Thinking Outside the Box in Discovery Lab

by Linda Patterson

Early Childhood Discovery Lab Teacher Linda Patterson

If you are like me you, probably remember a Christmas or a birthday when you chose what you thought was the BEST gift ever for your child. Upon opening it, the special gift was pushed to the side. It was the box and the wrapping that became the gift!

Before you knew it, the box was a racecar, spaceship, ramp, tunnel or a habitat for your child’s beloved animals. Believe it or not this is one example of how people are learning in the 21st century.

By introducing STEAM beginning in Early Childhood, we are preparing children for a life-long, comfortable relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

Children are naturally curious. They learn through their senses, they love to create and explore, and ultimately to integrate new and prior knowledge to make their own discoveries.

The current trend of “Making and Tinkering” is a powerful and fun way for children to learn “by doing.” A famous quote by Thomas Edison states: “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

In the book “Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom,” the authors Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager describe children “learning learning” through engagement, design and building. If we provide the space, tools, materials and problem-solving skills, the children will do the rest. They naturally will plan, design, collaborate, share, experiment, create, invent, explore, construct, observe, question, improve and find solutions for their ideas.

Now back to “The Box”

At CMDS, we are blessed to have Science Lab, Technology, Engineering Lab, Art, Math Lab and Discovery Lab all working alongside classroom teachers. We collectively encourage our children to be 21st century thinkers. Not only to think outside of the box, but to create the box, explore it, play in it and improve it!

The following skills are just a few that CMDS is strengthening through the activities and experiments our young students complete in Discovery Lab: Problem Solving, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Perseverance, Cause and Effect, Vocabulary, Transfer of Learning, Applied Knowledge and Scientific Method.

How do I know they are getting it? The quotes below are some of the things I recently have heard during Discovery Lab. You can see how they’re learning, and hear their knowledge by listening to them talk to me and to each other.

  • “That doesn’t fit.”
  • While working on ramps: “We need something to make it stop.”
  • While working on balance structures: “I am trying to make it steady.”
  • “Look how tall it is!”
  • “It’s working. Yay, we did it!”
  • “Let’s build it! Who wants to be my partner?”
  • “I need a little help here.”
  • “You turn this gear to make it go.”
  • “I balanced it. They are the exact same!”
  • “When the gas gets here, it starts to spin.”
  • While studying lights and mirrors: “Metal reflects too!”
  • “Our power went out, and there was no light.”
  • “I shined the flashlight through the prism, on the disc, and made a rainbow.”
  • “I have an amazing plan!”

We also hope to foster creativity, imagination, building, peer encouragement and self-discovery.

  • “I made a bridge that goes over a lake in the woods. It is a ‘construction bot.’ It has fast blades and is controlled by a remote control.”
  • “I had a plan in my head!”
  • “I used these (suction cups) to get it to stand up.”
  • “If I throw it harder, it bounces back to me.”
  • “We built a design by stacking colors to make a pyramid.”
  • “I made a balance beam.”
  • “We gave it a push to make it go faster.”
  • “Did you invent that? Wow!”
  • “I know what angle is. It makes things go faster. Let’s see if yours can go faster!”
  • “I will change that angle because it went too fast and fell off the track.”
  • “I am designing an amusement park ride that wiggles so the people can have fun!”
READ MORE: CMDS Discovery Lab: ‘A Room They’ll Love to Come To’

Christ Methodist Day School first opened its doors in 1958 to 75 kindergarten students. Since then, CMDS has stayed true to its Christian elementary school roots while continuing to thrive as one of the best private schools in Memphis. We encourage you to come see why we are the primary choice for so many Memphis families.


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