Architecture has been at the forefront of human achievement for many (many) millennia, and a true tribute to the human spirit of survival. From the simple to the ornate, each structure carries with it a personality and purpose of its own. And yet, despite the fact that all children have the urge to build, we often wait until people are in higher education before teaching them the inner secrets of the beauty in the buildings around us. As the STEM movement continues to gain traction, it seems like a good time to implement programs that let children discover the truth on their own before they have to sign up for a 101 course.
Capitalizing on Nature
Parents and educators of all kinds know that kids don’t need to be told what to do if they’re giving a pile of blocks. Children build on instinct and they delight in trying new formations to test the limits of their creations. And while few early education professionals would deny the importance of playtime, they may not see the full scope of opportunity in front of them. By integrating higher level concepts in a structured yet independent environment, it’s possible to build strong critical thinking skills at a very young age. It’s never too early to push kids to do more than they think they can do, and it all starts with the introduction of the right projects.
Schools of Thought
Some tend to think of art and science as two separate subjects, but it doesn’t take very long to uncover the fallacy of this assumption. By its very nature, architecture is the combination of numbers and aesthetics. It has the power to cast problems in a very different light, allowing children to view them from different perspectives. A child who has this type of early exposure can start to see how ideas can be melded to fit different scenarios. It’s far easier for kids to understand ratios in a classroom when they can envision constructing one interior layer of blocks for every two layers of the exterior. Architecture programs also give kids insight into history, culture, and social studies.
Setting Up Success
Kids don’t necessarily need expensive tools or user-friendly instruction manuals to construct something new. In fact, they usually learn more if they start from scratch. Some kids engage in this type of high-level play entirely on their own, but some may need a helping hand to prove they’re more capable than they realize. Experts have already seen how the introduction of simple toys like Legos can lead to unstructured high-level play, allowing children to collaborate and share new methods without a formal moderator. Those who show an interest and aptitude for a logical and creative approach to building may benefit from a more structured environment where they can really develop their skills.
Making the Time
Educators and parents who do make the time to expose kids to the interactions found in early architectural programs find that children have better problem-solving skills and more colorful imaginations. Every great inventor and thinker conceived a better reality while taking the logical steps necessary to turn their ideas into tangible results. A consistent commitment to high-level play teaches children to see failure as a learning opportunity and not as a reason to abandon their skills.
Encouraging Independent Problem Solving
It’s easy for adults to think the key to being an asset in a child’s life is to be involved. While there’s no doubt that taking an interest can help foster a child’s sense of well-being and security, there’s often more value in knowing when to step back and be quiet while a child figures out their own solution to a problem. Unless it’s a situation where the child will be in physical danger, chiming in with ideas can create dependent children who fear making their own decisions. A creative architecture project that allows children to see the bigger picture and watch their efforts come together encourages independence naturally while stimulating their own sense of competence.
Teamwork for Life
Formal education has long followed a set framework regardless of what was happening outside the four walls of the classroom, but this is all starting to change. With the advent of technology and the realization of a rapidly shifting economy, it’s no longer just the alternative educators who are knocking down traditional boundaries. Programs that give children a chance to learn from other children is a way for them to develop the teamwork skills they’re going to need when they step into the real world. By making these skills a habit as soon as humanly possible, they won’t even have to try to work well with others because they’ll already have an innate understanding of the importance of persuasion, tolerance, and listening.
Challenges for the Future
How would a group of children encourage green living through city planning? How would they ensure that their city would be able to scale if an additional million people moved in overnight? How would they may an existing city better with a limited amount of resources? Challenging these children to come up with ideas is not only a way to improve their critical thinking skills but also a way to get them prepared to make the decisions that will build a better world. And because children see problems very differently than adults, it may even inspire new ideas for established professionals facing the very same problems.
There are plenty of programs that claim to boost critical thinking skills, but the concepts of architecture truly have the power to deliver on its promise. By combining facets of math, science, art, history, and culture, children have the opportunity to learn outside the boundaries of a traditional classroom or unfocused playtime.
Guest contributor Justin Havre is a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates. Justin believes what we teach our children today is an investment in tomorrow.