The Process


Inside of a school age program there is plenty of action. The children move quickly and engage in a wide variety of activities. The space is noisy, as the children participate in a continuous discussion. Some conversation is about the social happenings of the day. Other conversations revolve around projects the children are working on. Looking even closer, the conversation circles around the process of trial and error, what works and what works better. This is the process of iteration.

This article is part three of a seriesinspired by a video from the Lego Foundation titled, “Characteristics of Playful Experiences that Lead to Deeper Learning.” In the previous articles, I shared about active engagement and social interaction, attributes I observe each day when co-learning with school age children. Another attribute I observe when the children are engaged in play is Iteration.

The Lego Foundation video defines the term iterative as, “Using mistakes to learn how to move forward, through a testing process. Discovering what works and why.”I like this definition but I found a similar word that adds more to the concept. Ideation, “The formulation of ideas or concepts, a process of creating new ideas.” 

In school age care, the children often engage in play with different materials. Some children are familiar with specific materials and have explored the potential of the material thoroughly. Other children are new to a material and are exploring the material for the first time. They are on a journey of discovering the possibilities a material has to offer. 

On a typical day, the children are engaged in many activities. Blocks are being used in one space while three children dance on the stage. A small group of children are building with clay and another group is playing an active game. The collection of activities the children engage in daily is amazing. What all the activities have in common is that some form of ideation is occurring as the children process their experiences.

Ideation is a tool children employ to gain understanding about their investigations. The children will work with a material or discuss a question over and over trying different ways to, as they would say, make it work. This is the process of gaining understanding and validation of their wonderings and hypothesis. I like to call afterschool programs the “School of Applied Knowledge.” This is because of the active participatory nature of ideation. The ideation process invites children to engage in action for the purpose of understanding. The children are not aware of the answer they are looking for. They are discovering new answers based on experimentation. 

This type of learning offers an opportunity for children to explore and look deeper into to what they are interested in. The process of ideation creates enthusiasm to explore new materials and ideas. As educators, we can invite this type of exploration and discovery. In my practice there are a few ways we encourage ideation to blossom.

A key factor for inspiring ideation is inviting children to choose their own work. When children choose their own work, they are inspired to take their investigation further and are more open to experimentation and innovation. When children are working on their own choices the concern if something is right or wrong dissipates and the children focus on the inquiry at hand. In ideation there is no perfect answer just possibilities of ideas breading new ideas. This is a learning journey that can last for a long time and often blossoms into new discoveries and paths of learning that were not expected when the original investigation began.

Another way we encourage ideation is by creating an environment rich in materials. Having interesting and relevant materials help children focus on their work and experimentation, as they seek to find answers or learn a new skill. 

In addition, there are a few environmental practices that encourage children to become engaged in their work. Space is important, so children can move freely, experiment, and spread out the materials and try ideas they have without hesitation. Time is a vital component in this process because often children in school age are moving through their day dictated by a clock. The children need time to explore and experiment at their own pace and rate. If the children only work in specific short blocks of time the opportunity to make these discoveries is compromised.

Through observation and experience these are some of the ideas and practices we employ to create an environment that promotes ideation. I am not saying ideation will not occur without these accommodations. This is a natural process for all of us, we are born to investigate, experiment, and refine. Our role as an educator and co-learner is to support the process by creating environments that enhance the growth of the learning community.