When your preschooler builds a rambling city out of blocks or reclaims shoeboxes and cans from the trash to construct a drum set, they are engaging in some great imaginative play. But did you know that they are also building skills and habits of mind that will serve them well in elementary school and beyond? When kids design, create, and build, they learn how to make a plan, problem-solve, handle frustration, and they learn the value of refining their ideas to make them better.
At Fay, we believe that these skills are key to academic success, and that is why Fay students engage with a variety of design thinking projects across the curriculum starting in Kindergarten. Our youngest students routinely tackle challenges like building the tallest tower possible out of spaghetti and mini-marshmallows, designing a shoebox race car that can travel up a ramp, or building a popsicle stick structure that can support the weight of an apple.
In approaching each challenge, students follow the Fay Design Thinking Process, where they define the problem, brainstorm solutions, make a prototype, and then test, evaluate, and refine their design. This summer, Fay will break ground on the construction of The Center for Creativity and Design
, a new 7,000 square-foot space with the latest technology tools and purpose-built spaces that will enable Fay students to continue to build the highly sought-after skills of critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, and collaboration. Preschool is not too early to nurture these skills. Here are four key benefits that kids get from working on design thinking projects.
A challenge for young students is understanding that a problem can have multiple solutions and that their first idea might not always be the best. Projects that involve a design thinking component encourage brainstorming and help kids get used to generating lots of ideas before narrowing them down to the one that they want to pursue. Parents can support this process by resisting the urge to step in when kids are struggling with their ideas. Give them space to generate and evaluate their own ideas rather than solving the “What should I make?” or “How can I do this?” dilemmas for them.
Strong problem-solving skills
“Children are very aware when things don’t work, and they like the idea of trying to solve a problem,” says Fay’s Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel. Design thinking projects give kids the opportunity to actively engage in problem solving as they invariably encounter unanticipated problems with their designs and ideas. Fay second graders, inspired by the young musicians of The Landfill Harmonic orchestra in Cateura, Paraguay, recently built their own musical instruments out of recycled materials
. As they built their designs, they encountered problems like rubber bands that would break when stretched on a cardboard guitar or the cardboard legs on a drum set that would unexpectedly break or bend. “If your first idea doesn’t work, you go back, think through it again, fix it, or make it better,” says Katie. “Our goal is to help children build the skills that will enable them to go out into the world, notice big problems, and have the confidence to try to solve them.”
Tolerance for failure and frustration
Design thinking teaches kids to work through frustration, and through that exercise, they learn that failure is a natural part of the creative process. “We have moments where the kids get super frustrated and upset because something’s not working the way they want it to,” says Fay Kindergarten teacher Lillian Bogaert. “But that’s a good productive struggle for them because when it does work, it’s so much more exciting and meaningful--they had to work so hard to get it right!”
When students design and build something themselves, their understanding of how and why it works is much greater. Compare the experience of a child who plays with a plastic drum set for a few minutes with that of the child who builds the set themselves out of recycled materials, experimenting with different size boxes and materials to get a deeper or louder sound. “This is completely about the process,” says Fay first grade teacher Jill Gibbons. “The finished product may be cardboard and tape, but when you listen to the students proudly explain what they’ve created, you realize that to them, it is so much more,” says Jill. “The children designed it, they created it, they built it on their own, and they may have struggled along the way, but they did it.”