EC3's Pre-K Explorer Program Rooted in Inquiry

Ice cream, ravens, tractor monsters, and light towers! What will OES pre-kindergarten students make next with cardboard and tape?

Pretty much anything with their imagination and smarts, said EC3 Design Center Director Cameron Jack, while sitting on the floor of the MAKE space on Monday afternoon with 10 pre-kindergarten students scooting around on the floor with Pre-K Teacher Carole Burton. "We let the materials guide us," said Jack, "and the students make amazing creations every time!"

Jack said that in deciding upon the materials for the Pre-K Explorer Program, there were other elements that could have been added to the cardboard, but Burton and Pre-Kindergarten Teacher Kimie Fukuda wanted to limit the materials to allow for imaginative exploration to take precedence.

"We wanted to focus on cardboard and tape so that those materials were consistent and let the other elements emerge, guided the children's imagination," said Jack. "From a design perspective, it's interesting to think about a skill we're trying to develop: understanding how to deal with limitations and how to utilize the imagination to re-explore and dig deeper into the possibilities rather than having more and more.

"You can go deeper when you are dealing with constraints," said Jack. "Our future needs leaders with creative flexibility, creative imagination. The Explorers are also practicing collaboration, as well as building the skills that come with manipulating materials, such as fine motor development and construction techniques."

Burton noted the pre-kindergarten students' visit to EC3 is one of their favorite times of the week because they love to build. "Just thinking about the affordances of cardboard and what you can do with it and any other material you might use and whether it's a big or small piece or has a shape and then how you can make something with it. We want to let the students be inspired to make whatever they see and experiment with the materials they're given.

"The materials can be used without a lot of adult support," she said. "When we came to EC3 the first time, we spent a lot of time learning how to pull tape and break off a piece without pulling it and twisting it which was a challenge in and of itself. Any time you're giving a child a material and asking them what they can imagine is inquiry-based learning.

Conrad L. '35 who was using yellow masking tape to create his cardboard sculpture said his dad is creating an EC3 in their home so he has his own space to build there.

"Anything that gives children an opportunity to use their imagination to bring an item to reality is time well spent," said Burton. "Interacting with other faculty that aren't familiar with them in an academic setting is also valuable. [EC3 Operations Manager Jeffrey Sprague is also part of the building fun].

"Whatever we end up doing in EC3, the kids love it."

Photos courtesy of Cameron Jack.