Thursday, March 27, 2008

Playing IS Learning: Build it - Following a Child's Lead

Build It: Moser Construction House provides parents/caregivers and children with opportunities to explore and use woodworking tools and materials together. In our previous post, we discussed how the exhibits in the Build It neighborhood provide multiple opportunities to practice problem solving skills by following a child’s lead and providing appropriate support as he builds and creates.

What does “following a child’s lead” mean?
· Respecting children's ability to choose what and how they play. When children are allowed to choose, knowing you accept that choice, they learn to develop and trust their own judgments.
Understanding and respecting a child’s capacities and limitations (knowing when to challenge and when to practice again).

The following observation was made in the Moser Construction House. Think about ways this parent follows her child’s lead during play in this exhibit.

“How do I put this on?" asks a child. The child looks at his mother while holding a plastic cylinder against several pieces of wood that he has constructed into a flat surface. "Well, I’m not sure. What do you think?" says the mother. The child shrugs his shoulders. "It looks like the cylinder is very thick. What could we use to attach it?" asks the mother. The child picks up a small nail and holds it up to the cylinder, comparing the length of it to the width of the cylinder. "Will that work, do you think?" says the mother. The child shakes his head and looks in the nail and screw boxes for something else. The child then holds up a longer nail and again measures it against the width of the cylinder. "Long one," the child says. "You think the long one will work? Good call—I think you might be right" answers the mom. He takes a hammer and holds the nail to the cylinder and then tries holding it up to the cylinder in another direction. "Which way do you think you will hammer it?" asks the mother. "Here on the sides," says the child. "I can’t wait to see how that works," says the mother. The child hammers the nail into each side holding the cylinder in place. "Did it work?" The child spins the cylinder and looks at his mother. "It spins!" says the child.

While this parent followed her child's lead by asking questions, making suggestions, and offering encouragement, the goal (getting the plastic onto the wood) was initiated by the child. The idea of providing children with hands-on experiences exploring and using real woodworking tools may make adults nervous. This can be related to concerns for the child's safety or the adult's own insecurities using woodworking tools. While common, it is important to recognize that these thoughts or feelings can affect the quality of a child's woodworking experience.

The following are some ideas on how to provide children with responses that nurture curiosity, confidence, and exploration while providing safety and instruction on how to use tools appropriately:

· Observe – Watch what children are doing before joining their play with words or actions. When we observe and listen to children during play, we are often privy to their views of their world as well as their thoughts and feelings. For instance, you might watch to see how your child attempts to use a screwdriver before modeling it for him.

· Allow Ample Time for Play – A lot can be discovered when given enough time to explore. Allowed ample time for exploration, a child may notice that by holding the hammer at the end, he can achieve more control; or he many notice that some nails are too short to use to attach two pieces of wood. This also allows the chance for you to model necessary skills.

· Use Language - Enlarge your child’s vocabulary and show you notice his play by stating what you see. Your words do more than expand vocabulary and show you noticed; they also serve as encouragement for continuing play. It takes a lot of work to saw through a piece of wood. Using two hands was a good idea. Is the hand drill heavy? Would you like me to help you hold it?

· Expand Play – Support your child's play by imitating, introducing an idea, offering a suggestion or asking a question. You may model appropriate use of the tools. (Put the wood in the vice before sawing; if child asks, start a nail for your child.) Perhaps you might ask questions that stimulate problem solving. It looks like the wood is difficult to hold while you hammer. What else could we use to hold it? How do you think we could attach this plastic cap?

· Adopt a Playful Attitude – A playful attitude sets the stage for children to do the same. Don’t be upset if the work completed is not what you expected. Remember, it’s the process more than the product that is important. When you encourage and support children during play, you provide memories that will last a lifetime. And finally, when done, show genuine appreciation for your child’s effort. Tell me about what you’ve made.

Build It: Toddler Tool Area
This area was created for children who are not quite ready to wear goggles and explore the Moser Construction House. Workbenches reach around the house so children can watch other children build as they construct a project of their own using pretend tools (hammers, screwdrivers, etc.) sized for smaller hands.

Stay Tuned!
Next time, we will again focus on Build It: Moser Construction House. This time we will discuss the "stages of woodworking" and how to support children’s learning in each stage.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Neighborhood Navigations - Build It: Problem Solving Skills

Build It, along with the six other DCM neighborhoods, provides children with multiple opportunities to practice creating, imagining, experimenting and exploring—all components of play. These components nurture children’s investigations of “cause and effect” and afford important opportunities for trial and error problem-solving. However, it is adult interaction that can build a child’s confidence in his or her problem-solving, and often that can be more important than skill (Thornton, Children Solving Problems, 1995).

Problem-solving skills help us determine goals and plan how to achieve them. Open-ended play experiences provide children with multiple opportunities to experiment, explore and manipulate objects and materials in different ways as they work towards a specific goal.

Imagine a toddler attempting to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Through trial and error, he may search for alternative means of achieving his goal. If he has had previous experience with this toy, he might know to try a different hole right away or may remember to look for the hole that is similar to the shape of the peg. However, a younger toddler or one with less experience might become frustrated or hand the hammer to an adult as if to say, “Show me what to do.”

Similarly, problem-solving skills can also affect a child’s ability to relate to his or her peers.

A child might want to help his peers build a tower but is unsure of how to join the group. Depending on previous experience, he might try a few different ways to engage with his peers before finding success. (He may bring over more blocks, verbally ask to join or he may even knock over the tower they are building.) A younger or less-experienced child may look to an adult for reassurance or encouragement before taking these steps.

A child’s motivation to continue problem-solving often comes from his success and the adult’s encouragement and reinforcement of the accomplishment. A great way to build a child’s confidence and encourage and reinforce problem-solving is to ask open-ended questions such as:

-What would happen if you tried…?
-What else could you do with the...?
-What are some other ways you can do that?

In the Build It neighborhood and its three main interactive exhibits: Moser Construction House, Build It Big and Toddler Tool Area, children have multiple opportunities to experiment and investigate cause and effect, and practice problem-solving skills. Find more ways to support children’s play throughout the museum by clicking here.

Stay Tuned!
Our next post will focus specifically on the Moser Construction House and Toddler Tool Area exhibits. We will discuss how to follow a child’s lead and provide appropriate support as he builds, creates and develops a better understanding of concepts related to math, science and the arts.

Don’t Forget:
The new Math Connections neighborhood is here! On March 10, 2008 we celebrated the re-opening of this neighborhood. Please join us in exploring the new exhibits and the many unique opportunities they provide children to connect to math concepts.

Just for Grown-Ups: Looking at Children With New Eyes
Thanks to all that joined us for this workshop presented by Jennifer Rosinia, Occupational Therapist and Child Development Specialist. We look forward to having Jennifer back and hearing “part two” of this workshop.