This will be one in a series of posts I’m going to do about how I run various makerspace activities in our library. I’ll try to include tips and tricks and some of our “lessons learned” so that these posts might provide some helpful insights or practical ideas for implementing similar maker stations in your library!
Perler Beads / Fuse Beads
This is a makerspace activity that is WILDLY popular with our students, regardless of age, language, or gender. This activity is super popular with everyone, and it has almost no learning curve. There is no real need for figuring out how to convey instructions because this is the kind of activity that the kids either remember from their childhoods OR can easily understand how it works from simply watching another student working on one. It makes for a great accessible activity offering in the library!
For those who are not familiar, Perler Beads or “fuse beads” are small beads that you place on pegboard in whatever design or shape you want, and then you briefly iron it so as to melt the beads together. Once melted, the product can be used for decorations, gifts, keepsakes, or whatever. Many students like to create these near holidays or birthdays to give to family members as gifts.
The only tricky parts of implementing this activity in the library is that:
- Beads can become messy (tips for handling that included below)
- Figuring out who/how/when the ironing gets handled takes some thinking
- The beads and supplies are consumables and aren’t terribly cheap
Below I’m going to walk you through the processes, tips, and tricks I’ve come up with for managing this maker activity in our high school library. We run it as a passive makerspace activity, which means the supplies are just out in the library for any student to use at any time.
See the Tutorial I Made For Our Students
Tip #1: Buy activity trays
I buy activity trays as seen above so that students can work on their creations on a tray. This keeps things a little bit tidier in terms of them moving their beads and products from the station to their seat to the iron station, etc.
ACTIVITY TRAY PRO-TIP: I saw a tweet from Natalie Daily (@MrsDailyMLIS) which suggested using cheap cookie trays as activity trays. Apparently you can get cookie trays inexpensively at dollar stores! WHAT A GREAT IDEA!
Tip #2: Buy lots of containers
I am a huge fan of containers, I invest significantly in containers of varying sizes and shapes to assist with our storage and maker activities. I’m a firm believer in providing students with as many options as possible to encourage tidy making… it doesnt make it perfect but it does help if they have options close at hand. To that end, I HIGHLY recommend buying some bulk deli containers, restaurant “takeaway” containers, and condiment containers. Above you can see that I like to put the single color perler beads in deli containers (the mixed together colors I put in larger plastic tubs). I put out the small condiment containers so that the kids can just fill up the condiment container with the color bead they need for their design.
The kids can fill up some condiment cups with their colors, place them on their tray along with their pegboard and tweezers, and then can move their tray w. supplies over to wherever they are sitting and working on their design. This helps facilitate tidy making but also prevents kids from taking the entire deli container of one color to their workspace, thereby causing other students not to be able to easily access that color. The small condiment cups are awesome for this! The best part is that these types of restaurant style containers are actually pretty affordable, you can buy them in bulk from amazon or from where ever you want, and they are re-usable. Indeed I re-use them not only from year to year, but also across multiple different maker stations.
Tip #3: Buy design templates
Some students will come up with their own designs but some will want ideas, luckily there are Perler bead or fuse bead design templates. Sometimes when you buy the beads and pegboards it will come with designs, but you can also buy design booklets. You can see ours in the picture above, I organize them in manila folders by broad type (superhero, animal, food, sports, star wars, etc).
Get LOTS of Pegboards
You’re going to want to get more pegboards than you think you’ll need. The reason is because, until you learn the heat of your iron you will probably warp/ruin a few pegboards (I did) but also because the kids will sometimes not finish their designs in one period, or you may not get around to ironing them every day and that means the pegboards will often remain “in use” for a time. If you don’t have extra pegboards you’ll find that there’s a waiting list of students waiting for pegboards to be freed up for use. So its better to get more than you think you’ll need.
Get a Bead Vacuum
Trust me, you will want to buy one of these Perler bead vacuums. They actually really do work like a charm AND the kids like to use it, which means they are more likely to clean up the beads since using the bead vacuum is fun lol.
Set up an “in progress” area if you can
If you have the space, I recommend setting up an area where students can place “works in progress.” Sometimes they may not be in the library long enough to finish their designs, and they are less likely to quickly dump their unfinished product somewhere you’ll need to clean it up if you provide them a helpful spot to put their item in order to return to on their next visit. Sometimes I go to this area and add a post it with the date I saw it so I can periodically remove any that get left there for too long, but mostly the kids actually do come back to finish the designs they leave in this area.
Set up a “Waiting to be Ironed” area
If you do not plan to let every student iron their own products on demand (not something I recommend) that means you’ll need a landing zone for the products that need to be ironed. You don’t want to get into a situation where the students expect you to stop what you are doing in order to iron beads on demand, so its helpful to designate the work flow by providing a “parking lot” area where they know to place the items that need ironing. I usually tell students that they can typically expect their item to be finished within a day or two of putting it in the “waiting to be ironed” parking lot. They know to come back and check later for the finished product.
Who does the ironing?
Thats up to you but I did not feel comfortable having any student be able to do that at any time. I’m sure most students would handle it just fine but I don’t want to be worrying about it all day every day, plus there is a little bit of training needed to melt the perler beads correctly and I can’t train all 1400 of our students on this lol. What we did was make sure myself and our library assistant are trained, and we also trained about 5 of our student volunteers. They picked it up very quickly and once trained they got into the habit of just checking the “waiting to be ironed” parking lot every day and quickly ironing whatever was waiting there. Now my assistant and myself almost never have to do the ironing, the student volunteers are on top of it and that’s wonderful. The student volunteers tell me they find it soothing and relaxing to iron the perler beads, they actually enjoy it. So thats a nice bonus!
Buy an Auto-Shutoff Iron
I recommend buying a good iron, but especially one that has an “auto-shutoff” feature so that you don’t need to be worrying all the time about the safety issue. You’ll need something to iron it on as well, I actually just made a tiny ironing board for our purposes. Its just a square bit of plywood covered in upside down vinyl. The fuzzy backing to the vinyl fabric makes for a great ironing board lol.
Don’t Completely Iron on Pegboard!
Ok now here’s a little “lesson learned” from me to you: Do not do the complete, FULL iron while the item is on the pegboard. The heat will melt and warp (and ruin) the pegboard. Instead, do a light initial heat, just enough to melt the beads well enough that you can flip the pegboard over, remove the pegboard, then recover the now upside down creation and continue to melt it. Once its off the pegboard you can melt it to your heart is content.
In the picture above you can see how I did a very light initial melt and then peeled the design off the pegboard. Below you can see that now it is off the pegboard but not very “melted.” I would re-cover it with the wax paper now and give it a really good melt.
Create a “Pick Up Here” Spot
Finally you want to designate some area as a “pick up” spot, where you can place the ironed creations when they are ready for pick up! So far we have not had issues of students taking creations that do not belong to them, but I suppose it could be an issue to consider.
I know I’m always on the lookout for more tips and tricks to keep this makerspace processes running smoothly so feel free to commend with the tips and tricks you’ve come up with if you have perler beads in your library!