixing things or repurposing them—in itself, a whole activity of makerspace that is gaining ground.


To approach makerspace with a sense of play is key. The nature of play removes inhibitions because there is no judgement involved. Activities can continue as long as one chooses to engage. There can be a product or not and experimentation is required. There is no success or failure. There may be multiple attempts to accomplish something but without judgement. Failure is a necessity and a driving force.

Controlling the stuff

Makerspace generates lots of small parts. Some may be part of the equipment and some may be the result of the making. Some parts will get lost. Most replacement pieces these days can be located on the internet so losing the back door to a playmobil ambulance isn’t the end of the item. Often when staff are uncomfortable with unfamiliar items they lock them up to preserve them. To be successful items need to circulate–to be used– and even occasionally broken. There is nothing more discouraging than technology that sits in a closet, protected from the public until it is too old to be useful. The nature of makerspace incorporates the idea that things can be fixed and, in fact, fixing things is a true makerspace activity in itself. One activity might be a “fixing night” or a “repurposing” or “taking apart” activity. Makerspace moves people from being consumers to being creators. Some of that can include fixing things that once would have been discarded.

In a curriculum resource center that serves teachers in training and faculty it is important to allow the items and kits to circulate to allow the users to gain skill, bravery and familiarity so that they can present the possibilities to others with confidence. The only way to acquire this confidence is to have an extended time to “fiddle around”. People learn in many different ways but with some of the makerspace items “messing around” is the best way to develop skills or at least questions to bring back and examine.

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Let’s Silhouette!

The Silhouette machine, which looks like a printer

A die-cutting machine. Check it out at the Earl Center.

You’ve probably heard that the Earl Center offers some incredible, state of the art tools and resources that give you the ability to learn new things. With just a little bit of exploring, you’ll find that the Earl Center is full of opportunity to create, learn, and innovate. I am currently interning at the Earl, so it’s likely that you’ve seen me floating around, making this and that, or facilitating pop up makerspaces every now and again. One of the skills I’ve learned during my time at the Earl Center is how to operate the Silhouette Cameo. The following overview of the precision instrument was pulled from my blog, MakerSpace Magic. On the blog you can find in depth summaries of my favorite projects that I’ve been able to create by utilizing the tools and materials in the Earl Center. The best part is that all, of the skills I’ve learned are available to you too! Stop by the Earl Center whenever you have some free time and learn something new. And now… let’s Silhouette!

-Meg Rubadou Class of 2019

Silhouette Cameo. It is a precision instrument similar to the Cricut, and paired with software can come to the rescue with all of your sketching, designing, and cutting needs. If you’ve done any work with Photoshop, InDesign, or any of those Adobe programs, you’ll pick up the Silhouette software pretty quickly. You can design your own stuff or choose from their library to create. As far as printing and cutting, you can also use a wide range of mediums. Silhouette offers some such as vinyl (pssst…Child Life Specialists, teachers, and other kid-fun related professions! Think wall pops. You could design your very own!), paper, cardstock, iron-on heat transfer paper, sticker paper, and (as an inked citizen of America- my favorite,) temporary tattoo paper.

USER FRIENDLY RATING: I give it a 4. The machine itself, or the one I was using (there are different generations), Cameo 3, took me a bit to get the hang of, but the outcomes of my work are below. The only thing I couldn’t quite grasp is using the PixScan feature of the software that allows you to scan and cut using either a scanner or a smart phone camera for image reference. However, I’m quickly learning that if you have questions about the machine or software, you’re not the first who’s had that same question. Google it!

BINGE WORTHY?: When you don’t get paid until next week but you stumble upon it on amazon on a random Monday, maybe not. But if you are ready to commit a few hours to learning the ropes and you have $250 to burn, go for it. In the long run, a great purchase. There are also packages on amazon that sell bundles of materials like the vinyl for cutting and all that good stuff for good prices so shop around. Plus, the good news is that you can save a ton of money by purchasing cutting and printing material that isn’t produced by cameo. For example, a cheap construction paper will be just as effective as an expensive colored paper. Learn as you go with this.

MAKERSPACE MAGIC?: Yes. 100%. If you are a librarian who wants to bring the community together to learn how to make easy, quick, lettering designs or other projects, this machine is a good one for you to invest in. Moms will love it, teens will love it, people of all walks of life will feel so accomplished when they learn how to grasp this super neat tech.

Continue reading her post on the Silhouette. It has some great examples of projects done with the Silhouette.

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Play at the Earl Center

4 students (1 slightly off-camera) sit at table each carving a mini pumpkin with knives

Regularly, students come to play at the Earl Center.

That is, education classes taught by professors like Diane Levin and Kyoung Kim about using play in the classroom are set up in the Earl Center so that students have a place to get hands on with their education.

Here is an example of an educational play class from last Fall, 2016.

A table with long sticks of wood, measuring tapes, rulers, markers

Here’s the racing station nice and neat

Student pulling one end of a measuring tape and another student stands to watch

How far can these race cars go? Who can build the best ramp?

A plastic bin of water, 3 mini pumpkins, a blue scale, and a can of marbles

Pumpkin floating station (I didn’t even know pumpkins floated until I set this up! I have to confess to dunking a few ^_^)


4 students (1 slightly off-camera) sit at table each carving a mini pumpkin with knives

Students carve pumpkins in an experiment on floating

several students sit together arranging a playset of felt, construction paper, and long, lego people, rectangular wooden blocks to resemble a bustling restaurant.

Setting up a restaurant


A playset of felt, construction paper, rectangular wooden blocks, and lego people arranged to resemble a bustling restaurant.

I want to eat at this restaurant! Gourmet dining!


A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

3 students sitting together. 2 students observe one student playing with pickup sticks

Let the games begin!

Now these students are ready to teach their own class, passing on playful experiments in physics, math, kinetic ability, creativity – and most importantly, fun!

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Hour of Code

three women looking at their ipads at a table.

The Earl Center will be hosting an Hour of Code lunch and learn on Friday, 12/9,  from 12:30 to 1:30.  Bring your lunch and the Earl Center will supply drinks and chips.

Hour of Code started as a non-profit organization and website headed by Hadi Partovi. Its purpose is to encourage people and schools in the United States to learn computer science. In 2013 90% of the schools did not teach computer science. It is estimated that 20 million people world-wide participated in the first Hour of Code.

Figure 1 Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper -Wikipedia

Figure 1 Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper –Wikimedia Commons

It is now offered voluntarily by schools and organizations during Computer Education Week, the first or second week in December,  to coincide with celebration of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906). She was a computing pioneer who designed a compiler for the first computer programs among other things. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on November 22, 2016. She was also the identifier of the first computer bug-a moth stuck in the relay of a Navy Mark II computer.

Participation in Hour of Code requires minimal resources. It can even be done without a computer, by any age group from pre-readers to adults. provides free resources for educators (who don’t have to know how to code when they start)

Information on computer science education in Massachusetts

iamge of graph paper with scribbles

photo of first computer bug – a moth stuck in a computer – Wikimedia Commons



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Raspberry Pi 3 – A Lot of Computing for the Money but Not for Everyone

The Earl Center has recently purchased the Raspberry Pi 3, which you can check out.

image of the pi 3, a credit card size motherboard with usb ports and other ports for peripheralsAt about the size of a credit card, the Raspberry Pi packs a punch. For example, the latest version, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, comes with a host features including built-in wireless capability and powerful CPU cores that make it 64-bit compatible (Raspberry Pi 2 included an Ethernet connector and four USB 2.0 ports on the right-hand edge, and the Micro USB power socket, HDMI output and audio/video jack sockets on its bottom edge). You can order Pi 3 as a standalone bare board or as part of a starter kit package that contains a memory card pre-loaded with an operating system (like New Out Of the Box Software, available through Raspberry Pi. Foundation), a protective case, or other extras. Also included are an assortment of games, programming environments (most notably Python and Scratch) At $35, that’s a lot.

Like all other versions of the Pi, the point is to bring affordable computing to all. And like the previous versions, getting up and running takes a bit more effort than pressing the power button on a device running Windows or Apple IOS. But if you’re someone who likes like to tinker, get ready for a thrill (you may also feel like banging your head on the table from time to time, so be prepared).

When you order a Pi, you’ll receive a small cardboard box containing a single green board with circuits, chips and ports and a single page of instructions. Unless you’ve purchased some sort of starter kit, you won’t find a keyboard, monitor or cable. And that simplicity is by design. The computer is made by a non-profit in the UK, whose mission is to teach children 10 and up to learn how computers actually work. Founder Eben Upton says that the Foundation’s original intent was to bring back “engineer” back to engineering. Recalling the old machines of the 1980s (the Amigas, BBC Micros and Commodores) which inspired one to program, Upton noticed that the new, more closed systems don’t actually encourage it. By creating a platform that a kid could afford, Upton hopes to rekindle the days of interest in programing. “We’re doing this because engineering is an enormously fun thing to do and it’s sad that children don’t have access to this fun thing.” [Upton, Eben in Viches. Jose ‘Interview with Raspberry Pi Founder Eben Upton.” Techspot. 22 May, 2012.]

So you’ll want a few extras to get going including a microSD card (8GB or larger recommended) to store the operating system, a phone charger with a Micro USB connector to supply power, a USB keyboard and mouse, and a monitor that’s HDMI or composite video signal compatible. Also if you go the bare bones route, you’ll need some kind of device (e.g., another computer) to actually download and install an operating system on to the micro card, as well as an adapter. So you might want to consider a SD card that’s been pre-loaded with Raspbian (the Pi’s operating system) for a little more money (roughly $10 more). But if you’re the type who likes to tinker, go for the vanilla version and download an operating system of your choice. If you choose to go with Raspbian, you’ll get a Windows-style interface with some basic desktop options that provide menus and settings options. Using the pre-loaded Web browser, I was able to surf the Web and check email. What I spent the most time sampling were the pre-loaded games and fooling around with Scratch. I made Sprite, the little cat dance, but didn’t get much farther than that.

So what does this mean for a classroom teacher, and why would you even consider a Raspberry Pi? For starters, if you’re in a situation where money is tight, a Pi could be your way to get computing to your students. Because you can use older equipment, the initial outlay or request for funds does not have to be in thousands.

The Pi allows a flexibility that PCs and Apple products do not. With it, you can create weird and wonderful things. You can use it to stream music and video, to create electronic monitoring systems like the one designed by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that monitors air quality, or a device that controls an electronic garage door opener.

If you’re looking for something that will teach programming and design thinking organically, the Pi can’t be beat. But if you’re like me–not a natural programmer– be prepared with a heavy dose of patience. And therein lies one the Pi’s greatest gifts: gratification isn’t instantaneous; you actually have to work for it.

Standard on Pi 3:

  • 1GB RAM
  • 4 USB ports
  • 40 GPIO pins
  • Full HDMI port
  • Ethernet port
  • Combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video
  • Camera interface (CSI)
  • Display interface (DSI)
  • Micro SD card slot (now push-pull rather than push-push)
  • VideoCore IV 3D graphics core
  • 2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 CPU
  • 11n Wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
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Fish Printing

During the Curiosity and Learning Conference earlier this October, the Earl Center hosted some unusual guests – fish, fish, fish! Neon fish, spotted fish, sparkle fish – everyone joined the show! Take a look for yourself:

GIF flipping through pictures of brightly painted fish on cream-colored paper

GIF flipping through pictures of brightly painted fish on cream-colored paper.

But how did these fish come to be?

A great project inspired by Gyotaku and designed by Professor Lisa Lobel – making a fish rubbing!

Materials used:

  • acrylic paint (watered down)
  • cut up sponges
  • newsprint paper
  • eyedroppers
  • fish

Professor Lobel guided the participants in daubing the fish with acrylic paint using the sponges. Sometimes the eyedroppers added some unexpected spots!

Then the participants carefully placed the newsprint paper on the fish and tapped it gently to get the paint on the paper. That painting was a bit thicker with paint. Then the participants applied a second sheet of newsprint to get a more ghostly impression.

The results were impressive! Scales, eyes, and cheekbones all showed up like a 2D fossil on the paper.

So remember: you can have your fish – and paint it too!

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OSMO Coding

Light blue character has a round circle body with oblong limbs. The two arms have three yellow bands. The face is smiling with a big grin and a red tongue. The character is holding a strawberry. White background

upright white box with clear plastic window in the center, written word “Osmo” in different colors at the top, black word “Coding” at the bottom. The box rests on a white round table in front of a window that shows the bricks of the Student Center building in the background. In front of the box are scattered colorful blocks with little figures walking or jumping. Smaller yellow blocks have numbers on themThe Earl Center has recently updated its Osmo set! Now, in addition to Tangrams, Words, Newton, and Masterpiece, we present: Osmo Coding!

It’s a great little set with a number of coding blocks.

The set up is the same as with Tangrams and the others: simply download the Coding app onto an iPad (which we have a number of at the Earl Center!), put the tablet into the base, and get started!

The main character is our furry friend Awbie, who seems to be Bigfoot’s little cousin. They love eating strawberries.

Light blue character has a round circle body with oblong limbs. The two arms have three yellow bands. The face is smiling with a big grin and a red tongue. The character is holding a strawberry. White background

Please join us on the Earl Center Blog for more updates on Awbie’s grand strawberry adventures!

We follow Awbie on their quest to eat strawberries and to grow flowers on the…er…remains of the strawberries.

The player helps Awbie by using the coding blocks to move Awbie forward a space, to turn, to jump, to grab strawberries, and so forth. Pressing the “play” button gets Awbie started on the moves the player has designed – and then we find out if Awbie is successful or not!

ipad plugged into OSMO base and the OSMO Coding box right next to it. In front of it are 3 coding blocks. The top block shows a walking figure, an up arrow, and the number 2. The middle block shows a walking figure, a right arrow, and the number 2. The third block shows a triangle pointing right

Here, Awbie will be moving up two spaces and over two spaces – there’s a nice ripe red strawberry waiting!

The gray arrows on the blocks turn to the direction the player wants, and the yellow tiles go up to five – the player can mix and match.

The pink bar on the side keeps track of Awbie’s strawberry points – then Awbie can get a plant to put in the garden!

Here Awbie has returned to their empty garden plot…but fortunately, there is a plant to place in!
Ipad plugged into OSMO base. The screen depicts the character, Awbie, moving through a garden. In front of the ipad are two coding blocks. The first coding block depicts a walking person, an up arrow, and the number 4. The second coding block depicts an arrow pointing right.
Lastly, here is the sick volcano that Awbie is helping. Awbie follows the white rabbit to each level – hopefully the volcano will get happier and happier!

-Reviewed by Quincy Knapp, Earl Center Public Services Assistant

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Summer STEM Camps

When people normally think of camps, cabins in heavily wooded areas with children either ducking in-between the trees or roasting marshmallows often springs to mind.

However, while these camps still exist, a new kind of camp is becoming prevalent. Science, Technology, Electronics and Mathematics Camps, otherwise known as (STEM) Camps, represent a growing fundamental part of our educational system in this day and age. Like a typical summer camp, a STEM camp is a summer program where students interact with one another to socialize and create bonding through teamwork/group exercises. However, unlike a camp that promotes arts, a STEM camp highlights math and science over arts and crafts.

It is because of its leaning towards math and science that makes STEM camps an increasingly important part of our summer culture. As our society continues to evolve, math and science have become increasingly vital. While there is nothing inherently wrong with literature and the arts offered by more traditional summer outings, math and science are often overlooked for summertime exploration. As we become more globalized, the need for better technology escalates. Not only does this include technology on the international level, such as water and sewage system, but also on a national level to create better iPhones and computers. This in turn means that the science behind such innovations must increase as well.

The need for such a leaning towards the math and sciences stems from the fact that America, a leading manufacturer and developer of technology, does not have enough people within mathematical and scientific industries to keep in pace. Only 50% of people that choose to go into a math or science field in college will pursue a career in the field. In all, the United States ranks 29th in math and 22nd in science when ranked among the industrialized nations. Considering the fact that the United States is a leader economically, politically, and socially in the global community, this is extremely low.

So now that the need for STEM camps has been established, making it enticing becomes the next step. I remember not liking math and science much as a student since my main exposure to it was in a classroom learning through textbooks, with the rare science lab thrown in to liven things up. But I feel that this is why STEM camps are so attractive as a summertime activity. STEM camps help make learning the subjects fun. While there is still a curriculum attached to the program, there are more leniencies with how it needs to be done. It is not just sitting in a room, but conducting more experiments and letting campers trying things out outside of the classroom and expand their minds as well. Therefore, counselors and their charges are able to have fun in the process. Just think, with the knowledge acquired at a STEM camp, what technological marvel will be created next?

Wheelock’s 2nd annual STEM in the City Summer Camp starts today and will be running until July 29.

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3D Printing in Educational Contexts

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx. The sign next to the printer reads Now Printing: Hatshepsut Sphinx. Two additional red sphinx lie to the left of the sign.

When folks come face-to-face with the 3D printer at the Earl Center, you can usually hear “That’s so cool!”, “What’s printing?”, or “Can I use this? We have a little spiel that gives folks the rundown: Yes, you can print something, we can help you!  Right now it’s printing a map of Wheelock, or a sphinx, a turtle doorstop.

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx. The sign next to the printer reads Now Printing: Hatshepsut Sphinx. Two additional red sphinx lie to the left of the sign.

The Wheelock 3D printer in the middle of printing an orange sphinx.

Another question to ask is how 3D printers can be used in educational contexts. In the classroom, and in the real world. Here are a few ways:

Teachers have tangible visuals for their students. Whether students learn better hands on, or use the model to form a visual of their own, 3D printing encourages inclusive classroom learning. For example, we’ve printed labyrinths for one class, and a made a 3D version of a frog skeleton, for another class.

Tangible artifacts can also include historical artifacts, or objects that students can create. Ask Mare, the Assistant Director of the Earl Center, or one of the Earl Center workers at the Service Desk for a demo in Tinkercad. Taking a project from start to finish allows students the chance to see examples of history while building new skills at the same time.

Students have better chances of retaining the information from class if they can interact with the material! There’s no way to go wrong- if you mess up, just fix and print it again. This trial and error process of paper to object helps students develop problem solving skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce. Students also have the chance to design their own curriculum based on what they want to learn.

Looking for some other examples of what you can print for the classroom? Here are a few ideas:

  • Molecules
  • Planets
  • Shapes or objects (Useful for math lessons!)
  • 3D models of student art
  • Historical models or busts (Check out our mini-Beethoven bust!)
  • Replacement parts or cases
  • Name tags (Keep a lookout for some at the Earl Center!)

To learn more about the industry take on 3D printing, check out this video! Closed captions available.


For lesson plan ideas and more from an education technologist’s point of view, check out Kathy Schrock’s blog post about 3D printing in the classroom.

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Perler Beads

Okay, remember being a kid. Yes, we are all kids at heart, but go back to when you were able to proudly create small treasures with just the right amount of “oohs and awes” from family and friends. Those precious memories of magic and wonder are still accessible. Enjoy those glorious moments of being a child again by playing with Perler Beads. Sift through the rainbow, captured inside these little plastic beads, with your own fingers and delight your senses. This is what it means to be a child– A bin full of fun. The Earl Center has the beads, pegboards, ironing paper, and an iron that you can use in our art area. Also, remotely check out the ebook Craft it With Perler Beads through our Library to get some “ooh and awe” ideas.


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