One of the barriers to introducing 3D printing to very young children is that 3D modelling software can be too difficult for them to master. However the 3D software industry is starting to respond and more and more solutions are becoming available that younger children can access. Software and apps that the CREATE Education team have become aware of that may be worth exploring with younger children includes:
However even these simpler programs and apps, dedicated time is required to familiarise pupils with the interface. Following this, significant ongoing support may be required for very young children as they have often not developed the fine motor skills required to manipulate the software in order to realise their ideas, this can lead to a lot of frustration in the pupils. It is possible however, with time and support, that even the very young can achieve success, as the pre-school children at Dens Road Nursery proved. They managed to design and make their own playground equipment models in TinkerCAD. You can learn more about this project, the design process, challenges and outcomes in our Dens Road Case Study.
We have recently been excited to learn that Purple Mash, a popular software suite from 2Simple, now has the ability to design and export models as 3D printable .STL files. Purple Mash is used in many Primary and Early Years settings across the UK and internationally. It has a very simple child friendly interface that pupils are familiar with which eliminates a large part of the 3D modelling learning curve for very young children. In the Purple Mash suit of tools there is a program called 2Design & Make. Traditionally this has been used to allow pupils to design their own 3D models which can be printed as a paper/card net that the pupils fold and assemble to make their 3D model. There is now the facility in 2Design & Make to export pupils designs as .STL file for 3D printing simply by clicking a button.
Pupils simply choose a type of model, then they can manipulate the shape of the model simply by moving large nodes to get the shape they require. Nodes can be deleted and additional nodes can also be added which gives even more design flexibility. Being very simple software it does have it’s limitations, the main one being that the exported .STL file does not include any of the surface design that pupils draw on their models. But it is perfect for printing the 3D shape and if you print in white PLA, printed models could easily be coloured or painted by the pupils.
The software is also very popular, Purple Mash recently held a 3D design competition which attracted over 5,000 individual entries. It is well worth looking at the designs by the finalists and the honourable mentions as they give an indication of what is possible with the software.
Our friends at 2Simple have kindly shared a great resource with us that provides a step-by-step guide of how to use 2Design & Make with children to design and print a 3D model.
I tried it out with a 4 year old who has just started school in Reception to see just how easy it was for him to use. He was very proud of what he managed to achieve “all by himself” with a little help importing into Cura and 3D printing his model “car with a mouth”!