In Memory of Maker Faire, the Biggest Show & Tell Event of the Year in NYC

No Maker Faire for NYC this year! The biggest show and tell event of the year is gone. The largest celebration of invention, creativity, curiosity and hands-on learning is no more. 

Maker Faire holds a special place in our hearts. Last year, on September 22nd, we debuted The GIANT Room - our very first GIANT event - at Maker Faire. I left my job at littleBits on June 15th to start The GIANT Room - I walked out of the office with tears on my face, leaving behind some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and a product that I truly adored. The next day, I applied for the TED Residency to build on my idea for The GIANT Room and sent an email to the Maker Faire team asking them for a free space to launch my idea in less than three months. 

I then took a three weeks vacation.

When I came back, I had good news from both! I got into the TED Residency and had a booth space at Maker Faire! The idea for The GIANT Room was no longer only in my head! It was out, soon to be experienced by hundreds of kids and their families. To say I was beyond excited is an underestimate.

Since then, in less than a year, The GIANT Room has reached thousands of children through our programs. We have partnered with the world's most prestigious institutions and schools, have become affiliated with TED ED Clubs and Ford Foundation’s STEMIE Coalition, and have brought our voice onto big stages like TED, SXSW, CBS, and Education Forum.

Here is our promise to Dale Dougherty and the team at Maker Faire: We’re going to continue on our mission; we will make sure the opportunity you gave us will continue to grow and impact the lives of millions of kids around the world. And we want you to know that The GIANT Room’s door is always open to you. You never know, maybe one day we can donate our space to bring Maker Faire back to NYC!

This is how it all started...

We began with an open invitation for families to join an important movement: To give courage and means to every single child to act on their most giant dreams!

To see the change we want to see in this world, we believe we need to energize and encourage our youth to act on their silliest, biggest, most impossible ideas. We want to remind them that the future is theirs and empower them to own it today.

We arrived at Maker Faire with a dream - to build a giant city together with kids out of our collective imagination. But looking around at the other booths, we quickly noticed we were the only ones at the faire without any projects to show. Our booth was a blank canvas waiting for kids to join us and make their own inventions.

It felt rather daunting. We had no idea if kids would actually participate. What would they do? What would they make? How would they work together? Would different ages, genders, and backgrounds come together to build the city? Would they be engaged and actually enjoy the experience? Would they respect each others’ contributions? Would they add to each other’s creations or would they act in silos? Would they have fun building together or would they get frustrated? 

The Faire started. A two year old showed up. His favorite color was red, so we gave him a red marker and he started drawing on the white streets of the city. He didn’t go inside, he drew on the edges.

Then two other kids came by, saw the boxes, and thought the city needed some houses.

More kids joined... they built cars, playgrounds, more houses, towers, and citizens. 

And then more kids joined... they thought the city needed a candy store and a hot tub; an army of kittens with torches in hand, fish in the pond, and turtles on the wall! The playground needed slides, swings, and trees. It needed a garden to grow veggies, an airplane to go to other cities, and trees with lights on top to help us navigate around the city.

We had 1 year olds coloring white foam mats, turning them into oranges for the supermarket that was being built by a 6 year old, to be placed beside a shiny building with solar power built by a 13 year old.

A 15 year old felt the city was too happy and needed to be more realistic. So, he built a "shut down" version of Toys R Us to remind the city that not all things work out.  Another child thought our city was so pretty and that we needed a big camera to take pictures of it. She invented a satellite camera out of cardboard. 

The city continued to grow with each kid that stopped by. Soon enough, our city had a solar system, a bottle of love, and a place to throw birthday parties. It even had a shop of shops where you can buy other shops, but you could only get into it with a helicopter on a speed of 500 miles per hour. And of course, it wouldn’t be a functioning city without a doctor's office, hospital, church and ambulance.

There were a lot of places to have fun around our city, including many playgrounds and party rooms. There were things replicated from real life, like a cable car to Roosevelt Island and fantastical things, like an unusual tree with eyes or a flying monster to watch over the city. We brought security to the city powered by LittleBits electronic building blocks, and lights to many buildings in the city with simple LEDs and batteries.

Along the journey we had remarkable observations:

1- Take kids seriously and they will play their part very well

World Maker Faire is the biggest “show and tell” event in the world, and we arrived without having anything to show. We trusted kids to dream with us and build a fantastic city from our blank canvas, and to innovate something worthy of showcasing at the faire. We took them seriously and counted on them as our collaborators, rather than our visitors. We assigned them an important role, and they played it beyond our expectations.

2- Give freedom to kids and you’ll have a kid zen space

World Maker Faire is boisterous event, with more than 800 vendors and makers showcasing their projects. There are talks, music, large interactive installations, and demos happening everywhere. Needless to say, it’s a very loud event. However, our booth was surprisingly very quiet! At any one time, we were packed with more than 15 kids and grownups in a 10x10 space, and despite materials thrown everywhere, everyone was heads down focusing on their inventions and helping each other out.  One parent even said, The GIANT Room booth feels like a “Kid Zen Space” - adding that her daughter had felt overwhelmed earlier by the faire, but here she was relaxed and calm. 

3- It’s possible to bring kids from a wide range of age together around a common goal 

Kids from a wide range of ages, genders, and backgrounds came together and built alongside each other. We started with a common theme (to build a giant city together) that any kid (or grown up) could relate to. Within this broad theme, a two year old joined in by drawing on the streets of the city, while a 16 year old was inspired to invent a solar system to bring sustainable energy to the city. We even had adults asking if they could join in, eager to build their own elaborate buildings and cars. 

4- Kids invest time in projects they care about and take pride in their work

Kid innovators who joined our mission carefully analyzed the city before they started to build; discussing what was needed to make the city more fun, more livable, more secure, more real, more kind and more smart. They then took their time building and inventing, asking for help when they needed it, and changing directions if something didn’t work as expected. Kids were willing to spend hours to build their project, continually asking their parents to give them more time, and in some cases, begging to come back. They were willing to miss a show or another event at the faire to finish their project! Many parents kept reminding their children that there was so much more to see, but our kid innovators were more interested in making than seeing! Each time a child finished their creation, they were so proud of what they had made. They held it up with a beaming smile and were excited to find a space and new home for it within our city. 

5- The language you use with kids matter   

We counted on kids as our partners, and we made sure that attitude was reflected in the language we used with them. We avoided calling their projects cute or funny. We avoided laughing at their ideas, and certainly held back in judging their contribution. When they arrived at our booth, we asked if they wanted to join us in building a dream city together; discussing what they thought the city was missing and what material they would need for their project. Once their project was complete, we asked them to describe what they made, how it worked, what function it had, and what problem it was intended to solve. At the end, we thanked them for joining us and for their contribution to the city. We respected them, and they respected us and their fellow innovators in the space. None of the kids made fun of other kids’ projects, nor were they disruptive towards others kids creating. Strangers formed small teams and groups to help each other with their inventions.

At Maker Faire, we dreamed and built a magical city side by side with the kids. Both kids and parents joined our dream, and together, we had the most amazing time making. We let kids own a booth at Maker Faire and they surely didn’t disappoint.