As some of you may know I am “Science Mom” at my young child’s co-op and am responsible for a scientific activity once-a-week. I try to do 3-5 week modules in order to reinforce whatever lesson I’m teaching the kiddies (read about my module on the senses here), however, I intersperse/fill-in here and there with the “invention table” which is always a favorite with the kids.

The inspiration for the invention table came from attending the CCPPNS conference. A co-op in Laguna Beach did a presentation on science for pre-schoolers and mentioned in an off-hand way that they kept a table full of Trash for Teaching materials and allowed the children to create inventions with these items. I took this concept and melded it with a concept I learn from another school about encouraging children to create a plan for their day and then facilitating that plan for them by asking questions such as “How do you want to see your plan through? What do you need to accomplish this? How can I help you?”

The way I “run” the invention table is:
1) Put out a round pizza tray full of random materials: twist tops, straws, bottles, popsicle sticks, yarn. Anything that isn’t dangerous basically.

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2) Ask the children “what do you want to invent today?”: for children who are new to the concept I’ll suggest that they think of a problem that they have and create an invention that helps them with this problem. If they are still stumped I’ll say “do you need help cleaning your room, walking your dog, making your breakfast?” and that usually gets the juices flowing. If they suggest making a cat, I tell them that an invention is something mechanical, so if they’d like to make a robot cat we can do that. If they say they want to make candy I tell them that we can make an invention that makes candy.

3) Ask the children to draw a design for their invention: One key point that the Laguna co-op emphasized was to use accurate scientific language. I never refer to their design as a drawing, only as a design or even a schematic. I give the children a single marker to emphasize the drawing of their invention rather then it turning into a coloring exercise. If they are stuck I’ll ask them questions such as “You want to build a fan? Let’s look at the fans overhead. What do you see?” This child is one of my most advanced inventors. He’s 4-1/2 and drew this submarine all by himself.

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4) Build the invention: The table never has more than 5-children at a time so that I can help them look for what items they’ll need. If they are building a robot I’ll suggest “For a robot you need a head, body and body parts. What items hear can you use for that?” I am also the keeper of the masking tape which is what we use to hold everything together. The Laguna school allows their children to become glue gun certified (how cute!) but I haven’t felt the need to try that out. The masking tape does the job, and also allows me to introduce the concept of measuring. Whenever I’m asked for tape I’ll ask the child “how long” and hold out the roll with the tape pulled out so they can indicate the appropriate length. Here is the built submarine. I suggested to him that submarines have round windows called portholes and we used a variety of caps for those. The screw as the propeller was his idea!

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5) Invention presentation: At circle time every child who made an invention presents it to the class. Usually it’s no more than 2-minutes and I hold up their schematic and then they explain how the physical invention works. It’s such a great way to introduce public-speaking for them, and they each have so much pride talking about their inventions! It’s adorable! We always send the inventions home at the end of the day so that the parents can appreciate them, and we encourage people to bring back the parts when their child is done playing with their invention (REUSE!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and am always looking for new ideas! Be a spark in the world!

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