Young children take great delight in the tactile qualities of things. Working with constructional materials is a necessary vehicle for the young child's inquisitive and investigative nature and will complement many areas of design technology. We can channel these early interests by providing an environment that is aesthetically and practically stimulating, and well resourced in all the necessary tools and materials needed to cut and shape, model and assemble.
When young children are involved in making activities they need to develop skills of folding, tearing, cutting and exploring materials. They will also need to:
* sort, separate and combine materials and components;
* learn that components can fit together in different ways, and that they need to be positioned, turned and fixed securely;
* place, arrange, fix, join, assemble using scissors, card cutters, glues, fasteners and string;
* make flaps and hinges.
Provide them with materials which encompass a range of qualities: lpaper, newspaper, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, plastic, wire, string;
* large cardboard boxes and packaging sheets;
* construction kits;
* natural materials: coloured shells and pebbles, leaves in autumn, sheep wool caught on barbed wire, dried sticks and feathers.
At key stage 2 children will develop the physical strength needed for using some more sophisticated tools to cut and shape. They will need to work with increasing dexterity and accuracy when measuring and marking out, scoring card and folding, cutting out without tearing.
They will discover that some plastics split and crack; polythene can be cut cleanly with heavy-duty scissors; using a hole-punch away from the edge of a piece of card will allow a joint that won't tear; scissors can be used to score thick card, yet only light pressure with a pencil is needed to score thin card.
Children will benefit from looking at real artefacts. They can study Picasso's sculptural card cut-outs and junk models, the environmental art of Andy Goldsworthy, among whose works are sculptures made out of boulders, ice and living trees in the landscape, as well as three-dimensional work by other artists who use reclaimed materials. A local castle, church towers, grand buildings with turrets, battlements or towers, and the story of Rapunzel are excellent starting points for focusing on a range of skills.
When making on a large scale take advantage of wide open spaces around the school to expand ideas and give a sense of space and exploration.
Back in school after an explorers' day at The National Trust Gardens of Stourhead in Wiltshire, the children of St John's First School, Tisbury in Dorset, designed their own maps on paper. Outside they made models of important features using wooden blocks, tiles and stone to represent bridges and the temples of Apollo and Flora; construction pieces such as Lasy, Mobilo and Sticklebricks represented smaller structures, forests and picnic sites; skipping ropes delineated the periphery of the lake and numbered plastic tiles completed the layout as a stepping stones number game.
Having read the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, a group of children, who had been making mazes in the morning, organised a large maze-making working party, collecting and arranging cut grass on the school field.
One class looked at the structure and strength of bridges. Group assignments concentrated on aspects of strength and stability and examined the weight a bridge can hold. As they were also investigating materials each group was assigned one type of bridge and chose different materials. They used wooden blocks, plastic sheets, cardboard and newspaper. Beam bridges were constructed very simply and allowed each group time to concentrate their efforts on bases, beams, pillars and support; strength, rigidity and stability. Prediction skills were encouraged, such as which materials will result in the strongest structure and why?
There are many ways the child can record in two dimensions the three-dimensional model they have made. Information can be presented in written and graphical form using simple sequential picture stories, step-by-step instructions and written instructions for another child to follow.
Making with a good range of materials ensures a sound basis for understanding the relationship between form and function. Children develop their manipulative and spatial skills and soon they become makers. In so doing they develope an aesthetic eye for the rhythm and beauty of things around them.
Trevor Aldous is the author of 'Becoming Makers: a guide to construction work in early years' and teaches at St John's First School, Dorset. West Publications, County Hall, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BAl4 8JB. Tel: 01225 713844. pound;9.50 plus pamp;p