At Thinkery, we love hands-on activities that allow kids to take the lead. With the launch of our Thinkery at Home programming, we’re inviting you to join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays for design challenges facilitated by members of our Education team. These challenges look very different than some of our other STEAM content, so let’s dive in and discover why these learning experiences are among our favorites.
What does a design challenge look like?
A design challenge has an open-ended prompt, not step-by-step directions. This encourages creative risk-taking and means that there are many opportunities to celebrate failure and success!For example, a design challenge prompt may invite you to “make something that floats.” While this might inspire you to make a boat, we won’tprovide directions on how to make it or what materials to use. Instead, we might offer examples of boats or rafts, along with a list of possible materials, like aluminum foil or a sponge, as a starting point.We set a goal to reach – how you get there is up to you! The part that can be a challenge is that we often have constraints, such as limited time to complete the goal, state “must use” materials to be incorporated, or some other parameter.
Design challenges can be scaled up or down for different ages & abilities. A younger child may use the prompt “make something that floats” to experiment with how different household objects and materials behave differently in water. Older kids may create additional challenges for themselves, like creating a specific type of vessel such as sailboat or submarine.
Everyone is a winner in a design challenge! These maker activities are about trying out ideas – sometimes they work, other times they don’t. We celebrate both! Often the best ideas come after having some that failed. It isn’t about first or last, best or worst – if you are working towards the goal described in the prompt then you’ve already won. We believe that removing the competitive aspect from these challenges with each other helps increase learners’ confidence in their own creative, making, and problem-solving skills.
What does a design challenge teach?
The design process. Engineers and makers of many disciplines use some variation of the design process when creating something. Our simplified model is “Plan, Build, Improve.” Having an organized way of thinking and doing gives a big project smaller checkpoints to achieve on the way to a distant finish line.
Creative thinking. The infinite number of ways to complete a design challenge encourages wacky solutions and embrace learner choice when making. The classic marble run prompt asks that you make something for marbles to get from point A to point B. It often includes making ramps, but we’ve seen other out-of-the-box solutions, like elevators, speed bumps, and ziplines.
Problem-solving. Mistakes WILL happen during the making process. Talking through problems as they come up and brainstorming solutions will build resilience and grit in learners and strengthen their toolkit when they face future problems.
How can I help my learner engage in design challenges?
Let your learner lead. Embrace their ideas – no matter how wild! During the making process, ask your learner to narrate what they are doing and explain their reasoning. Having these questioning conversations will help develop children’s verbal skills and strengthen their higher order thinking skills.
Support your learner in skills that they are still working to develop. Always stay watchful with tools, such as scissors or hot glue tools. Practice gradually releasing responsibility to your learner over time, letting them watch you, then assist you, and then use the tool independently.
Always ask your learner if they need help before jumping in. You know best how to balance frustration and learning with your child. An alternative to watching them complete a project is to build something of your own next to them! This “parallel play” can be further enhanced if you explain your creative process & problem-solving strategies as you go.
Let your learner take creative risks – and let them fail safely! As an adult, it can feel challenging to allow kids to make questionable building decisions without stepping in, but mistakes and failures present invaluable learning opportunities. Low-stakes design challenges like these are perfect opportunities to allow your child to practice creative risk-taking! When failure happens, celebrate it! Ask your child what they learned from the failure, take a break, and then jump into creating an improved version of their idea!
How do I join a Thinkery at Home design challenges?
We are so glad you asked! Tune into Thinkery’s Facebook Live broadcasts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Starting at 11:00 AM, we will introduce the prompt for the day. During the day, take photos & videos as you design and build. Post them in a comment on our Facebook Live videos so we can see what you’ve been making! Then, at 4:00 PM, tune back into Facebook Live and we will lead a Show and Tell of the photos and videos we received. Even if they live portion for a design challenge is over, we would still love to see or hear about what you’ve created.
We hope you join our next Thinkery at Home design challenge. We can’t wait to see what you make!