Kids’ makerspace gets cool new digs thanks to community benefits
(Somerville Wire) – For children who want to explore hands-on, self-directed learning, Somerville’s Parts and Crafts is about to reopen in a spacious new location.
“It’s got a cool industrial feel, whereas our old space had an aging convenience store kind of feel,” said Dina Gjertsen, one of three co-directors of Parts and Crafts, a makerspace and community workshop for kids ages 7-13.
With tall white walls, huge windows, dedicated classroom space, and a more affordable rent, the 10-year-old nonprofit is poised for a new era.
The mission of Parts and Crafts involves building a “non-coercive educational environment—trusting kids to learn and do without micromanaging every aspect of their time,” Gjertsen said. “We give kids lots of choices, which, in most of their lives, kids are denied. And we’ve found that when you give kids a lot of choices, they don’t actually waste all of their time. They learn, they teach, they engage, and they get interested in topics that they’re genuinely excited about, and the learning process isn’t painful or unpleasant for either the teacher or the student.”
They currently offer three main programs. One is called the Center for Semi-Conducted Learning, geared toward people who are homeschooling. Kids can come between one and five days a week, for specific classes or tasks, or to hang out with other kids. They also offer an afterschool program for students who attend local schools, and in the summer and during vacation weeks they run camps.
“A lot of parents are seeking an experience like this for their kid, especially homeschoolers but also in our summer camp and after school. They want their kid to have unstructured time, they want their kid to have access to some of the technology and tools that we let kids use, that a lot of other programs don’t let them use,” she said.
Like all educational organizations, COVID-19 changed their lives “quite dramatically.” With their emphasis on small-group, hands-on learning, Parts and Crafts had to reconfigure their curriculum for online learning, which they did for about 16 months. The pandemic also brought financial challenges.
“We definitely couldn’t have survived without a combination of forgivable government loans, fundraising, and grants. But we did survive, and now we’re fine,” Gjertsen said.
But then they had a new challenge: finding a new location and moving from their old space on Somerville Avenue near Union Square, which they’d been occupying for about eight years.
“We were going to enter into a lease renegotiation, which was almost certainly going to involve an increase in rent, and it was kind-of run down,” Gjertsen explained.
So they went looking for a space that was in better shape, better situated, and lower cost. After a lot of searching, they found a space in Boynton Yards at 561 Windsor St. The building, which also houses Taza Chocolate, is now being marketed as the Boynton Hive, a place for creatives to congregate.
Thanks to City zoning rules and community benefits agreements, the developer at Boynton Yards is required to make affordable space available to community organizations that qualify as Arts and Creative Enterprises. Parts and Crafts fit the requirement.
In addition to the more attractive space and the more affordable rent, Parts and Crafts will benefit from being closer to Union Square and the new Green Line station.
“Proximity is really important in child care. Where your child care is located is sometimes more important than how good it is and how much it costs,” Gjertsen said.
They do expect to have some transitions because of their new location. “We’ve physically moved away from [the Kennedy School], one of the schools we used to walk and pick kids up from. We have to reach out to people at schools that maybe haven’t heard of us and say, ‘We’ll walk over there and pick up your kids and take them to this awesome after-school program,’” she explained.
In the new location, they’re still within walking distance to the Argenziano School but now they’re also close to Prospect Hill Academy as well as the King Open School in Cambridge. “This is the first time we’ve been walking distance from a Cambridge school, so we’re trying to see if we can get some Cambridge residents to come to our program,” she said.
Opening day will be the day after Labor Day for their homeschoolers and after-school programs. Registration for these programs is currently open. Parents can register their children online or by phone. Most activities are free or low-cost, and there is a sliding scale.
Gjertsen said parents want child care that’s enriching as well as enjoyable for their children. But some parents choose to focus on rigorous academics at the expense of more creative pursuits. “But actually we’ve found that kids do better in all aspects of their life if they do have some part of their life that isn’t totally micro-managed and controlled,” she said. “And also, we have a lot of fun, every day.”
Photo credit: New Parts and Crafts space in July 2022. Photo courtesy of Parts and Crafts.
Linda Pinkow is a reporter for the Somerville Wire. She is also a development consultant for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.