I recently wandered through a Lego store and had to weave my way through throngs of children and their parents in order to locate my son. No matter how empty and deserted the mall may be on a given weekend, there always seems to be a crowd at the Lego store. Legos are popular; both parents and children enjoy assembling the blocks and creating amazing masterpieces from the tiny little rectangles.
I love Legos and we have boxes full of them sitting in my sons’ room, along with dusty displays of some his favorite creations. However, I admit that playing with Legos has become somewhat limited for some children due to the fact that many children seem unable to design and build objects without step by step instructions.
I would like to propose that creativity can be taught and nurtured over time as children receive encouragement and the appropriate amount of scaffolding by adults. In my experience teaching four and five year olds, small groups of children were given the materials pictured below.
Working together, small groups of children who were four years old at the time produced this:
Notice how the blocks are placed flat, creating a seemingly one dimensional structure. Presumably we had been discussing and reading about zoos and the children chose to make a zoo of their own, complete with a parking lot outside. This structure mirrors the real life experiences that the children themselves had.
Later in the school year, some children experimented with balancing blocks on top of one another to make a tower.
Working together, after much trial and error, they learned that they needed to make a strong base (this was also modeled by the teacher) resulting in a more stable structure.
One year later, after having extended chunks of time every day to play with blocks, the same children built engineering masterpieces such as this:
It took time, patience and careful planning. The children developed perseverance and learned design and math skills that would never have been mastered had we tried to teach the abstract concepts to them in a more “academic” setting. The children learned through play.