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Create Problems for Your

Preschoolers, Dont Solve Them!
Making in Your Learning Centers
Lisa Bresson, Megan King, Lisa Brahms, and Peter S.Wardrip

Making is learning than a topic to be taught. As children play, we

support their engagement in making as a learning
Making engages young learners in the use of
process and assess the learning practices of
real tools and real materials to build and create
makingthe actions and interactions of learners as
objects and ideas. Many early childhood teachers
they engage in making. (See Learning Practices of
integrate making into the curriculum as part of the
Making, p. 13.)
learning process.
Teachers can use these practices as a lens for
In our classrooms and museum, we have seen the
identifying and discussing childrens learning as
power of making as a teaching approach rather

LISA BRESSON is a technical assistance supervisor for Grow New LISA BRAHMS, PhD, is the director of learning and research at the

Jersey Kids. She was previously a preschool teacher. Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania.

MEGAN KING is a preschool teacher at a public school in northern PETER S. WARDRIP, PhD, is a learning scientist at the Childrens
New Jersey. Museum ofPittsburgh.

12 Teaching Young Children Vol 10 No 4 April/May 2017

the children work toward learning goals, such as
Learning Practices of Making
developing problem-solving skills. The following
scenario describes how one teacher used the Learning How children learn
learning practice lens and saw a typical classroom practice through making
experience in an entirely new way.
Children are open and curious.
Inquire They explore and ask questions
about the materials.
Problem solving in the classroom
Four-year-old Yesenia kneels in front of a large bin of Children engage in purposeful
puppets in her classroom library center. She rummages play, testing, taking risks, and
through the bin, looking at each puppet, then tossing it evaluating the materials, tools,
aside. Ms. Ida kneels next to her. and processes.
You seem frustrated, Ms. Ida says. It looks like youre
trying to find something, but youre having a hard time. Children share their expertise
I need the squirrel puppet! Yesenia says, annoyed. and collaborate with one
Seek and share
Me and Melissa need it. The book Nuts to You!, by Lois another. They recognize when a
Ehlert, is on the floor nearby. concept or tool is unfamiliar and
show a desire to learn about it.
Ms. Ida smiles and says, This sounds like a problem
we need to solve. How do you think we might change
the library center so that books and puppets that go Children take apart objects
together are easy to find? and use salvaged materials,
Hack and
tools, and processes to modify,
Yesenia thinks, then shrugs. repurpose
enhance, and create new
When you and Melissa are done reading, Ms. Ida says, products and processes.
let me know. Well try to figure out how to reorganize
the library. Working together, we can make something
that fixes the problem! Children discover, evolve,
and refine their interest areas
through setting short- and

A uthentic problems like this one are common in Express intention

long-term goals. They choose,
preschool classrooms. Instead of redirecting childrens negotiate, and pursue their goals
attention or solving childrens problems, teachers can use individually and with others.
problems as opportunities to spontaneously engage children
in making as a problem-solving process.
Everyone starts somewherechildren must learn to crawl Children develop comfort and
before they can walk, and walk before they can run. This skill with diverse tools, materials,
also applies to developing problem-solving skills. As children Develop fluency and processes. They begin to
develop a specific craft (sewing,
identify and describe the problems they encounter, they can
woodworking, etc.).
use the learning practices of making to solve those problems.
There are seven learning practices: inquire, tinker, seek
and share resources, hack and repurpose, express intention, Children demonstrate their
develop fluency, and simplify to complexify. (For background understanding of materials and
Simplify to
information, see Learning Practices of Making, by Lisa processes by connecting and
Brahms and Peter S. Wardrip, in the October/November 2016 combining components to make
issue of Teaching Young Children.) To introduce children to new meaning.
the learning practice hack and repurpose, challenge them by

Teaching Young Children Vol 10 No 4 April/May 2017 13

saying, I wonder how we can create some new instruments making as a learning process into the centers you
for the music area. Place materials (cardboard tubes, rubber already have! Making can be easily integrated with a few
bands, beads, bottle caps, and pieces of wax paper) nearby. simple adjustments.
Encourage children to use them: Is there anything close by
Here are some ideas for incorporating making into existing
that we can use to make some instruments? As children
centers to support childrens development of problem-
become more familiar with the concept of repurposing
solving skills.
available materials to solve problems, help them grow their
skills and independence. Ask, Is there anything anywhere
Block center
else in the classroom you could use to solve this problem?
Remove some of the wooden unit blocks in the block center
so that children must work together to make replacements.
Encourage them to hack and repurpose other materials, such
When you create challenges for as shoe boxes, cardboard food boxes, and wrapping paper
children, they can begin to problem tubes, to create new blocks.

solve independently. Have students seek and share resources by providing some
materials to construct with but leaving out others. You
can leave colored masking tape and a stapler but remove
Challenging children with invented problems the regular tape and glue. This way, children must share
Consider making up problems for your preschoolers to solve.
and negotiate.
By intentionally disassembling something or by purposefully
removing a frequently used material from the classroom, Invite the children to design a house using blocks and other
you set the stage for some serious learning. A child might classroom materials, like large pieces of fabric, carpet and
shout, Hey! Wheres the glue?! or Oh no! The flashlight tile samples, and masking tape. Have children share their
fell apart! You could answer with, I wonder where the glue design ideas and express their intentions by making a plan.
went. Can you look on the art shelf with all the put together Guide them to seek and share resources while building by
materials and figure out what else you might use to connect asking children with different skills to contribute their talents,
those pieces? or That broken flashlight gives just as a contractor
us an opportunity to see whats inside. Whats would hire a carpenter,
a flashlight made of? What makes the light go plumber, and electrician
on? when constructing a
real building.
When you create challenges for children, they
can begin to problem solve independently. They Dramatic play center
can turn to maker-based learning processes, like Children can hack and
hack and repurpose, inquire, and tinker. As young repurpose materials to
children become more comfortable and confident create missing props.
with the experience of solving problems, they In the house area, say,
will increasingly do it on their own. Establishing The baby doll needs
a culture of making in the classroom inspires a bed! What can we
children to look at materials in a deeper way use to make one? or
as they work toward solving the problems The baby doll has no
they encounter. diapers! I wonder how
we can make some.

Integrating making into Include some real-

life cooking gadgets
learning centers (eggbeater, garlic press,

A separate makerspace in the classroom citrus squeezer, melon

inspires children to explore creative solutions baller) to prompt
to problems, but many teachers dont have children to inquire and
the space or experience to set up a new area. explore their properties,
Dont let this discourage you from incorporating qualities, and uses.

14 Teaching Young Children Vol 10 No 4 April/May 2017

Encourage children to hack and repurpose materials such as shoe boxes, cardboard
food boxes, and wrapping paper tubes to create blocks.

Supply children with a variety of repurposed materials Help children develop fluency with sewing materials by
(cardboard boxes, large pieces of foam core board, tubes, showing them how to thread a needle and then having them
and more) to build with. Suggest that children hack and practice sewing different kinds of stitches.
repurpose the materials to create a businessa bakery, a
Organize open-ended materials by type (wooden, plastic,
grocery store, or a veterinarians office.
cardboard, natural, metal), and ask questions like How else
could we use this? to encourage inquiry.
Sand and water center (exploration station)
Ask, How can we move the water and sand from here to Teach children simple yarn weaving. Children can simplify to
there without a scoop? Children can tinker and hack and complexify by weaving more complicated patterns.
repurpose by finding and adapting objects and materials to
serve as scoops.
Encourage children to express intention by making a class
As more and more early childhood teachers incorporate
plan to help with an everyday task, like filling and emptying
making into their classroom centers, a common vocabulary
the water table or keeping the sand in the sand table.
emergesinquire, tinker, seek and share, and so on. This
Support children as they inquire about the characteristics language gives children and teachers the words to discuss
of sand and water as materialstheir texture, weight, ways to think outside the boxnurturing future innovators.
color, and uses. To spark wonder and curiosity, try adding Children will get an early start with practicing critical
interesting materials, such as food coloring or ice to the thinking and problem-solving skills, which theyll use
water and glitter or sequins to the sand. throughout their lives. It all starts with giving children a
chance to engage in the learning practices of making on a
Art center
daily basis!

Instead of throwing out broken items or incomplete sets of

classroom materials (puzzles, stringing beads, truck wheels),
encourage children to hack and repurpose the items and
materials into something new.

Teaching Young Children Vol 10 No 4 April/May 2017 15

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