Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Construction Ideas

Constructing comes naturally to kids. I guess it does to adults as well. I don't mean building houses and factories, either. I mean playing with construction. We were at the beach a while back where some kids began to build a sand castle with sturdy spades and buckets. Pretty soon, the parents joined in, excavating, showing the best way to build wave-resistant walls, arguing over castle construction, and generally taking over. And I'll admit to being one of those adults who couldn't resist adding LEGO bricks after my son was asleep!

I think constructing is a great activity if our kids do manage to fend us off. They are engaging in creative and analytical thinking, exploring, working cooperatively, making connections, evaluating and learning about the natural world. Constructing with bricks like LEGO teaches them manual dexterity, problem-solving and spatial skills, and it does that effortlessly because kids are learning for themselves, with no explicit teaching from us.

Here are some Book Chook ideas to involve your kids in construction:

When my son was small, one of his toys that I loved was called Marbleworks. It was a box of sturdy plastic parts that could be put together in different ways, to make a run for a marble or small ball. You can see the actual toy being used here at Youtube.

If you're looking for a great project for your kids on a rainy weekend: have them create their own marble run. Give them the problem, something like, "how could we build a track for a marble to run along?" You might need to help out a little with questions like: What could we use to make it? or Could we put something in it that makes a noise when the marble goes past? But it's more than likely you will just need to be the go-to person for the materials they need. There is no right or wrong way to do this - most of the learning comes from trial and error. I've seen marble runs made from halved toilet rolls stuck to a wall, timber off cuts glued to particle board and including hamster wheels and gongs! Here's a wonderful clip that shows the amazing lengths some people will go to.

I also love to build or watch dominoes fall. The elaborate constructions people come up with, the patience involved in laying them out absolutely awes me. Why not challenge your kids to create their own domino layout? For some ideas to get started, try Domino Fall Down 7.

If you'd like to create your own digital version, you can do that online at Drawminos.

How long is it since your kids built a cubby? (I think in the US it's called a fort.) A cubby is a play shelter, made from whatever materials you have to hand: the cardboard box the fridge came in or a rug over the table if you're indoors, sand and driftwood at the beach, sticks and tarpaulins in the bush. Cubby building is both construction and pretend play, and will engage kids for ages. Kelly from Be a Fun Mum had a great idea recently - she gave her kids $5 to spend at an Op Shop (thrift store) to buy materials for a cubby. The kids learnt about how far a dollar goes, and boy did they have fun.

In my recent article What Can We Do with a Newspaper, I suggested kids be challenged to build structures from rolled newspapers. If they're learning about the built environment, how about they try a geodesic dome, or other structures? Indoors or out, life size or model, and whatever the environment, cubby construction is a great activity and will involve the whole family if you let it. It's also a wonderful opportunity for kinaesthetic learners to shine.

Here's how I use drama to make machines with kids. We don't use toys, sticks or newspaper, but our own bodies to construct:

Machines are great for getting kids to work as a team to produce something that communicates a message. Start with one person repeating a sound and movement. Noni raises and lowers her left arm and says "chock, chock, chock" in time with her movement. Add others slowly. Tran watches Noni, then kneels at an angle to her, waving both arms and saying "swish, swish, swish". Sam links arms with Noni and nods his head, "bibbidy-bob, bibbidy-bob". More and more kids join in, thinking about how what they will add will affect the machine.

Once kids are used to making simple machines, introduce another element. Ask them to split into groups and make a vacuum cleaner, or a car wash. Add another element. Become more abstract and ask for a punishment machine, or a politician machine, or a day at the beach machine. Link to literature and ask the kids to communicate the essence of a book as a machine. Parts of the machine may by this stage contribute sentences, song snatches, interactive movements - whatever is needed to get their message across to an audience.

So how about a Constructathon next time you have a rainy weekend or the kids are desperate for something to do? And if the construction falls down, or doesn't go according to plan, console yourself with the fact that happens in real life too, as you will see in this slide show. If you want some ideas for using LEGO to stimulate kids' learning, see my articles Lego and Literacy (1) and Lego and Literacy (2).

(Image credit, medea-material on Flickr)

{Did you grab the latest edition of Literacy Lava? It has useful articles about using simple things like buttons and stones to involves kids in literacy-related activities, as well as tips about getting the most from travel with kids, and ideas for using poetry, newspapers, father/son book clubs, and early readers to engage children in learning.}


  1. Terry Doherty01 October, 2010

    I'm a dominos girl myself, but I can't see doing Drawminos. It's a tactile thing ... the clickety-clack is just too cool!

  2. Yes, and the way they feel in your hands. I totally understand! Not everything translates effectively with technology.

  3. I absolutely loved marble works, I would put them together, test them out and take them apart to start all over again. Excellent construction ideas, classrooms need to remember to use construction more often!

  4. A construction project is really a great way to have kids collaborate in the classroom. Or at home!

  5. This post is right down my alley! I love it!!! Love construction. And I still like playing with lego.

  6. You, me and Peter Pan, Kelly!


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