Classroom table


‘Makerspaces in the early years: enhancing digital literacy and creativity’ (MakEY) was a 30 month project funded by the EU H2020 Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) programme.

The project was led by Professor Jackie Marsh at the University of Sheffield and ran from January 2017– June 2019.

Why was this project needed?

While there has been a range of European work that has focused on the development and assessment of digital skills such as the DIGCOMP study (Ferrari, 2013), there has been, to date, limited attention paid to the development of the digital literacy skills of young children. Further, it was clear that there needed to be a multi-stakeholder approach to the task of ensuring that young children developed the skills and knowledge required for the digital age.

Researchers, early years practitioners and industry partners need to collaborate in knowledge exchange and the co-creation of new pedagogies and learning environments, including the development of digital tools and solutions that offer children avenues for digital learning.

It is also important that young children have opportunities to foster their creativity and develop the kinds of creative skills that are important for future employment and learning, such as creative design.

In this project, the digital literacy and creative skills of young children were developed through participation in creative activities in specially-designed spaces termed ‘makerspaces’. These are spaces that enable participants to create a range of artefacts using specialist tools and resources, such as electronics, laser cutters and 3D printers.

There has been interest in recent years in the role of digital ‘making’, the design and production of digital artefacts, texts and products (Johnson et al, 2015) and the creation of fabrication labs, or ‘makerspaces’, in which children and young people use equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters for these purposes (Blikstein, 2013).

The majority of this work has been conducted with children older than those who were the focus for our project, yet there is a need to enable young children (aged 3-8) to participate in such activities if they are to develop competences and dispositions that will inform their future study.

If Europe is going to be able to compete in the global creative industry market in the decades ahead, these developments are key.

Project partners and participants

This 30-month project involved a consortium involving the following partners: academics in seven EU countries – Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Romania, UK – working alongside professionals in makerspaces: FabLab, Berlin; Iceland Innovation Center (which runs seven Fab Labs); Innoent, Iceland; Makers, Sheffield UK and Hatch Atelier, Romania, as well as teachers from Katrinebjerg School, Denmark, librarians from DOKK1 Library in Denmark and museum educators from San Francisco, USA.

In addition, a number of international partners were involved in the project including, Brock University, Canada; Indiana University, USA; Memorial University, Canada; Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia; University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

Aims and objectives

The primary aims of this collaborative project were to:

  1. Further research and innovation in the area of young children’s digital literacy and creative design skills in order to contribute to Europe’s future competitiveness and growth.

  2. Develop project participants’ skills in research and knowledge creation and thus increase research capacity and enhance career prospects.

  3. Develop a network of researchers, creative industry professionals and educators who could collaborate to develop educational materials and tools to foster children’s digital literacy and design skills.

  4. Offer recommendations for research, policy and practice (in industry and education) about the way in which makerspaces for 3–8 year-olds can be developed in both non-formal and formal learning spaces in order that young children can develop the skills and knowledge required for the digital age.

A key aim of the project, therefore, was to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the makerspace sector, enabling SMEs in this area to develop robust business models and appropriate resources for engaging in work with children in liaison with both non-formal and formal institutions.

The project had four key objectives, which were to:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive review of the role of makerspaces in the formal and non-formal educational experiences of children and young people.

  2. Undertake empirical research to determine how makerspaces could foster the digital literacy and creativity skills and knowledge of young children.

  3. Develop a conceptual framework for analysing young children’s engagement in makerspaces.

  4. Make recommendations for policy and practice that will foster innovation and entrepreneurship in SME makerspaces and facilitate the use of makerspaces for enhancing digital literacy in early childhood educational institutions and non-formal learning spaces such as libraries and museums.

This website provides information about the projects which took place in each country, and is the repository for all of the project outputs, including an ‘Open Educational Resource’. This provides resources for early years settings, schools, makerspaces, museums and librarians who are interested in developing provision in this area.

Research questions

The research questions enabled a multilevel analysis of the data at personal, relational and institutional levels:

Personal level

  • What are the beliefs and practices of makerspace employees and volunteers, and early years practitioners, across Europe with regard to the value and development of makerspaces for the 3–8 age group?

  • What are the meanings and motivations children attach to their engagement in making activities in each of the case study settings, and how do these motivations interact with the demands of the makerspace?

  • How are children’s experiences in the makerspace reshaping their interests in and identifications with digital literacy learning and creativity?

  • What kinds of digital literacy skills and creative competences do children develop through their participation in the makerspace?

Relational level

  • What characterises the social interactions and learning practices that arise in the digital makerspace?

  • How do diverse children engage in the social interactions of the makerspace?

  • How do the social and material resources of the makerspace support diverse children’s engagement, digital literacy and creative design skills?

Institutional level

  • What are the perceived institutional/organisational barriers to the use of makerspaces for children aged 3–8?

  • How are the makerspaces integrated into institutions to which they may be related (eg museum, school) – including social organisation, space and time arrangements?

  • Do the makerspaces and their practices create equitable opportunities for children’s learning and identity development and – if so – how does this operate at an institutional level?

  • What kinds of practices – pedagogical, assessment, material provision – best support young children’s engagement in the makerspaces and how might this knowledge be used to inform future provision for makerspaces in both formal and non-formal learning spaces?

  • What is the value of the partnership between academic and non-academic participants in creating makerspaces for young children?

What did the project hope to achieve?

MakEY hoped to make a theoretical and empirical impact; influencing both policy and practice. This was to be done by developing new innovative conceptualisations of young children’s digital literacy, creative skills and knowledge, through dialogue between social and cultural activity theory and new materialism/post-humanist philosophy.

Practically the project addressed a gap in the literature of the time. Previously there had been very little research concerning young children’s digital literacy practices, and no case studies conducted of this age group’s engagement in makerspaces.

This project contributed to knowledge about the potential makerspaces have for the development of young children’s digital skills, knowledge and creativity, including creative design.

MakEY aimed to provide important policy and practice insights addressing the development of children’s digital literacy skills and understanding in both formal and non-formal learning spaces.

If European children are to develop the skills required for the kinds of employment and leisure practices they will face in the future, then this work is essential. This is recognised through the establishment of the policy area ‘Digital as a Driver for Growth’ as one of the three pillars of the Digital Single Market Strategy.

The significance of the role of non-formal providers in the development of STEM skills and knowledge for society is well established (Falk et al., 2012; Rahm, 2014). Children involved in the study were encouraged to develop knowledge in related areas including coding and digital design in non-formal learning spaces.

The project sought to have an impact on creative industries, specifically those institutions that seek to engage children in cultural production, such as makerspaces. It aimed to provide these industries with insights into how to work effectively with children in the pre-school and primary stages and develop sustainable economic models for this work.