How to Start a Makerspace When You’re Broke

How to start a makerspace when you're broke

Everyone’s Favorite Excuse

I’ve had the honor and privilege of sharing with hundreds of librarians and educators about our makerspace. Unfortunately, I see many educators hold back on starting a makerspace because of funds.  I’m always hearing excuses like:

  • “I’d love to do (insert cool Maker activity) at my school, but we don’t have a budget for that.”
  • “We can’t really afford a 3D printer right now.”
  • “I don’t see how we can get started with making in our school when our computers are dinosaurs.”

What many people don’t realize is that the idea that you need a lot of money to start a Makerspace is a myth. All you need is to have vision, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. A lack of funds is no excuse for keeping your students from experiencing the empowerment that comes with bringing the Maker Education Movement into your program.  It may take more effort and elbow grease, but you can start a makerspace even with a zero balance in your budget.

Share Your Vision with ALL THE PEOPLE

You want to start a makerspace.  You have some great, big ideas about what the space could be like.  How it could affect your students’ learning.  You KNOW that this could make an impact.  SHARE YOUR VISION.  Tell your administration. Tell the other teachers at your school.  Tell your students.  Tell your parents and community.  The more that you can get other people onboard with your vision, the more support you will receive.  Teachers, parents and community members love to hear about cool, innovative projects that their school is planning, and they’ll often help you out if they know what you’re trying to accomplish.

cardboard challenge

Recycled materials can make for awesome projects

Seek out Donations

Never discount the value of donated materials.  Let your parents and community know what you’re looking for. While you might not get a 3D printer, many families have craft supplies, LEGOs and other items sitting around their houses that they’d love to give you. And like classroom supply lists, many parents are happy to purchase items to donate when they know what you need (think Amazon Wishlists for your makerspace). We held a LEGO drive at my school and offered entries into an iTunes gift card giveaway to everyone who donated. Several teachers brought their college-aged children’s LEGOs, and many students donated LEGOs they no longer used at home.

Consider putting out a bin for donations of recycled materials.  These are easy-to-acquire, free supplies that people would often just throw away.  In the hands of your creative students, they can be magic.  As they say (sort of) “One man’s trash can become another student’s treasure.” During our Cardboard Challenge, we collected cardboard boxes, paper tubes, bottle caps and other items that would be thrown away or recycled, and we transformed them into arcade games, toy robots, reading caves, rocket ships and more.

Day 1 of our makerspace

We first started our makerspace with bins of K’nex found in a storage room

Work with What You’ve Got

Since you’ve started sharing your vision, you might have found out that your school already has some maker supplies lying around.  Scavenge your storage rooms.  When I first got started, one of my science teachers led me to several bins of K’nex that were gathering dust in our science storage room.  We put them out on our library tables, and that was the beginning of our makerspace.  Once you start looking around, you’ll often find awesome maker supplies hiding right under your nose.  It’s better to start small and then gradually build up your program than to keep sitting around and waiting for a huge chunk of money to fall into your lap.

our LEGO wall

Our Epic LEGO Wall was funded through DonorsChoose

Crowdfund Your Makerspace

DonorsChoose.org is definitely one of the best resources out there for starting a Makerspace.  From our whiteboard wall to our Epic LEGO wall to Snap Circuits to craft supplies, over half of my school’s Makerspace has come from DonorsChoose projects. The key is to focus on one particular project, keep the overall price low, and market like crazy. Promoting your project makes for a great opportunity to build community support and share all the awesome things you have planned. Search for projects tagged “makerspace” to get some ideas and inspiration.  Also, try to find matching offers that fit with what you’re looking for; a match means you’ll only have to raise half the funds. Matches for the Arts, STEM, and sustainability all fit in nicely with Makerspace projects.  Other crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and KickStarter can also be great options. Check out Gwneyth Jones’s Makerspace starter kit for some inspiration. (Check out my 5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects for more ideas)

Go Make Stuff :)

Remember, creating a Makerspace is about nuturing a culture of making and creativity, not about having a ton of fancy gadgets. Kids can get engaged with cardboard, scissors, glue and markers just as easily as with a 3D printer. At the same time, never let a lack of money hold you back from providing your students with the exciting, innovative learning environment that they deserve. It may take a little bit of extra elbow grease at first, but the end results will be worth it.

Some awesome budget-friendly makerspace projects:



Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, STEM/STEAM

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1 reply

  1. Thanks Diana for including my blog post! That was real swell! :-)

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