When children are given the time and space to tinker with their own ideas and build on their passions I think they will have the opportunity to develop what Sir Ken Robinson recommends are the skills necessary for 21st Century learning. Skills for the 21st Century according to Sir Ken Robinson are Creativity, Compassion, Composure and Collaboration.
During several workshops on Tinkering that I have facilitated recently there have been opportunities for teachers to engage with paper, boxes, string, paper clips, wire, feathers and other loose parts. The teachers are given time to work together to create. At the end of the creating process we talk about what learning has happened. For many it has been a collaborative process as they discuss together their ideas. For every group there has been an aspect of problem solving and of course creativity. As we discuss what has happened for them as teachers it is easy to see how an opportunity to tinker with open-ended resources (loose parts) can also lead children into developing compassion and composure.
During the workshop we also talk about the time and space that children need to become involved in the Tinkering process - uninterrupted time to play with ideas. While the teachers are still incredibly engaged in working on their creation I tend to announce that they have to stop what they are doing as we need to continue with the rest of my planned workshop. Actually I may stop their creative flow with an announcement of, "You are going to have to stop what you are doing in a couple of minutes because it is now mat time." With one group of teachers who really wanted to finish their creation we had to negotiate having extra time as they really were not ready for mat time.
Complex, creative and meaningful learning takes time and possibly by suggesting that my plan was more important than teachers creations it opens up a conversation about whose knowledge is valued in our ECE settings.
I thoroughly enjoy the discussions that we have at workshops as we all mull over how we can support children's learning by having a view of them as capable or how we can stifle learning by viewing ourselves as the knowers.
This is a teacher's written feedback after a workshop when asked what worked well for her, "Making a piece of work to remind me just how fun it is to play", sorry there was no name on the feedback form to give credit for this fabulous thought.
Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children....... http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182