Creativity and young children go hand-in-hand. Even without teacher or parent encouragement, young children naturally explore, discover, and investigate the world around them. In a classroom setting, there are many ways to enhance those experiences for students and nurture problem solving mindsets. In promoting this type of learning, we can begin to create unique, hands-on learning that also builds social and emotional developments as well as oral language (Nielson,2006).
Cate Heroman, the author of Making & Tinkering with Stem: Solving Design Challenges with Young Children (2017), provides a great assortment of suggestions for incorporating making, design, and exploration into the classroom. She describes three categories of creating (p. 4):
Tinkering- using stuff
Making- using stuff to make stuff.
Engineering- using stuff to make stuff that does stuff.
1. Provide access to a wide variety of diverse materials.
With a multitude of options, children discover how materials work, how to use tools to manipulate materials, how to dismantle things, and how to put things back together (Heroman, 2017). These materials often send an invitation for further learning. Materials can be sourced from nature, recyclables, craft supplies, unwanted supplies from the home garage, or donations from local businesses.
2. Design imaginative spaces in your classroom.
3. Teach students how to safely use tools.
“Using real tools is very empowering to young children and promotes a sense of independence because it communicates that you trust them” (Heroman, 2017, p. 12). Scaffolding our support with the use of tools and providing explicit guidelines for their use helps set students up for expanded experiences. They learn how to manage risks and develop more confidence in doing so.
4. Plan authentic instruction that connects to students background knowledge.
“The best way to ensure the development of design thinking is for students to be engaged in authentic design activities” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p.45).
Planning a thematic unit on fairy tales, one Kindergarten teacher incorporates the design and building of cardboard castles using three dimensional shapes. The students have a wide open range of styles to construct. They design, build, and decorate their castles with just a bit of teacher support. To make this work, students need to figure out how the pieces best fit together and how the 3-dimensional shapes work together, what adhesive works best, and what they would like finished castle to look like.
5. Incorporate investigation, problem solving, and risk-taking.
“Engaging children as quickly as possible in real projects creates an authentic context for learning a specific scientific formula or math equation since students realize they need that skill or information to continue their projects” (Martinez & Stager (2013, p. 40). This is true even for young children.
Show students multiple ways to solve equations as well as other types of problems. This can be done with math talk or by exploring real problems like how to get across the stream without getting wet, how to move a heavy object from one part of the playground to another or how to catapault an object the furthest distance
Many young children think in a concrete manner. Their learning can be supported by starting first with concrete concepts and slowly moving to the abstract. However, we can also enhance students’ learning through the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Neilson, 2006). By moving up the levels of complexity with our questioning, we provide opportunities for more critical thinking.
When approaching materials for open-ended making, students can think about these basic steps:
- Think About It
- Build or Create It
- Try It.
- Revise of make it better
(Heroman, 2017, p. 8)
For young children, connecting literacy to creative projects enhances their experience (Heroman, 2017). Here are a few picture books that might spur creative ideas in your classroom:
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Baretta
Marie Curie by Leonardo Fisher
Wired: A Book About do-it-yourself Electronics! by Conn McQuinn
See Inside How Things Work. An Usborne Flap Book
Radio Boy by Sharon Denslow
Bouncing & Bending Light: Phantastic Physical Phenomena by Steve Tomecek
Great Inventions by Dorothy Symington
Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life by Elizabeth MacLeod
Brahms, L. & Wardrip, P. (2017). The what, how, and why of making. Teaching Young Children. 10(3). p. 16-21.
Nielsen, D. (2006). Teaching Young Children: A Guide to Planning Your Curriculum, Teaching Through Learning Centers, and Just About Everything Else. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Heroman, C. (2017) Making and Tinkering with Stem: Solving Design Challenges with Young Children. Washington, DC: NAEYC Books.
Martinez, S. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn. Torrence, CA: Construction Knowledge Modern Press.