One of the first stops in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is MAKESHOP, a hands-on, do-it-yourself environment for children and their families.

MAKESHOP offers children real tools and real materials in four different areas—think objects like hammers (woodworking), fabric (sewing), wires (circuitry), and computers (animation)—and gives them full control of the project they want to make, whether that’s a straightforward use of one discipline or a mix and match adventure.

“Everything is individually driven,” says MAKESHOP manager Adam Nye. “You never know what the experience will be.”

The staff of teaching artists works one-on-one with children on how to handle the tools of their choosing. They also teach the properties of different materials. Through this knowledge, children are empowered to embark on whatever creative impulse strikes them: turning an electric circuit into collaborative CD spin art, adding lighted eyes to a paper-bag puppet, or dismantling a sewing machine to see how it works.

Children and families can capture what they make via photograph, but they can also tag it with materials, tools, and the process used, which Nye says places “less emphasis on what the project is and more on what it took to make that project.”