Makey Makey Invention Kit for Everyone

Makey Makey Banana Piano | TinkerLab.com

Make + Key = Makey Makey

Would you enjoy playing a game of PacMan with carrots or tinkering a set of play dough piano keys? If the answer is “yes,” then Makey Makey might be just the toy for you!

I’ve been following Makey Makey by JoyLabz for a while and we finally got the chance to play with our very own set.

Makey Makey Invention Kit for Everyone | TinkerLab.com review

What is Makey Makey?

That’s a great question — before we brought ours home I wasn’t entirely sure either!

Makey Makey is an easy-to-use invention kit that’s essentially a printed circuit board that connects to a computer via a USB cable. Wires connect Makey Makey to conductive objects (i.e. play dough, bananas, aluminum foil, coins), which can then be played much like a joystick or keyboard key.

Basically, Makey Makey takes over the functionality of the space bar and other computer keys, and the conductive objects become the computer’s new keys! Cool, right?

One more thing: Do you see my daughter holding one end of the black wire in the photo (above)? YOU close the circuit to the ground with your body by holding one end of an alligator clip while playing with Makey Makey with another hand.  If you let go of that wire, nothing works. This makes for a strong lesson in how circuits work. Awesome for kids!

What’s inside?

That tidy little green kit you see there is filled with a few important supplies:

  • Makey Makey board with 18 key-press connections and one ground connection
  • 7 alligator clips
  • 6 white wires
  • 1 USB cable
  • Basic instructions

Makey Makey Kit

How does Makey Makey work?

  1. It’s an Arduino Circuit Board. The heart of Makey Makey is its circuit board. The Makey Makey board connects to your computer via the USB cable (see the orange cord).
  2. Ground the Circuit. Connect one end of a wire to the board with the simple alligator clip technology. Hold the other end of the wire with your hand, and YOUR BODY now completes the circuit.
  3. Replace keyboard keys with conductive materials. Attach one end of an alligator clip to a spot on the Makey Makey board, and the other end to something conductive. We chose bananas.
  4. Play a game or an instrument. Then you want to find a digital instrument or game to connect your Makey Makey to. We connected to a piano for our first project, but you could also hook up your new “game controller” to PacMan or Tetris. Here’s our banana piano in action:

Makey Makey Experiments

This is where Makey Makey gets interesting. Once you get the hang of how Makey Makey works, you’ll certainly come up with new ways to tinker and create with it. The Makey Makey website has a pages of creations and games that people have invented around their product: talking water fountains, a heartbeat wall. And my favorite: the Giggling Circuit. You’ll want to try that one! Here’s a link.

And my all-time favorite: Eat the Star Spangled Banner. Oh-my-goodness. Amazing fun.

Makey Makey Banana Piano | TinkerLab.com

Makey Makey in Schools and Libraries

  • According to this Fast Company article, one in five Makey Makeys are used in Makerspaces for after-school and other educational programs
  • The Makey Makey website includes step-by-step tutorials that offer ideas for collaborations in school and other group settings.
  • The Tech Museum in San Jose invented a game for their Maker Space that invited teams of kids to work together to build human-size circuits with a chain of bodies. They look like they’re having so much fun!
  • Combine Makey Makey with Scratch coding (recommended for kids ages 8 and up), and you’ll get a child hooked on inventing and problem solving

What age is it for?

I couldn’t find an official age range on the product’s site. My kids are 4 and 6, and they loved playing with Makey Makey once I set it up. They quickly understood how to build a circuit with their bodies, and also enjoyed the task of testing various objects for conductivity. Depending on a child’s experience with electronics and computers, I would guess that young teens would be able to use Makey Makey on their own. Younger children will need adult assistance, but it’s just as interesting for adults as it is for kids, and makes a cool side-by-side learning experience.

Where to buy Makey Makey

Amazon (affiliate)

Directly from Makey Makey. If you’re a school, you can order with a P.O. from Makey Makey.


We had so much fun with Makey Makey, and look forward to testing it out in more ways.

Thanks to JoyLabz for sending us the Makey Makey kit to review. All opinions shared here are our own.

How to Build with Box Rivets

rivet3

Today we’re joined by TinkerLab reader and friend, Aricha Gilpatrick Drury who’s offered to show us how to build with box rivets. Aricha is a mom to four children and has a knack for tinkering. When she shared this uber-tinkering activity on our Facebook wall, we asked Aricha if she’d be so kind to share with us today. Lucky us, she said, “yes!”

If you’ve never built with box rivets before (we haven’t), you’re in for a treat. They’re simple plastic connectors that enable you build almost anything you can think of from cardboard: castles, theater sets, play structures, and more.

How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.com

About a year ago, my father sent the kids a package of Mr. McGroovy’s Cardboard Rivets (Amazon), which took up residence, half-forgotten on a shelf. My kids all love building with cardboard boxes, but I’d assumed the rivets would require a great deal of adult help and I was hesitant to introduce them. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong when I finally got them out on a recent snow day.

Supplies: Build a Box with Rivets

My 9-year-old and I gathered our supplies:

Mr. McGroovy's Rivets | Tinkerlab.com

How the Rivets Work

After a quick safety review for the punch (to avoid punching directly into one’s hand), we checked out the rivets to see how they worked. Two rivets are positioned on either side of the cardboard with the prongs at a 90-degree angle from one another. When the rivets are pressed together, the ridged prongs click securely and hold the two layers of cardboard together.

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I demonstrated once, showing my son how to punch through two layers of cardboard then press the rivet together through the punched hole. Once he had the idea, which only took one demonstration, I turned him loose to design and build.

Build with Rivets and Cardboard

He started out by gathering all the boxes together and then arranged them into the general shape of the playhouse that he wanted to make. After getting a rough idea of where each box would go, he figured out which sides needed to be cut open and how to overlap the joints to secure the boxes together. For the most part, he was able to punch the holes and line up the rivets himself, though he needed an extra hand (or a longer arm) for some spots.

Creative Problem Solving

In a few places, the cardboard didn’t overlap and we used packing tape to join the pieces. When that proved to be far less reliable than riveting, he discovered that an extra piece of cardboard could be placed over both edges and riveted together, creating a much more stable joint.

rivet2

He also discovered that he needed to do some pre-planning in a few places by securing the harder-to-reach rivets first and leaving the ones close to the edge for last.

His final touch was a door, which I cut for him using the box cutter. He designed a handle with a strip of leftover cardboard and riveted it on.

rivet3

Once the house was complete, we carried it out for the rest of the children to explore. After an initial peek inside, they furnished it with pillows and blankets. Over the next couple days it became a play house, a castle, and a place to be alone. After a week in child care (including being moved by small children), the house is still standing solid.

rivet4

Resources

Mr. McGroovy’s website has designs for using the rivets to create projects from your own cardboard boxes, as well as ideas from customers and tips for acquiring large appliance boxes.

Mr. McGroovy’s rivets on Amazon

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience


Aricha Gilpatrick Drury on How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.comAricha Gilpatrick Drury is an early childhood consultant and mother of four. She comes from a long line of fixers and tinkerers and hopes to pass on a tinkering mindset to her children. She likes to test out her open-ended art and tinkering invitations in her husband’s in-home childcare program.

Glittery Pine Cones

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Beautiful, right? These gorgeous old redwoods shade our neighborhood park and make me fall in love with that park time and time again. After our ritual slide run and swing toss we like to set up snack or lunch in the shade of these trees, practice “climbing” them (which is really just climbing thought the gap between their close-growing bases), and occasionally harvest their little 1″ pine cones for mysterious who-knows-whats.

While my husband and I busied ourselves with countless chores this morning, my daughter called out, “I’m ready for an art project! I’m sitting at my table and NEED an art project!!” So demanding! Forget that she’s got a sweet little self-service area all set up where she can access paper, markers, scissors (yes, that’s right…scissors…lucky kid!), glue, and glitter glue. But she wants MORE! So, my brain starts cranking a little faster, and I hustle to pull this pine cone glitter bonanza together for her.

N chose the paint colors, brushes, and glitter colors, and we spent a good deal of time mixing up a batch of “magenta” paint with red, purple, and white. It didn’t really turn out looking like magenta in the end, but at least we could name the strange, emerging color something other than red, which it was clearly not.

And this was not just for my daughter…my husband and I jumped in the fun, too. (Thanks, Susie, for the gorgeous bronzy glitter. Scott made some good looking pine cones way sparkly with it today!).

Excess glitter found its way into this baggie, and my husband showed N how she could cover a glue+paint coated pine cone with glitter by dropping it in and shaking it about.

A tray full of mini pine cones. Isn’t it surprising that the world’s largest tree should bear such a tiny cone?

We really can’t seem to get enough of the sparkly stuff. Anyone else have a child who’s nutso for glitter?

Extension ideas

  • You don’t have mini pinecones to paint? Try big pine cones, leaves, sweetgum balls, rocks, or sticks.
  • Bring a basket on a neighborhood walk and provoke your child with a question like, “Let’s collect items to paint/glitter/decorate/etc. What could we collect?”
  • Add glue to your paint mixture to ensure that the glitter sticks to the pine cones

Happy New Year!!!