As the end of the school year fast approaches for my preschool class, we’re having fun exploring the invention process. I love introducing children to the empowering idea that anyone can be an inventor. As Thomas Edison said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
You know what great imaginations preschoolers have. We harness it by giving them lots of “junk” to work with – including parts of discarded appliances we have taken apart, container lids, old CDs, cardboard tubes, berry baskets and lots of masking tape. You can use whatever materials you have an abundance of—pipe cleaners, paper cups, small cardboard boxes, plastic water bottles, Styrofoam egg cartons. Just be sure you have LOTS of masking tape. Assorted colors of tape add to children’s creations.
To begin our invention explorations, I told the story about a real invention children love, the Band-Aid. Then the children explored making their own Band-Aids with a variety of materials.
Another day I said, “Let’s think about what we could invent with a cardboard tube.” Children brainstormed briefly in small groups at circle time. They had so many ideas –binoculars, telescopes, wheels, a pirate spy glass, a marble tunnel, a birthday hat, a rocket.
Then I invited them to the Invention Workshop – tables set up with a variety of materials. I told them, “You can create whatever you want. Your inventions will be powered by your imagination. When you are imagining, anything is possible.”
Most children immediately started constructing and decided afterwards what they had created, just like more experienced inventors. Post-it Notes, for example, evolved from a technology that needed a use.
We helped children hold and tape various parts of their invention together and brainstorm solutions to problems as they arose. “How can you attach this differently so it will stand up?”
When they were done, we asked children to draw their invention and dictate what it did so we could record their ideas. What a range of creations! From a Heater and Cool Air Express, to a CD phone, a TV machine, a remote controlled star, a robot worm that can tell time, a Fooda Madooda that will take your old toys and store them until someone needs them, and rocket binoculars that can blast into space. The children’s enthusiasm could have lifted us all into outer space!!
More curriculum ideas are in my book, Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language in Early Childhood.
“Messing around” with materials, identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, trying and trying again are lifelong skills. Have fun watching your inventors develop new ideas. Maybe one of them will figure out how to keep markers from drying out when you leave the cap off!This post was contributed by Marie Faust Evitt. Marie is the head teacher of a preschool class for four- and five-year-olds. Prior to teaching, Marie was an award-winning newspaper reporter and freelance journalist for more than 20 years. Her articles and essays on education, parenting, and child psychology have been published in Newsweek, Parents, Child, Parenting, Scholastic’s Parent & Child, Scholastic.com, and Family Fun. Marie is also the author of Thinking Big, Learning Big. She posts about her classroom activities at www.thinkingBIGlearningBIG.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thinkingBIGlearningBIG. She lives in Mountain View, California.