Experiments in the “Animal Makerspace”
There’s no denying that play is of vital importance in a child’s life. It becomes all the more valuable when it is structured to provide children with meaningful opportunities that pique their curiosity, spark connections and encourage them to explore their imagination and creativity.
Keeping this in mind, I recently experimented with an animal themed maker space in my Play Group class. As we explored the unit on ‘Animal Kingdom’, I thought of creating a corner with a plethora of open-ended materials related to the unit such as toy animals of various types, natural materials like grass, twigs, leaves, and pebbles; and classroom staples like clay, ice- cream sticks, crayons, and paper. I completed the nook by setting up the light table and adding some animal-themed books. To spark curiosity and excitement in my little learners, I decided that the corner would only be available to them thrice a week.
When planning this engagement, I had assumed that the children would spontaneously engage and relate with the space from the get go, but that didn’t go as expected. After introducing the new nook during circle time, I observed children take it all in with looks of excitement mixed with bafflement. They stood around, absorbing the visual elements but as if confused about what they should do first. I suppose this is because children become accustomed to the direction they are given as part of the lesson plans we implement to structure most of their learning. The makerspace was different in that they had complete freedom and time to explore, imagine, and give life to their ideas and stories about animals. I encouraged them to start exploring however they wanted but there was still some hesitation as they each picked up and put back down various materials and manipulatives. The animal makerspace was a new kind of provocation for them and they took their time to really step into it.
As we progressed to the second and third sessions in the animal makerspace, the children began to use materials such as ice-cream sticks, pebbles, clay, dry grass, and blocks to make houses for animals. It was such a delight to watch them take on the role of caretakers and pet parents, pretending to feed, bathe and soothe the toy figures.
One child said, “I am giving mummum to the horse,” indicating that she was feeding it with pebbles.
““Nai nai to the Horse’” said another, pretending to bathe it.
“’Pani fish’” uttered a little boy, pointing to the toy fish and attempting to communicate that it lives in water.
‘Lion jungle!” a classmate replied.
‘I made a chair for the Tiger!”
“I am making a bridge for the Elephants!”
The children excitedly declared their projects!
The animal makerspace was an interesting experiment with language and math integration. In their playful explorations, children sorted animals according to their sizes and habitats. They named different animals and spoke about them with the rudimentary vocabulary they have acquired. They also counted materials and used them to make varied shapes and patterns!
To make it extra special, I gathered the kids and read them stories including ‘Monkey Puzzle’, ‘Follow that Tiger’, ‘Duckie Duck’, ‘’Dear Zoo’, and ‘Brown Bear Brown Bear’ to name a few. Together, we dissected each story, talked about the different characters, and predicted what would happen next. It was a holistic way of working on thinking and communication skills. Children especially enjoyed enacting the animal characters from their favourite stories.
Experiments with teaching and learning in this way offer many things for an educator to reflect upon. In retrospect, I feel that maybe I initially overwhelmed the children with too many materials and not enough direct instruction about the possibilities that existed. I learned once again the value of giving children ample time to get comfortable in a new space and freely explore. At every step, we really need to be patient and give young learners a chance to go out there and do what feels right to them. It is integral to note that the process and journey of learning and exploring is so much more significant than the end result – no matter what the outcome of an engagement is, observing the process shows how children pick up new words, initiate conversations and use familiar materials in inventive ways. The animal makerspace allowed my budding young learners to demonstrate their creativity and caring nature. They developed friendships with each other through looking after the space and the toy animals. They took turns, shared materials, and even demonstrated a sense of belonging through making efforts to keep the space tidy.
Through the animal makerspace, I set out to further individualise learning for every child. I wanted to step out of my own choices, preferences, and ideas to truly see what the children’s preferences would be. Their enthusiasm and engagement renewed my commitment to be a facilitator who can gently guide children on their learning journeys through patience and relevant questions that can lead them to discover the answers.
“Schools are already filled with creativity. The challenge is effectively cultivating it and harnessing it to its fullest.” –Laura Fleming