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Makerspace: A New Way in Religious Education
Makerspace: A New Way in Religious Education

By Joy Berry

Ask adults what they remember from Sunday School and you’ll hear memories of doing. That convinces me that religious education (RE) should be as hands-on, innovative, and creative as possible. Like Makerspaces.

Around the country, “Maker Culture” is developing. Communities, libraries, and schools have installed “Makerspaces” that encourage kids to design, collaborate, and create. According to the Makerspace Playbook: “Makerspaces serve as gathering points where communities of new and experienced makers connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, informed by helpful mentors and expertise, using new technologies and traditional tools.”

Tony Wagner, at Harvard’s new Innovation Lab, says this new way is “the future,” doing what “instructional” models cannot: teaching children to innovate. In a recent book, Wagner says kids supported in creative play, problem solving opportunities, and allowed to learn from failure grow up to change the world.

But can we do that in RE? I think we have to. William Ellery Channing said, “The great end in religious education is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own.” Perhaps the best way to do that is to hand them tools now and give them the opportunity to grow knowledge and skills, becoming problem-solvers who really can change the world.

My work in a children’s museum convinced me that kids love to create, build, and invent because these activities are so engaging and FUN. They end up learning a great deal, by default. But is it faith development? Does it reflect and teach our theology?

  • By teaching early that there are problems in the world that need our combined focus, we teach, like Forrest Church, that deeds, not creeds, are of great value.
  • Problem solving and project planning in RE are developmentally appropriate ways for kids to encounter challenging social justice issues in a safe space. They will be better prepared later to engage in social justice work.
  • By asking kids to help solve problems, we teach that we can “choose to bless the world,” as Rebecca Parker describes. This reflects our Universalist belief that we are all in this together, so we should figure out our shared human challenges.

Makerspace projects for young children can be positive. If we want a young person to be able to understand the ecological consequences of deforestation when she is older, let her work to get the church grounds certified as a wildlife habitat when she is 8. This lays the groundwork for an integrated understanding of the issue. She learns she can be an active, not passive, seventh Principle steward.

Likewise, an RE container garden invites a child to understand the value of water and soil and organically demonstrates how producing food is a fundamental human experience and right. A social justice project on hunger or water scarcity will be more meaningful to him if he has experienced planning, preparing, planting, tending, harvesting, and sharing a garden’s bounty.

Our kids thrive on DOING. It changes their brains and the way they see themselves: When we make things, we are more confident, more open, less anxious about perfection. We naturally collaborate and take risks, and we begin to see ourselves as creators of the world around us, not passive consumers.

We know our children need RE experiences that help them “take it home” every day of the week, in all their activities. Makerspace work lets them bring skills and passion into their daily lives. We can bring our UU values and theology to life when we build capacity in our kids for imagining, doing, helping, healing. We say we are the church of the open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands. Makerspace work in RE programs can help make that a reality.

Next Steps!

Read more about Maker Culture on Wikipedia.

Why are Makerspaces so popular? Read "The 'maker movement' creates D.I.Y. revolution,'" a 2014 article in the online Christian Science Monitor, and learn what young people do in Detroit's Mt. Elliott Makerspace.

Want to explore the possibility of Makerspace in your program? The Makerspace Playbook (School Edition), available online as a PDF file, provides detailed how-to and why-to information.

About the Blogger

Joy Berry is a professional religious educator in Asheville, NC, where she raises chickens, tinkers, and dreams about her future permaculture homestead. She is terminally excited about UUism and her favorite thing ever is witnessing children fall in love with the world around them.

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