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Restless and continuing inquiry, invention and re-invention

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other”


Paulo Freire



We are always amazed to see how inventive children can be. Even though we know it, yet they keep surprising us as magicians pulling rabbits out of their hats.

However, although kids are usually perceived as “naturally” creative and more imaginative than adults, “how they develop has much to do with the environment in which they are raised and the opportunities they are given”, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us on Mitchel Resnick’s book Lifelong Kindergarten foreword (https://www.media.mit.edu/publications/lifelong-kindergarten-cultivating-creativity-through-projects-passion-peers-and-play/). He adds: “Creativity is (…) putting your imagination to work. (…) [It] is a practical as well as a conceptual process: how and what we create has much to do with the tools and materials we have available, and what we make of and with them” (p.ix).

We are constantly researching and looking for different materials and tools to bring to our workshops and activities. And we have recently been testing some to understand their potentialities as well as to explore how we can use them to create our own sets. It has been really inspiring to see the development of an increasing great variety of toys for children that not only allow them to open up or unleash their imagination, but also encourage them to be active and continuous “re-creators”.

Construction-bricks types, magnetic toys, all these multiple assembly games, STEM building blocks and kits are some examples of what we have been exploring that we can point out here. But there are many others out there too – physical and/or digital.

What we find particularly enriching about these toys is that in addition to providing infinite possibilities of experimenting with their parts and/or tools, they instigate kids – or at least give them the opportunity – to put in motion an interdependent process of iteration and tinkering while facing some setting and/or arrangement challenges.

Not differently form other toys, their unit parts are designed so that they indicate to the child how she can handle it; and alike some others too, as there is not only a single way of doing it, they open up possibilities for diverse combinations, arrangements, layouts and so on. Nevertheless, in addition to all this, they bring something else to the experience: at the same time they make it possible for the child to build and “unbuild” her creations, they require some understanding of their parts’ mechanisms, weak and strong spots, capability, and adeptness. Thus, in order to widen the possibilities of what she can make and play with, she has to face the playful challenge of figuring out how she can explore and take advantage of each unit part’s features. So that not only she can build and “unbuild”, but also add, adjust, adapt and modify her pieces as she plays with them. Which takes her to an endless process of experimenting, testing, failing, re-testing, discovering, making choices, creating and re-creating. And that’s when we find ourselves again astonished by what children can come up with when they are playing.

Nonetheless, we cannot assume that every child will “naturally” take this approach to play – either because of personality, life experience and circumstances, or any other reasons. Therefore, we have to keep in mind that it’s our role as educators to provide the opportunities as well as to be attentive to different children’s needs in order to be able to encourage them to do so.

Recalling Mitchel Resnick’s book again, “not all types of play are created equal”(p.130) and we don’t believe they have to be. “Some types of play lead to creative learning experiences, others don’t” (p.130). And there is nothing wrong with that. But if the goal is to foster creative thinking, then we need to take into consideration at least two aspects when developing our learning activities and programmes: a) what types of play (and the materials and tools we can provide to promote them) are most likely to help children develop as creative thinkers; and b) how can we best encourage and support those types of play (p.131). It is truly wondrous seeing a child fully engaged in a continuous iterative process of inquiry, invention and re-invention.

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