Transform Your Library with a (Low-Budget!) Makerspace

You may have heard of “maker” programs before, but, due to cost constraints, thought they were out of the realm of possibility for your own library. Think again.

Aided by new technologies like 3-D printers, maker programs emphasize both physical and digital creations, from simple arts and crafts programs to robots, advanced graphic design, and 3-D modeling. Creating a dedicated “Makerspace” of your own can help promote these activities, while encouraging a creative, do-it-yourself culture throughout your library and greater community.

Low-Tech, High-Impact Learning

But for libraries that don’t have the resources to purchase a 3-D printer or build their dream makerspaces, this School Library Journal piece offers some great ideas for providing low-tech, high-impact maker programming.

Turns out, many of the programs libraries have been offering for years—arts and crafts or sewing and cooking classes, for instance—are already highly creative activities that can easily be re-branded with the “maker” label. Other inexpensive ideas, such as offering free time with Legos, Tinker Toys, or simple craft materials, are great ways to support imaginative thinking, spatial reasoning, and other important skills.

More Than a Buzzword

The maker label is more than just a buzzword, it’s a movement of educators, parents, and kids to promote creativity and empowerment through experiential learning. By providing opportunities for your patrons to create, build, and connect with each other, a makerspace can transform your library, making it not just a place to read and learn, but also a place to create and do.

Next Steps?

For some great makerspace project ideas, explore the resources below, and stay tuned. Soon, we’ll also be posting tips for finding makerspace funding.

5 Great Takeaways from “Written by a Kid”

If you haven’t seen the “Written by a Kid” series yet, you should. As advertised, the short episodes are conceived entirely by young children and are acted out and animated by some rather high-profile adults. For instance, the first in the series, “Scary Smash,” includes Dave Foley (from “Kids in the Hall” and “News Radio” fame), Joss Whedon (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Veronica Mars”), and Kate Micucci (of the comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.)

But the stories and their authors are what matter most. In “Scary Smash,” as told by a boy named Brett, a red, one-eyed monster smashes a milk truck and a “S.Q.U.A.T.” team is sent in to save the day. In “Fire City,” six-year-old Aaron tells an apocalyptic tale set in “S country” where one million fire fighters reside in a single fire station. And six-year-old Emily’s “La Munkya”—about a really hungry, paper horse—is another noteworthy episode.

Never mind that these stories are incredibly well produced and entertaining for kids and adults alike, “Written by a Kid” affords teachers and parents some great lessons.

Use oral storytelling to empower kids.

For very young children—or for kids who struggle with putting their thoughts down on paper—oral storytelling can be very empowering. Oral storytelling enables them to focus on developing a plot in an easy, fun way—without being hampered by the physical act of writing or the challenge of “writer’s block.” Sometimes, kids also will use oral storytelling to try out new vocabulary words that they haven’t yet learned to spell.

Teach the elements of story.

With oral storytelling, kids have the freedom to create a story’s title, its setting, its characters and their motivations and actions, as well as a story’s conflicts and resolution. As with written stories, oral tales include sequences and transitions—kids understand that something happens first, next, and last.

Kids may also pick up the concepts of “theme” and “genre.” Love, death, and good-versus-evil pop up a lot in “Written by a Kid” episodes, many of which fall into the “horror” and “sci-fi” categories.

Don’t sweat the details.

Josh Flaum and Will Bowles, the creators of “Written by a Kid,” change absolutely nothing in the stories kids tell them, and errors are allowed to stand. (In one exchange, a young storyteller announced her story takes place in California. When asked where in California, she confidently replied, “Texas, California!”)

To stop and correct the child would have stopped her creative flow and also, perhaps, shaken her confidence and willingness to share her thoughts.

Pay attention.

When listening to a new story, Flaum and Bowles pay very close attention. Both physically and emotionally, they get down on the storyteller’s level, allowing the storyteller to drive his or her story with minimal interruptions. (Flaum and Bowles do ask clarifying questions which only further demonstrate the extent to which they are paying attention.)

By serving as an attentive audience, we validate our storytellers, we encourage their creativity, and we give them purpose.

Use technology to bring their stories to life.

Although they certainly do help, you don’t have to have iMovie and a Mac to bring children’s stories to life. There are many free digital storytelling tools worth checking out.

Froggy Phonics Develops Surprising Skills

Lindsey Hill, our lead for reading engagement innovation, recently appeared on Matthew Winner’s “Let’s Get Busy” podcast where the pair discussed Froggy Phonics. Turns out there’s a lot more to the game than simply leaping from lily pad to lily pad, gulping fireflies, and hunting for froggy friends.


Listen to the audio clip below to find out which specific skills Froggy Phonics helps children to develop.


Motivation Drives the Educational Process for Children

As we continue to discuss the literacy crisis facing the United States, we recently brought up the importance that reading to young children plays in their development. Not only does it give them key skills that form the foundation of life-long literacy, but just as importantly, it teaches them that reading is fun.

Kids like fun.

We’ve already seen how kids who are de-motivated to read struggle when they get to secondary school, and today we’ll examine the indispensable element that motivation plays in the learning process.

Simply put, motivation is the gas that fuels a child’s educational engine. Kids who value learning and see the benefits are more engaged and successful than kids who aren’t motivated.

Skinner and Belmont from the University of Rochester (1991) noted that students who are motivated to engage in school “select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”

In other words, motivated kids push themselves to learn and grow, and they enjoy the process.

Motivation is the key to developing successful readers. It affects how students approach school in general, including how they relate to teachers, how much time and effort they devote to their studies, how much support they seek when they are struggling, how they perform on tests, and many other aspects of education.

Higher motivation to learn is linked not only to better academic performance but also to greater conceptual understanding, satisfaction with school, self-esteem, social adjustment, and school completion rates.

The amount of motivation that a student has for reading determines whether the learning derived will be meaningful, deep, and internalized, or if it will be trivial (Gambrell, Morrow & Pressley, 2007).

If students are not motivated, it is difficult, if not impossible, to improve their academic achievement, no matter how good the teacher, curriculum or school is.

Means, Jonassen, and Dwyer In Education Technology Research and Development (1997) cite studies that showing motivation accounts for 16 percent to 38 percent of the variations in overall student achievement.

The problem is how to keep kids motivated as they age. The more years a child is in school, the more likely he or she is to be discouraged by the experience.

Motivation often declines as students progress from elementary through high school. Upwards of 40 percent of high school students are disengaged from learning, are inattentive, exert little effort on school work, and report being bored in school, according to a 2004 analysis by the National Research Council.

The quest to keep interested in school and motivated to learn can feel quixotic, but next week we’ll explore the central internal and external factors that we can optimize to best encourage our children to embrace the educational process on their path to becoming life-long readers and learners.

What Does it Mean to Teach a Child to Read?

We take reading for granted.

For most of us, it’s such a fundamental part of our lives, that we forget we are even doing it. Decoding signs and letters and books is more reflex than chore. We read without a thought.

That’s not true for everyone. For children (and many teens and adults), reading requires tremendous focus and effort. It is a complex skill that must be honed and refined before it becomes effortless.

Having already discussed the literacy crisis in the United States and the factors that prevent kids from being avid readers, it’s time to focus our attention on the nature of the challenge before us. What does it take to teach a child to read?

There’s more to literacy than meets the eye.

Reading isn’t just about translating text into words. The ultimate goal in teaching reading is to have students comprehend the ideas buried in the text. Reading requires critical thinking skills, concentration, a growing vocabulary and leads to effectively mastering the student’s environment.

There’s a lot more to it than just c-a-t, cat.

Reading fluency is a complex act that requires many years of experience and use. Many “models” of reading have been offered, each attempting to describe the essential components of skilled reading. Reading can be described at many levels, from the neurological to the psychological to the sociological. For our purposes, it is useful to think of skilled English readers as individuals who:

  • - Understand and use the “alphabetic principle,” that is, the translation of printed letters into sounds that form words;
  • - Can obtain meaning from printed words by using background knowledge of words and comprehension strategies;
  • - Fluently and effortlessly comprehend what they are reading, except when they come across unfamiliar text; and
  • - Do it all on a regular and sustained basis.

As easy as A-B-C, huh?

Learning to read English presents particular challenges that are not seen in other languages and reading systems. English is based upon that translation of letters to sounds to words. Research indicates that this process should begin in preschool and kindergarten so that children can learn that written words represent spoken sounds. We call this “decoding” and means breaking down a word into its separate sounds. To decode, children need to be explicitly taught how to sound out words. Comprehension is built as children become more adept at decoding and reading words.

Stringing words together is a great accomplishment, but it’s not the same as reading.

Fluency comes when a student recognizes more and more words on sight. The more words are recognized by sight the fewer the reading errors made. A student struggling with decoding will lack fluency and comprehension.

A lack of reading progress sometimes involves what child hears, rather than what he or she sees.

Reading problems often are not related to learning disabilities but to a child’s awareness of sounds. Not all kids have the ability to “hear” the English language, and limited exposure to the English alphabet can slow progress. Rhyming words and repeating lines help children develop an “ear” for language—by appreciating the sounds of words.

The more a child is exposed to reading, the more likely the child is to acquire the requisite skills for reading. Children must learn that words on a page have meaning and that reading is done from left to right and from top to bottom.

We take these simple truths as a matter of course, but they are foundational to literacy, and not every child is exposed enough to the written word at home.

Children who have not been read to when very young may not have experience listening to rhythms and sounds. They may have yet to develop an interest in reading. Contrast this to children who have been read to in childhood. They are more motivated to learn to read and appreciate that reading is a gateway to new ideas.

Ultimately, the enjoyment of reading comes from comprehension, however, and not merely decoding words. Skilled readers “interact” with a text, thinking about what will happen next, creating questions about the main characters and so on. Kids who love to read have good comprehension skills.

The most important form of early reading instruction possible is also the most obvious: read to kids.

When you read to a young child, you not only import some of the most fundamental skills necessary for higher literacy, but you teach them reading is valuable and even fun. A child can learn very early that those little squiggles on a page have meaning, and that meaning can illuminate and enrapture them.

We will explore the role of motivation on Thursday, but for now remember that while the technical process of learning to read is complex, the most basic instruction is not.

Reading to kids will help them learn to read.

What Factors Keep Kids From Being Avid Readers?

A few days ago, we examined the literacy crisis in the United States. While it’s undeniable there is a problem, what are the causes?

Why is it that reading engagement drops off so significantly by the time students enter high school?

For older children and teens, the answer is paradoxical. They don’t read because they stopped reading. At some point along the way, many simply decide they aren’t “readers”. That self-diagnosis can have troubling consequences.

As kids age, their confidence in their abilities drop. As students age, the less likely they are to take risks and engage themselves fully in activities at which they are not sure they will succeed. According to L.S. Lumsden in an ERIC Digest article, young children tend to maintain high expectations for success even in the face of repeated failure, while older students do not. To older students, failure following high effort appears to carry more negative implications—especially for their self-concept of ability—than failure that results from minimal or no effort.

To put it simply, over time kids get used to failure and stop trying. Reading proves too difficult to endure the embarrassment of failure and not enough fun to make it worth the effort.

Over time, children begin to believe that their lack of progress is because they are ‘dumb’ or defective in some way. The results are catastrophic.

A student who believes that he isn’t capable of learning will eventually stop trying to learn. (Anderman & Midgley, EIRC Digest,1998). For example, students who understand poor performance as a lack of skills they can still acquire, rather than as some innate personal deficiency, are more likely to re-engage themselves in a task and try again. Students whose self-image is rooted their history of failure, on the other hand, are less likely to be motivated to learn.

Kids stop reading because they start believing they aren’t smart enough.

As you would expect, motivated readers hold positive beliefs about themselves as readers (Guthrie & Wigfield, Journal of Educational Psychology, 1997). Kids that read, believe they are capable of reading and learning. That confidence can propel them into life-long habits.

These beliefs are infectious.

Students who believe they are capable of learning influence and boost their peers. Students who believe they can’t wield a cascading influence over their classmates. MacIver and Reuman (1994) note that middle school and high school-age students’ level of engagement in school is also highly influenced by peers. As students grow older, their motivation to engage in learning may be influenced by their social group just as much as, if not more than, it is by teachers, parents, and other adults.

Engaging children in reading at a young age can pay exponential dividends by the time they become teenagers. Solving the literacy crisis in the US is not easy, but one thing is undeniable: if we don’t help kids early, by the time they hit high school, it will be too late for many.

Monday, we’ll continue to investigate the roots of the problem in an effort to find lasting solutions.

The Literacy Crisis

At Evanced and Evanced Games, we are deeply concerned with helping libraries and schools fulfill their mission to engage readers of all ages. As a nation, we have to do a better job not only teaching our children to read, but raising a new generation of truly literate citizens.

Accomplishing that task is easier said than done, however. Reading failure is a serious national problem and cannot simply be dismissed as the effects of poverty, immigration, or the learning of English as a second language.

A statement to the Committee on Labor and Human Resources revealed that 44 percent of the nation’s fourth-grade children had little to no mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to perform reading activities at the fourth-grade level. By 2009, the percentage reading below grade level had gradually improved to 33 percent but has remained unchanged through 2012.

We are getting better, but not nearly fast enough. By the time kids reach high school, many have fallen hopelessly behind.

Two-thirds of eighth-graders do not read at grade level. Only one-third of all students entering high school are proficient in reading. Within this group, only about 15 percent of African-American students and 17 percent of Hispanic students are proficient.

We don’t have to be resigned to accept things as they stand now. There are things we can do to make a difference.

Fifty percent of reading difficulties are believed to be preventable if students are given effective language development experiences in preschool and kindergarten and effective reading instruction in the primary grades (Slavin et al., Every Child, Every School: Success for All, 1996).

Even when kids do read, they may not be reading enough. Despite the importance placed on reading for fun, only about three in 10 children can be classified as high-frequency readers who read books for fun every day.

Reading for fun isn’t child’s play, after all. It’s the gateway to producing life-long readers and learners. We simply have to do a better job of motivating our “early readers” to become “regular readers”. High-frequency readers are more likely to have positive self-perceptions and to associate strong reading skills with future success.

Age 8 is the critical drop-off age for reading engagement. Older children are less likely to see benefits to reading and are less engaged in reading for fun. While more than 40 percent of children ages 5 to 8 say they are high-frequency readers; by ages 9 to 11 that proportion drops to 29 percent.

By the time kids get to high school, it’s already too late for most. Almost half of the 15- to 17-year olds are low-frequency readers, compared with 14 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds.

In the coming days, we’ll examine strategies and techniques for engaging readers at a young age and look for ways that together we can do our part to battle against the literacy crisis.

Welcome to the Blog for Evanced Games!

Welcome! Thanks for checking us out!

Here we’ll post the latest updates on games from Evanced and share our thoughts on educational gaming and learning innovations in general.

First, let’s introduce the philosophy that guides our approach to educational game design. In short, our design philosophy is focused on FUN. This is because we believe that the best, most direct way children learn is by engaging in play. Play with words and shapes. Play with characters and stories. Play with friends and family. Play is the engine (spark) that activates (ignites) growing minds.

When games are fun, but also thought provoking and well designed, kids practice thinking critically, develop new skills, and learn about new topics all as a natural result of having fun.

By making education more playful and fun, kids are more motivated to learn—and not because they have to—but because they are doing something that interests them intrinsically—solving problems and discovering new things.

Positive learning experiences, as the groundbreaking Games Researcher James Paul Gee argues, are the natural byproduct of good gameplay experiences. As educators tackle the challenge of making schools more effective and responsive to students’ needs, there is much that can be learned from the simple pleasure of engaging, thoughtful gameplay.

This approach to learning is what motivates Evanced Games every day. It’s an impulse that’s rooted in our own childlike love of play, exploration, and discovery. And it’s the philosophy that makes us challenge ourselves to do better, learn something new every day, and confront every problem as another opportunity to have fun as we learn.

Here at Evanced Games, we’re about big wins plus big ideas. But there’s something even bigger right around the corner—something that will bring kids, parents, and teachers together through the power of learning, self-discovery, and FUN!

So keep in touch, and keep checking back for more news about your favorite games!


Gee, J.P. (2005) “Good Video Games and Good Learning.” Retrieved from: