February 2017
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What We Can Continue to Learn from Fred Rogers

Creation Station

Hedda SharapanI recently talked with a teacher who was excited about a new learning center that she set up for the children. She called it the “Creation Station” and stocked it with donations from families of recyclable “stuff,” like boxes, egg cartons, packing material, plastic containers, and paper towel tubes. With the addition of things like tape and markers, all the "Creation Station" needed was the children’s imagination!   

Like engineers, designers and inventors, the children turned those raw materials into all kinds of things -- a truck, a garden, a jewelry box and more. Isn’t it interesting that while the children were working with those “old-fashioned” raw materials, they were developing some of the same skills that they’ll need in order to succeed in their future workplace -- creativity, curiosity, collaboration, communication, focus and perseverance! 

“Making something out of nothing” was important to Fred Rogers. Often on his Neighborhood program he modeled ways to make playthings out of simple household things, like he did on this video. Fred used to say, “The things we make ourselves are the things we value the most.”

In this day and age, when children are spending so much time with flashy, fancy electronic toys, think about how much  children and their parents can benefit from an open-ended project with simple, ordinary “stuff”:

A natural activity for learning STEAM concepts
Even if the children seem to be more engaged in taping things together than they are in making “something,” you’re giving them meaningful ways to learn about lots of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math) concepts.    

You’re providing them with first-hand, concrete experiences with the properties of 3-D shapes, like rectangular prisms (boxes) and cylinders (paper towel tubes), as they handle them and work with them. They’re learning about such basic things as top and bottom, different and the same, more and less, balance, spatial relationships (what’s on top or below or next to, etc.). They’re also becoming aware of the particular properties of the materials as they problem-solve, like figuring out how to connect things or how to make something that’s tall or that sits on the table.

A natural activity for developing perseverance
Just as importantly, a project like this can help children develop perseverance, one of the key 21st Century skills. Because it’s the children’s own creation, they’re naturally focused on, engaged and invested in what they’re making. That’s what helps them want to keep trying, even when they’re frustrated or disappointed that their project might not be working out the way they wanted. 

Some teachers use those kinds of opportunities to talk with the children about how mistakes are useful to engineers. Mistakes help them know what NOT to try again -- and that helps them figure out what else they could try, so they can make it better. 

The Home-School connection
When you send those creations home, it helps to give families a better appreciation of their children’s work. You can do that in a way that adds language arts, by encouraging children to make signs or labels or dictate a story about their creation.
Then those pieces tend to be more valued at home and might become playthings or keepsakes or something to keep working on. And what a great reminder to parents that sometimes all it takes for those “There’s nothing to do!” times is putting out some “stuff.”
Maybe the best reward that comes out of the "Creation Station" is the look on the children’s faces when they say, “Look what I made!” And when you say, “Tell me about it,” your genuine interest gets translated into the most important response of all -- “Your words and ideas matter.”  

Thank you for being our neighbor,
Hedda Sharapan
M.S. Child Development
PNC Grow Up Great Senior Fellow


Timeless Wisdom from Fred Rogers

Academic Hood Quilt

"Being creative is part of being human. Everyone is creative. Each person's creativity finds different forms of outlet, that's true; but without creativity of some kind, I doubt that we'd get through many of the problems that life poses."  
© 2017 Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children's Media