In our center found objects are more valuable than commercial ones, so the control panels, the heat tiles, and whatever mechanical innards we need are made with old tubing, tape, bottle caps, clips, straws, cork, and anything else we can find. Commercial products do not teach little ones about process. Something already made reinforces the idea that everything you need you can buy online, and you aren't a part of a creative process. Children learn through the process of exploration and invention. As my friend, Rae Pica, wrote in her recent Huffington Post blog, learning about child development should be required for all early childhood (and late childhood!) educators. Children cannot learn through their senses, intellect, and emotions if they are treated as if they are older than they are.
In our space shuttle some of the control panels were created by the children, and some by ingenious adults using a colorful assortment of junk.
Children made art for mission control (the loft) and used developmental spelling to reflect on the theme. They worked under the loft with tools to "fix" any problems the shuttle had, and did "space walks" with tethers, wearing home-made oxygen tanks. Having read stories about space walks the children understood the use of these devices.
Rae's blog suggests that there are still people out there who doubt the effectiveness of this type of project approach even though it has been the cutting edge of education for all ages for some time. If any of these folk spent some time talking to our children about space and rockets they would soon find out that children do learn through the power of projects that recognize the process of learning, and of development. Conversations with children who have experienced this type of learning should be required before parents send their children to school for the first time.
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