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Pre-Schoolers, Teachers Collaborate in Design Thinking

Emily is wide-eyed with concentration as she skillfully handles an electric screwdriver.

There’s a squeal of delight when Olivia completes a circuit.

There are the inevitable groans from the class as a tall tower collapses and needs to be built yet again.

These are the everyday sights and sounds of excited preschoolers in McGehee School’s Tinkerlab, part of their Little Gate early childhood program, which opened last year to great community enthusiasm. Children ages two years to kindergarten, along with their teachers, explore everything from tools, simple circuits, and chain reactions, to 3D design and construction. They learn the value of trial and error, shared experiences, and collaboration as they discover their “inner scientist.”

Influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Tinkerlab’s goal was to have an inspirational space where students and teachers are co-learners and researchers. There’s now a design den, a maker space, a grit room, and an idea lab for everyone to create, discover, problem solve, and broaden their minds and imaginations. A recent favorite: a Rube Goldberg machine that includes a pendulum, ramps, and catapults.

“It truly inspires curiosity and reverence for design thinking,” says parent Charlee Williamson. “My daughter happened upon a waning, light-up toy trinket at Mardi Gras and immediately announced her intention to bring it to the Tinkerlab to take it apart and see how it worked. She was five years old!”

“This space is empowering to our youngest students,” agrees Mimi Odem, Pedagogical Mentor for Little Gate. “They know at a very young age that their ideas are important and, with persistence, collaboration, and hard work, their ideas and inventions can make a huge impact!”

Does your school do something similar?

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