When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, (according to a new report in the journal- Science): forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.
Source: The New York Times
Why can’t I see the photograph right now?
~ A question asked in 1943 by Edwin Land’s three-year-old daughter, after he’d snapped her picture with a standard camera. Rather than dismissing this question as an impossibility, Land took inspiration from it, decided this question deserved a good answer and in February of 1947 he proceeded to invent instant photography with the world’s first Polaroid camera via his company Polaroid. Technology that unleashed one of the most creative movements in the history of the static image.
See also: Instant: The Story Of Polaroid
The Balloon And The Vacuum
While vacuuming Mr-Four was playing with his balloon. What was a simple morning switched into excitement of discovery… I turned around to find him wide eyed looking up at his balloon which wasn’t coming back down. It had been caught in the updraft of the vertical vacuum exhaust and continued to dance around up in air. What followed was just a few mintutes of disbelief and giggles watching as the balloon stayed afloat until Miss-One came along and put her head over the nice warm air which caused the balloon to drop down, overheat and pop!
A random, spontaneous and enjoyable science encounter during play - a fun experience that is always followed by many curious questions. Moments like these always appear when we least expect them.
At least we’ve both just discovered something to make vacuuming more fun.
1 Of The 100 Curious Knowledge-Gathering Question's Of The Day:
- Mr Four: "Why is water so fast"?
Tactile Sensory Exploration
Children love to paint and draw, but not always the way we imagine. What happens when you provide a wide range of materials, tools and the freedom to get messy? They are engaged for hours exploring new techniques, experimenting and challenging themselves. It’s about discovery - they are directing their own playful learning experience.
Curious About Disassembly
Nothing gets discarded in our house before the six year old has it disassembled, sometimes reassembled or maybe even recreated into something curiously strange.
Project Play Experience - Nurturing A Child’s Interests
Young children are often excited to extend their play, developing focus through continued exploration and discovery. How can we nurture this desire? One way is knowing when and how to guide free play into project play mode.
I recognise a cluster of ‘related play’ and think of it like a focused ‘mini-project’ based on a child’s specific play interest. By extending and supporting a child’s interest in their free play activity and exploring an idea or interest a bit deeper in the form of a project, their play can shift into longer periods of motivated focused play, where they learn it is possible to discover even more.
A free play activity may be over and done with, named, dated, and retired to the wall or stored away. But what happens when they build on and continue to extend these activities? What if they keep projects accesssible for further exploration? When young kids realise they can dive deeper into their play- introducing them to various tools, techniques, resources, technology, it opens up many new exciting opportunities for learning through play.
Generating a tangible or digital ‘journal’ by collating creations and play experiences, means children can bring everything together in a digestible format. Play becomes more real and relevant, new connections are formed, they observe their own progress, creations are shared and their creative confidence grows. It’s about having something to talk about and continue to build on from - it’s taking play a little bit deeper where children still have control to lead the way in their exploration.
Creating To Actuate Play
Children have many interests, problems and all those never ending questions that can be guided into ‘action thinking’. They love to explore topics of interest through play. Children want to engage in more ‘doing’ stuff, ‘creating’ stuff, ‘action’ play.
This is not the work they have to do for school, but are things they want to explore. Hands-on fun projects that they can engage in after school, kindy and work hours. A three-year-old may need guidance, but a six-year-old is happy initiating and evolving a ‘play project’ on their own once they get the hang of it.
For children this is real work in the real world - play that has meaning and purpose.
As well as basic skills, many design thinking skills are involved - imaginative exploration, ideation, drawing, prototyping or build-to-think, creation, story-telling and active problem solving. Design thinking is an approach or set of methods and tools that also focuses on developing creative confidence. Children are inherently good at making use of the designer’s toolkit. When kids shift into ‘explore’, ‘make’ and ‘do’ mode, their creativity soars. Anything they ‘make’ will foster their imagination and give them belief in their creative skills. They feel more creative - especially when play using one’s imagination is central.
Creativity if practiced, can become a long term habit for children.
The Train Play Project
A simple example: My three-year-old has developed a keen interest in trains like many kids his age do. He always talks about various aspects of trains but often goes back to the obvious and easy play with his train-set. A little of my observation and guidance with new tools and resources to trigger exploring train related activities helps him progress further along his fascinating play journey. Some of his project play included the following:
Create/Modify/Design: While playing with his train set he built numerous versions and complained about the tracks not always meeting male to female, his solution was to ‘hack’ or ‘adjust’ the train-set track piece to have it work as ‘he’ wanted it to. He wanted to be the creator not let the train set dictate his play. I’m glad I was there to witness the much desired modification. With a little effort we changed the connector piece.
Research/Learn: He wanted to know if all trains look like his train-set, so I set him up to watch some videos of trains on YouTube to find out. He discovered in the process how trains work. What makes them move. The mechanics of the train workings fascinated him and opened up a while new area he could not experience with just his little train-set.
Role-Play/Imagination: With a cardboard box, as kids do - he designed a few controls and acted out a trip to the city as the driver with his passengers, with a train sounds song on repeat in the background. A child’s imagination is so powerful you can see it’s just like the real thing to them. Totally absorbed in play. He wouldn’t hop out unless the train sounds stopped, as if the box was actually moving. It took me a while to notice I had to stop the music so he could get out urgently for nature’s calling.
Observation/Experience: We went for a train ride across the city- absorbing every tiny detail - learning about train directions, tickets, maps, journey details. Utterly mesmerised with the entire experience, he spoke with the train conductor and waved out to the driver. A passenger even helped him step up onto the train when he paused noticing the gap between platform and train. He formed new connections during the experience and there were many things he observed that we take for granted.
Drawing/Mapping: After a train ride he was fresh with a new experience and excited to draw what he observed and experienced. He talked about what he discovered by drawing a visual explanation to communicate with me. He was drawing to think about all the parts of a train, what made the noise, where it may have came from and designed the train how he experienced it to be. When we initially set out for our trip, he wanted to know where and how far the train station was from our house, so we drew a map together and he modified the train map to include his observations of what we passed by.
Story-telling/Sharing: He was excited to tell his brother and friends about his train trip so he told me a ‘story’ which we documented about his experience so he could recall and share the events with others.
Design/Build/Problem-Solve: We had some timber offcuts which he was improvising with as a train and carriages. He asked how we could connect them like a train but keep them removable too. I gave him a box full of bits and pieces to sort through to find something that may work for it. A screw-eyelet and a blind-bracket he selected and tried out were great solutions. I assisted with some wheels and a few nails, but he found the parts from our build space and even painted it.
Project Book: Rather than let each piece of the clustered ‘play experience’ float around and get lost, we collected all his play work together in his very own simple little stapled paper book. Something tangible with contents he had created, experiences to talk about. He can pick it up and share with others, tell stories about the photo’s, he can modify his drawings, re-build his train, new experiences to add. His project book continues to inspire and motivate him to explore more through play. It is his own and he’s proud of what he’s done. Most importantly- the project is never complete.
It’s Not About How They Do It, But About Having Time To Do It
All of this ‘train project play’ was spread over a week or two. He focused on different aspects at his own pace and I was asked to help at times. If a parent has a certain viewpoint, there is always the other parent with a different viewpoint, or a sibling, the internet to research or even a teacher to ask. He even took his project book to share at kindy for ‘show and tell’ prompting the kids to all share their experiences together. My six year old often comes home with contributions from his friends during class.
These are play projects that resonate with kids because they select them. They control their learning experiences. When kids ‘do’ and ‘make’ they feel more creative, its hugely empowering to have results to be proud of.
Some projects are light and quick over in just an hour, others resonate deeply and kids may be more interested in continuing their exploration over days or weeks. Some need a little guidance others need no inturruption. It doesn’t matter how they do it, they just love creating tangible results, and always at their own pace in their own time.
We all want to see our children develop their own interests, motivation and passion in life. Young children often just need someone to notice when they want to dive deeper in play, a little guidance, but most of all - plenty of free time to develop their own play interests.
Time To Notice The Little Things
Avoiding The Rush
Imagine a child wandering along through a bustling village market, an environment replete with a layered richness of noise, smell, textures, colours, for all our senses to soak up and experience. Or picture the CBD where it appears people are all going somewhere in a hurry and not even noticing what, or who, is around them anymore- taking everything for granted.
If you watch a child in any environment it’s fascinating to observe what they notice, what stops them in their tracks. Often we hurry them along from an apparent dawdling state, but they are in fact taking it all in. They notice the little things. Kid’s listen, learn, observe, think and question. They use all their senses and in a different way to us. They don’t want to be hurried along like adults in their busy, rushed lives. They want to stop to explore, to absorb, to discover as they go. Mini researchers quietly in action. They are interested in what’s new to them- experiences they want to understand.
We in contrast are often preoccupied, not stopping to take it all in- instead meeting deadlines while sometimes missing the obvious- that a ‘child’s mind’ would otherwise see. I try to let my kids slow me down and focus on the little things that can actually mean so much and are so easily forgotten or overseen.
Observation Skills For Innovative Thinking
Innovative thinkers must notice what needs a solution- the problem, before they can attempt to solve something. An ability to slow down a little and observe even familiar things with a fresh ‘child like’ mind.
In an earlier video post, founder of IDEO David Kelley speaks about the power of a ‘Child’s Mind’ and elaborates on having a mind that notices things that can be improved. Observation skills are valuable if we are to be innovative thinkers, but actually allowing the time to observe is something else all together.
We want our kids to have time to discover- while they still have the freedom to. They crave unhurried experiences to practice these observation skills, helping to understand what is around them and where they are. I hope my kids will take every opportunity they can to explore their world.
Pearls Before Breakfast
Time-pressured means making priorities- we know we miss out on some things. I hope you find time to read this widely circulated article from the Washington Post, if you haven’t already- it’s fascinating. In the context of a ‘child’s mind’, I don’t think it’s even relevant who the musician was, It’s just a wonderful example of how children can remind us what we’re missing out on. So when will kids get to experience these things? Sooner or later they too will be just as busy as we are…
The following is a summary of the original article.
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.
A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.
A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?
We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.
The Third Teacher
We went for a short walk yesterday and my 3yr old son took a bag to collect things along the way. He made many discoveries and commented on the obvious differences between them - colourful, big, tiny, sharp… he was exploring the endless options that nature provides us with.
Upon returning home we pulled out a book on nature to learn about what he had found. He preferred to ‘match’ his finds with the pictures, which allowed him to continue to extend his play and learning himself. He took great care to study the images and look for similar details in his hands. He then tucked his bag of treasures away to rummage through again later. As a designer I think of it like ‘collecting inspiration’. Nature has certainly provided much inspiration for innovations we all use today. Biomimicry is fascinating to say the least, a great source of research for designers as well as scientists, architects and engineers.
There is a concept known as ‘The Third Teacher’ - the physical environment, (after adults and peers). Pioneering Italian educator and psychologist Loris Malaguzzi founded this Reggio Emilia approach to learning, which reminds us to think about how we learn as well as where we learn.
Technology - Children Want To Invent Their Play
Give a child an iPad and almost instantly they are competent at exploring the interface, apps and navigating with ease the enticing opportunities new technology presents. Technology is providing children with many new exciting ways to play. I don’t think it matters what the medium is, they will still play.
Open Ended Creative Play
But children want to be the controllers and creators of their own play. If technology is just something new to play with, then children will work out a way to play with just about anything. Play is universal. It really comes down to whether it keeps their attention with open ended creative play opportunities or if it is controlled, directed and limiting their creativity- they may quickly loose interest.
Play To Learn
I gave an old digital camera to my 5 year old son to look after a few months ago. It’s been fascinating to observe him playing with it, working it out, asking questions and am most intrigued with how he uses it. I’m actually surprised the camera is not yet broken but maybe that’s because it provides plenty of learning opportunities, it’s easy to use and begs to be used creatively- keeping him focussed on play.
I don’t think he needs a ‘how-to manual’ or ‘mum-advice’ because he has already used it in interesting ways to capture images and movies than I have ever considered. (While recording a movie and focusing on a scene he’s actually used his finger to isolate and describe what he’s talking about for the viewer. I’ve watched him as he’s spun around in circles seeing what happens to the image or movie at high speed, and has even taken self portraits to see what his silliest faces look like himself).
With my son discovering the many ways to use a camera, I have been equally very interested in seeing the results with him. The footage was both entertaining and beautiful in an artistic sense. He would go back and try again with an improved technique to get a better result. He was fine tuning his ideas during play and what results he could achieve.
I often wonder when the kids are mature enough to use various forms of technology but they really just have to try it out at some point. Technology is their future, it’s clear my kids want to embrace it and not get left behind. I just hope they learn to use technology that encourages and develops their creative skills and help them understand it’s just one tool of many, everything in moderation, providing plenty of variety for playtime.
Up To Mischief Or Simply Creative?
As parents, many of us have photo evidence of the mischief our kid’s get up to, but these photo’s are actually a very good and simple example of a 4 year old’s explorative mind. I went to use the soap in the bathroom and noticed it missing, then glimpsed something under the soap dish. My son was obviously washing his hands very well because he say’s he ‘wanted to see if my comb could cut the soap because he thought it was a nice idea to make smaller pieces for everyone so when we all needed to wash our hands at the same time we had a piece each’.
I’m not so sure that’s actually what he was thinking as he was doing it, but he was thinking while he was experimenting.
I wish he had cleaned my comb before he put it away, but I dismissed what he thought was going to be a telling off. I can see now why he hid the new mini soaps.
Over the following days I noticed how proud he was when there were actually a few occasions when we both used the mini soaps together.
Such a simple example, but sometimes I myself need to be reminded how easy it is to jump on them for ruining things, but more often than not it’s obvious they are just exploring and trying things out.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”
-George Bernard Shaw.