A good friend of mine passed this article on to me from The Economist. The research presented debates the practice of telling children how something works first versus letting them explore on their own.

As teachers, we struggle with this all the time. As a rule, I want to let my sprouts discover new learning tools, manipulatives, and toys on their own, but I do have to take safety into consideration.

When introducing a new tool in the classroom, I try to use The Responsive Classroom’s Guided Discovery model. In a nutshell, this process involves:

  • naming the material
  • collecting ideas about its use
  • exploration
  • sharing what was learned or observed about the material
  • cleanup

During the ‘collecting ideas about its use’ brainstorming, I always interject my ‘safety concerns’ – For instance, while introducing Play Dough, when I feel like we’re coming to the end of our ideas, I throw out something like, “So if you make a pizza out of Play Dough, would it be all right to actually put it in your mouth and eat it?” I try not to come out and say “Don’t eat it!” – which is what I really want to do… instead I guide the class to their own conclusion about the edibility of Play Dough.

I’m always amazed at how children find unique ways to use something… often in ways new to their classmates and me. Yes, you can make a video game out of wooden blocks! Sure, the dollhouse is a wonderful way to practice what we’ve learned about fire safety. Building bridges with snap cubes and testing the number of cubes before it snaps is Engineering 101.

When we let children use their imaginations to create their own rules and boundaries around toys and tools, the possibilities for learning are endless.

How do you introduce new items?

(a wooden block video game)