‘Tinkering club’ lets inquisitive spirits fly

Planetary Science PhD candidate Marianne Mader has studied some of the oldest rocks on Earth in Greenland, explored impact craters across the globe and, most recently, collected meteorites in Antarctica. Now, she looks to empower similar inquisitive spirits to explore their interests.

Founded by Mader and her husband, Andy Forest, STEAMLabs is a non-profit ‘makerspace’ dedicated to kids and adults who want a place where imagination comes out to play. The goal is to provide a place to give kids access to the technologies, materials and skills that they couldn’t get on their own, and teach them they are capable of anything.



“It’s interest driven. Kids come with an idea for a project, and they may not know how to complete it. But the key is, in order to make it happen, they need to figure out the skills that are required,” Mader said. “And, because it’s their own project, they want to learn those skills.”

The idea for STEAMLabs – that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) – grew out of a garage, where the pair began a ‘Tinkering Club’ for their own kids and their friends, giving them opportunities to learn about high tech.

They made boats and sunk them full of kids in Lake Ontario. They hacked Nerf guns to make them motion-activated. Soon, the kids started teaching themselves. Through online resources and experimentation, they were learning to make all kinds of things on their own.

“It’s amazing,” Mader said. “When we run events, for example a robot balloon popping battle, the day started off simple, but by the end, the creations were just amazing and they were building off each other project ideas.”

Now, thanks to a partnership with Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovations, STEAMLabs is moving to a new location at 192 Spadina Ave. Renovations are currently underway, in time for summer camps to begin in late June.

A $20,000 Kickstarter campaign is also nearing completion, with more than $19,300 raised to date to fund equipment for the new space.

With the new space, Mader and Forest also hope to open up the world of creativity to adults and more seasoned makers, entrepreneurs and artists looking to work with serious tools such as 3D printers, laser cutting, woodworking, electronics, sewing, crafts and more.

“The unique thing with STEAMLabs is while there are already others spaces for adults, very rarely are there ones for all ages,” said Mader, whose job title is STEAMLabs idea wrangler. “We’re casting the net pretty wide – after school, camps, just for adults, beginners. We want to be a community makerspace, and be more accessible to the general public, as well as the seasoned professional.”

Mader added additional programs are being planned for September, including bringing high-tech education to schools throughout Ontario. They’ve created the Internet of Things Teaching Kit, an open source teaching kit that makes it possible for teachers with no knowledge of code to teach their students basic programming. They are currently in talks with the Toronto District School Board to roll these workshops out to classrooms across the Greater Toronto Area.

“It’s always a bit hectic for us, but Andy and I love to make things happen,” Mader said. “We wouldn’t be doing it if we weren’t having fun.”