Parts and Crafts Brings the Maker Movement to Kids

Parts and CraftsPhoto by Dana Forsythe.

Parts and Crafts
577 Somerville Ave., (617) 207-8016

For Dina Gjertsen, it can be a bit difficult to describe what actually goes on at Parts and Crafts. Where else could you make your own lightsaber, build a doll house, and fix a bike?

“It’s really just a place for people to share cool projects, use real tools, where children can learn and make and create and build things together,” says Gjertsen, after school coordinator and general guru for the Somerville makerspace, while walking through the building at 577 Somerville Ave.

Bridget Kramer, a 8-year-old who lives in the city, takes classes like writing, fire safety, and robotics. But she excitedly explains that she also takes more offbeat courses, such as “Argue Like A Lawyer,” “Tent Cities,” and “Microscope History of the Universe,” in which students look into the early beginnings of the universe.

Parts and Crafts aims to democratize technology, promote self-direction, and prioritize economic accessibility. But the staff is also focused on creating a warm, friendly environment for kids and adults looking to learn.

Founded by Will Macfarlane in 2009, Parts and Crafts started as a member-supported family makerspace and community workshop. Through the years, it has grown to include school-vacation camps, a full-time school-alternative program, and after-school and weekend classes and workshops.

What sets Parts and Crafts apart from other makerspaces is its attention to inclusion. All of the makerspace’s major programming is set on a sliding-scale with as many free slots as the organization can afford, and every Saturday there are free, drop-in hours open to anyone.

Gjertsen says that through the years, staff members at Parts and Crafts have forged connections with local partners and area schools to bring their services to as many kids as possible.

“As we’ve grown and gotten better at outreach, we’ve learned that sliding scale on its own cannot raise enough money to make our programs affordable and sustainable,” Gjertsen says. “We are almost entirely participant-funded, so the continued existence and success of our programs depends on memberships and full-price enrollments and other kinds of financial support from our community.”

For the most part, Gjertsen says, wealthier families in Somerville have sought out private technology education in the past. The goal of a sliding scale model, Gjertsen says, is to create an income-diverse learning environment where children from these families pay full tuition to offset those who attend at a lower rate, allowing Parts and Crafts to operate without dependence on outside grants and funding.

The Somerville makerspace has also teamed up with the Freedom Connexion and the Welcome Project, community programs that work with lower-income and immigrant communities in Somerville, to get underserved kids into their programs.

Chelsea resident Mike Gasper, who was an art teacher at the Lincoln School in Revere, joined Parts and Crafts a few years back as a summer camp counselor.

“We’ve been coming here for three years and I just love it,” he says while making a puppet stage with his daughter and son. “As an art teacher, it’s so much of what I loved to do before. Now, it’s just a great combination of the work I love and spending time with family.”

For his daughter, Chloe, the appeal lies in the other students at Parts and Crafts and the projects they work on. Her brother, Michael, says that since joining he’s become involved in creating and exploring puppetry.

“I love to draw and paint and I really got into puppets recently,” he says. “I love being here, building and hanging out with friends.”

Michael exemplifies what staffers are going for day in and day out, Gjertsen says.

“He’s a great example, he was kind of interested in puppets in a vague way when he came,” she says. “But now, he’s making scenery, making complex puppets, doing their voices, and even teaching some of the younger kids.”

“Kids get to come here, see what excites them, and get into it at their own speed,” she adds.

For Gjertsen, who got her start at the makerspace a few years back, each day is spent doing things she would be doing anyway. Previously a theater teacher, a Museum of Science worker, and a game designer, Gjertsen was introduced to the makerspace’s founders when her Somerville Tool Library project—a program where people can borrow tools for a week—was folded into Parts and Crafts.

Through the years, even through the eyes of her own 9-year-old child, Gjertsen says she’s seen the enormous difference Parts and Crafts makes for local kids.

“Programs like these are so important,” she says. “For kids who have problems at school or who have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another, this allows them the benefits of autonomy.”

“What better way for kids to learn than pursuing the things that excite them?” she asks.

This story originally appeared in the 2018 Scout’s Honored issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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