Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to most of us) once stated, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
As an educator, I have always recognized the relevance of play to learning, and this concept is clearly evident at Darlington’s MakerChallenge camps. The MakerChallenge camps are two concurrent camp sessions providing engineering challenges and robot programming opportunities. Every skill level, ranging from beginner to super geek, can participate in either of the two sessions ranging from grade levels 3-9.
I direct the Maker Creations portion of the camp for campers in rising third through fifth grades, which involves creative activities related to physical science, mobile technology, mechanical engineering, and art. Owen Kinney, my husband and head of Darlington’s science department, directs the older students in Engineering Challenges focused mainly on building robots and programming with Lego EV3 and Arduino (C++).
I spent many years as a teacher in the elementary classroom, and I loved working with young children. As a teacher I always agreed with this thought from Ignacio Estrada, “If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
As I prepared for camp this summer, I reflected on what makes this camp a success, and I kept coming back to the idea of having an opportunity to teach children the way they want to learn! Time is another key factor. The campers are given time to dig deeper and learn more about the activities we are completing each day.
A camp favorite each year is the cooperative building of a LEGO creation. This summer, the theme was a Mars habitat, complete with industrial structures, water substations, and working solar panels that could power a train and residential structures. The older campers focused on the infrastructure of the habitat, and the younger campers built the residential areas. Each camper selected a LEGO minifigure, and partners worked together to build houses that needed a way to receive oxygen and water. Each camper also built a safe vehicle that could be used on Mars. Of course these structures had to be encased in plastic domes to protect them from the atmosphere. I was amazed by their imaginations and detailed work! They thought of everything a person may need to survive in a residence on Mars! They spent hours working on their creations, and they were so eager to share their inventions with peers, counselors, and eventually their parents.
I witnessed firsthand how LEGO building can become a time of imaginary bliss with many adventures. Campers were participating in dramatic play, and I imagined how this could be used in the classroom for storytelling, writing prompts, measuring activities, and in this case science as we learned about what would be needed to support life on Mars. The possibilities were endless, and at that moment the truth I know about play and learning as an educator hit me...students need to play!
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn,” O.Fred Donaldson.
We completed other activities throughout the week such as working with Sphero, Lego WeDo, Osmo, MakeyMakey, Lego Mindstorm, Stop Motion Studio, and Bloxels. To see camp pictures, check out the the Maker Challenge Camp gallery on our website.