A Community Spark for Play: Maker-Centered Learning at Knock Knock Children’s Museum

This article is part of a series of interviews with our partner organizations in the Making Spaces program. Read more Hub Highlights here

Can you imagine very young children…

  • Making and tinkering with a chicken coop on campus?
  • Gardening on the Go?
  • Taking part in a You “Grow” Girl program?
  • Making cardboard arcade games?
  • Hosting a parade of child-made floats featuring African-American inventors?
  • Experiencing maker-centered learning together with peers with autism spectrum disorder?
  • Learning robotics and coding in early childhood?

Knock Knock Children’s Museum can! They are excited to be a regional hub for Maker Ed’s Making Spaces program and can’t wait to begin reimagining maker-centered learning experiences with educators in very diverse settings over the next two years. After almost 9 months participating in the program, we asked them to share some updates and Hub Highlights with the wider maker educator community. 

Maker Ed: Tell us a little bit about your organization and the learners that you serve!

KKCM: Knock Knock Children’s Museum opened its doors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in August 2017 after 14 years of development. Our mission is to be a community spark for engaging, playful learning experiences that inspire and support lifelong learning. Knock Knock is a place where families from all backgrounds come together for remarkable play-based, early learning experiences. Located in historic City-Brooks Community Park, the facility is a large-scale children’s museum with 18 interactive learning zones that engage children in learning through play. Our target audience is children from birth through age eight and their caregivers. We strive to knock down barriers for all families through our Knock Knock for All Access Program where we offer reduced admission, free days, community outreach projects, and a Play-4-All program for children with special needs.

What challenges has your organization faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you adapted? 

The biggest challenge Knock Knock is facing is continuing to have its doors closed to the public. We have had a drastic reduction in earned income from daily admissions and spring field trips. We have had to rethink how we deliver top-notch educational programs to our public and decided in late March to pivot to creating virtual content for our audience. We have made how-to STEAM and literacy videos, provided STEM activity kits and lessons to several community organizations (partially supported by grant funds!), and have been able to host small groups of children in a camp format at the museum.  

Check out one of KKCM’s STEAM how-to videos above. Follow them on Vimeo for more

Why did you originally join the Making Spaces program? 

Knock Knock believes that making and tinkering is a strong pathway to STEM/STEAM, especially for our youngest learners. We know that while teachers and students can be inspired by a field trip to the museum, real change will take place when we partner with educators to help them use this approach to enrich, expand, and enhance their curriculum. With our goal to foster creative thinking and problem-solving to help all children reach their fullest potential, our partnership with educators is crucial. Our hope is that through this strong ecosystem of organizations throughout the country focused on maker-centered learning, we could deepen our understanding of best practices, learn new strategies and approaches for professional learning, and find ways to help programs grow leaders to build capacity and sustain growth in their own program. 

With COVID, the timing of our participation is just right. Like others, we are rethinking what professional learning looks like in a virtual world. It’s powerful to learn together and share tools and resources to figure out the right path for our own organizations when face-to-face interactions are not possible.

How has participating in Making Spaces has helped your organization achieve its goals? What new things have you learned, either about yourself/your personal practice as an educator, or about your organization’s role in learning?

Making Spaces will strengthen our reach in our community. By partnering with a national cohort supported by Maker Ed, we will be able to reach more children in more meaningful and hopefully long-term ways. We see the ability for Making Spaces to help produce a skilled workforce that will need to have strong problem solving and critical thinking skills in the future. Since we will be providing the services virtually, it will also help us develop and become more comfortable with using apps and video conferencing for future professional development offerings.

Tell us about a recent “win” or success you’ve had!

We are most excited about the nine sites we have selected to work with for the next two years! Rather than putting new initiatives on the back burner given the current pandemic, these sites viewed Making Spaces as an opportunity to rethink and reshape how young children learn best through maker-centered learning both at school and at home. With our focus on children in PreK through third grade, our sites include schools in both rural and urban settings, children with special needs, a laboratory school for pre-service teacher education, and an out-of-school program in a low-income community. Seventy percent of our selected sites are in Title I areas.  These sites were selected primarily because of their demonstrated interest in early STEM education and their desire to help all children reach their fullest potential. We used Facebook Live to announce our sites through a virtual red carpet. 

We are very fortunate to have Dow as a regional hub partner who is providing matching funds for local sites and supporting Knock Knock’s delivery of the program. Local sites are receiving support for their work through local foundations such as The Academic Distinction Fund or the LSU Laboratory School Foundation.

Are there other makers, organizations, and/or educators in your community whose work you’d like to celebrate?  

We have worked closely with Front Yard Bikes since opening in 2017. This organization supports the children in our neighborhood and beyond by providing bicycles, bike mechanic training, activities, and community. We recently partnered with them to deliver STEM kits on their food delivery route at the beginning of the state’s stay-at-home order and have continued throughout the summer. We also took outreach activities to their summer program. One of our Making Spaces sites is a branch of the library that is located across the street from Front Yard Bikes, so we will be able to strengthen our relationship with this neighborhood and reach the children in more ways.

Line4Line is a literacy program that delivers much-needed services to our community. They offer free haircuts to children who read a book as well as host free camps, classes, activities, and give-aways throughout the year. Our educators have provided activities to Line4Line’s events. 

Making Spaces is a 30-month professional learning and capacity building program designed to support local leadership around maker education and build the foundation for lasting, embedded change in pedagogy, community, and culture. We are excited to open the application period for our fifth cohort of Hubs this month, in September 2020! Stay tuned for more info. 

Learn More About Knock Knock Children’s Museum

Website: https://knockknockmuseum.org/

Location: Baton Rouge, LA (USA)

Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo






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