3D printers are certainly cool and have revolutionized engineering and, really, the world in many ways. From rapid prototyping at big engineering labs to small businesses making custom products on etsy, there are very few manufacturing industries that haven’t been changed at least a little by the advent of 3d printers.
In recent years, as the technology has matured and become more affordable, 3D printing has also made a big impact in the world of education.
The ability to bring quickly creative ideas to life has caught the attention of teachers and parents alike as a novel way of getting kids interested in learning material through fun and engaging printing projects, and kid-friendly 3D printers have begun to find their way into classrooms and homes around the world.
What can you really do with a 3d printer
Put simply, 3D printers work by following a given computer aided design (CAD) drawing and printing plastic into that shape.
Working something like an inkjet printer, only using plastic filaments instead of ink cartridges, 3D printers fuse layer upon layer of plastic in real time until it produces a plastic model.
Unleash your kids creativity
3D printers for kids are becoming a great addition to family households because of the potential of what can be done with them.
Limited only by their creativity (and the physical size of the printer) kids can essentially print out anything they’d like.
Whether it’s a toy figurine, a part for a robot or even medical devices to help those in developing countries – with 3D printers, if kids can draw it on a computer, they can bring it to (plastic) life.
Really, a 3d printer for kids?
A few years ago, parents might be forgiven for being a little skeptical about buying a 3D printer for their kids. After all, those available for home and hobby use were expensive, clunky and often used plastics that gave off noxious fumes if they weren’t used in a well-ventilated space.
Thankfully, 3D printer technology has matured and, frankly, there’s never been a better time for families to get one.
As with pretty much any technology, with time and as more companies began selling them, the average price of a 3D printer has dropped dramatically.
Today, parents can pick up a basic, entry-level printer for less than $200 and a good quality and well built 3D printer for their kids for less than $500-800. \
While these aren’t exactly the top of the line models a design/engineering firm or business may purchase, these beginners 3D printers can handle most things a hobbyist or family will throw at it for roughly the cost of an office printer.
Families tend to have slightly different requirements from their technology than small businesses and designers do – namely, gadgets have to stand up to that terrifyingly destructive power known as kids.
Let’s face it, kids like to poke, prod, touch and jostle things and tend to push technology to the limits of durability standards.
Many of today’s 3D printers are built quite a bit sturdier than the open, robotic designs of the past, being better assembled and often enclosed in steel frames with thick, protective plastic viewing windows. While we wouldn’t recommend spilling any juice on them, with a little supervision and care, most modern 3D printers should stand up to family use.
When you’re dealing with a device that melts and extrudes hot plastic, obviously safety is a concern when kids are involved. Luckily, many 3D printers on the market, especially those designed for kids’ use, take steps to increase user safety.
For one thing, as mentioned above, many are enclosed. Like a regular desktop printer, this prevents little hands from poking around where they shouldn’t and keeps them away from any hot printing elements.
For another, many 3D printers for kids are designed to use what’s known as PLA (Polylactic Acid), rather than the usual ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic.
Made from recycled plant material like corn, PLAs are plastic substitutes that are biodegradable and, unlike regular plastics, don’t release as unpleasant or irritating fumes when melted and extruded.
One thing that makes them a lot safer than ABS plastics is the fact that they don’t require as much heat to use, so the devices that make use of them tend to either run at lower temperatures or have as fewer heated components.
The Best 3D printers for Kids
If you’re interested in buying a 3D printer for your kids, you may have noticed there are quite a few on the market today.
We examined quite a few ourselves and came up with a selection that we think are both affordable, high quality and great for families with children.
[link] The best 3d printers for kids [/link]
3d printing in education
In addition to sparking their creativity, 3D printers can teach important STEM skills and be easily integrated into a child’s everyday education.
What kids can learn from using 3D printers
As computers and society continue to enmesh, computational thinking is becoming an increasingly important skill to develop and is something that the use of 3D printers can help develop..
Put simply, computational thinking is a way of breaking a problem down and coming up with a solution in a step by step, logical manner.
It is, in fact, a critically important way of thinking and problem solving for those interested in careers in computer science, coding, engineering and math.
As they decide what they want to build, or what problem they want to solve, students have work in a step by step manner to figure out how they will design it, as well as how to input it into the software so it is printed correctly and work iteratively to perfect it – all of which are key elements of computational and logical thinking.
Spatial Ability and Intelligence
Studies have shown that an important predictor for success in science, technology and math learning is a student’s spatial ability, that is the ability mentally manipulate 2D and 3D objects.
As they work to create a three-dimensional model to print out, students are continually challenging their spatial reasoning. As they bring their design to life, kids are continuously breaking objects apart, rotating and generally manipulating them in a 3D environment, which can lead to marked improvements in spatial ability in the long run.
Coding and coding concepts
While many 3D printers have easy to use graphic interfaces to make printing as simple as possible, oftentimes they can be controlled from G-code and other numerical control programming languages that are used in 3D printers, CNC machines and automated machine tools.
In fact, for kids there are specially designed programs, like TinkerCAD, that combine 3D printing with block coding, which can let kids learn and reinforce computer science concepts while printing out cool projects.
3D printers and learning plan integration
If you’re learning at home, there are many interesting ways that teachers and parents can integrate 3D printing into their child’s learning.
Whether designing and printing prototypes, creating 3d artwork, printing out replicas of historical artifacts or studying chemical molecules and bonds, 3D printers can augment existing lesson plans, bringing otherwise boring material to life.
Kids can actually watch their ideas and learning concepts come to life as their solution is formed right before their eyes. By creating something that kids can have and hold, 3d printers turn learning from an abstract concept to something concrete and real.
Because of this, 3D printers are especially good learning tools for kids with visual and physical/kinesthetic learning styles, as they learn best by closely examining and feeling what they’re learning.
3D printing is a technology that has revolutionized a large portion of today’s world, be it in business, art or science.
In education, 3D printers have proven themselves to be an excellent addition to existing lesson plans in a variety of disciplines and a great way to teach core STEM skills and computational thinking.
As they’ve become more affordable, smaller and safer, 3D printers for kids have become an interesting addition to classrooms and definitely a technology to look at for parents who want to make at home learning more engaging and hands on.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.