Tuesday 18 November 2014

Working with the Creative Genius of Children

We're delighted that this article has been published by Innovate My School today:

Children learn very quickly.  Their learning patterns are led by their conceptual thoughts at first and then by experience as they get older.  When children are faced with new challenges, their thinking methods are not confined to established preconceptions of how things should look or work.  Instead they are more fluid, often very confident and usually unique.

This series of Monster drawings by Jack (age 3) were presented with a very rational and clear description of what each of the monsters did,  identifying all their features, and reasoning behind even differences in colour.

As kids get older, conventions take over and their creativity becomes more tailored to established preconceptions.  Their concepts are represented in a more common artistic language which we all can understand.  Once this development takes place, it is very difficult to return to the simple naivety which we once had.

This picture by Bobby (age 9) does not need much explaining - it is easy to read.  He is also experimenting with perspective.

We have been running workshops called Architecturefor Kids At Furzedown Primary School, London SW17.  Its not about the things which we all take for granted in our built environment, such as walls, windows, doors, floors and roofs.  Instead, it’s looks at structure, space, colour, materials and is very playful.  Because architectural design is not usually a subject taught before college, we have had the advantage of working with the hidden creativity of enthusiastic Year 5 children (10 year olds)  on this very fresh subject.  The series of workshops took place over a summer term and investigated structure, architectural drawing, design, model making / rapid prototyping, and making full-scale installations; A sequence of stages stretching from concept to realisation of a small architectural project.

Extracts from the introduction to design:  Each workshop began with an introduction to the subject area, and an explanation of what we would be trying to achieve in the lesson.  This is a snap-shot looking at how materials, colours, textures, form and structure might be combined.
We had a set palate of materials and resources with which to create.  Mostly this was free or donated and almost all of it was recyclable.  It included paper, string, role, cardboard tubes, including large ones from carpet shops, old estate agents boards, sheet card and packing card, nuts and bolts and cable ties.

Because the rules of application were not prescribed, children were able to experiment, which led to come involved narratives, and a lot of creative investment.  The materials we had to work with could be used for small scale models (card, cardboard tubes and scooby-string etc.) and then transferred up to full size installations (with carpet tube rolls, estate agents boards and robe etc.)

So with a road map to develop ideas but no set rule book to prescribe how creativity is managed, here are a number of projects which the children engages with and the ideas they came up with:

Labib looked at triangular forms and how flat surfaces can be turned in to three dimensional articulated surfaces, to create an exo-skeleton body suit.

We took card and investigated ways in which it could be connected, to make shelters, enclosures and dens.  These studies were then scaled up with estate agents boards.  Putting slots on the diagonals eliminated any reference to the vertical and horizontal axis.  To make them stand up, triangular structures had to be found at unfamiliar angles.  The variety and combinations of boards which the children discovered were much greater than I would have imagined, approaching it with a supposed experience and rationality.  
Structural investigations led to design drawings then study models and finally architectural installations by our budding young Architects.  Top centre was a cool beach hut by Freddy.  Top right became the Random Funky Festival Pavilion by Katie, which was developed in to a full scale structure.  The structural principles of the canopy were developed from our structural workshops looking at triangulated frames vs panels.  Katie made the connection of assembling panels in a triangular arrangement to make a lightweight, structural plane.  This was tested first with the model before progressing to the final installation and it worked really well. 

Thinking like a child, with naivety and pure experimentation is a very difficult thing to achieve, once our thoughts are subject to our experience and preconceptions of how the world should be.  It has been a real joy for me to witness how the children have worked and developed their paths to design and create their projects.  Children working from enthusiasm, combined with an inquisitive nature is a very powerful recipe for creativity.  Despite 20 years + in practice as an architect, this has to be one of the most fun experiences I have had and one that I have learnt the most from.   I hope the children got a lot out of it too (I’m sure they did) and I look forward to the opportunity of working with the next Year 5 in May 2015.

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