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Supporting Children’s Identities as Designers and Makers Through Inquiry

Supporting children’s identities as DESIGNERS and MAKERS through inquiry

Transdisciplinary Theme

How We Organize Ourselves

An inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.

Central Idea: Products can be created and developed by following a process.

Lines of Inquiry

Form: Products are derived from a variety of sources.

Causation: Products go through a process of creation.

Responsibility: Products can be used, reused and repurposed responsibly.

A Trip to a Design Museum as an Initial Provocation

A unique exhibit, ‘The Design Process’ at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, Switzerland, was a perfect initial provocation for this inquiry. The exhibit focused on ways designers engage in the design process through the creation of a range of products. We ventured into the city with the intention of engaging with the exhibit in open ended ways. As a team, we chose to initially look at the children’s interactions, reactions and engagements while supporting the development of individual and collective ideas about the working process of the featured renowned designers. The children explored the creativity of clothing and textile designers, furniture makers and more. Through these encounters, children shared their own wonderings, connected with prior experiences and gained new knowledge to support our inquiry into ways ‘Products can be created and developed by following a process.’

Museum für Gestaltung, Zurich, Switzerland

The children reflected and shared their thinking about their observations; 

“He didn’t need a pencil to make the line and he just made wax letters with stone letters inside then with strong roller he printed the letter on. And then he need to put the pictures on, and I’m sure he put a little bit of ink on it.” – Billy (5)

“We were listening to the little TVs.  One of the things I really liked was how to make clothes. A lady started with different and broken clothes and she made new clothes.” – Victoria (5)

“… He had a square then he puts some letters in it then he put some water in it, then it disappeared and then it dried and it dried pretty quickly but we don’t know how. Then he used something to take it up, and it looked hard.  He took some hard thing to the thing he made.  First he made some paper and then he drawed really good, now if when he wanted to make a square, it was so perfect, it was a black line here he wouldn’t touch it.”  – Carl (5)

The museum offered a workshop space inviting visitors to take inspiration from the exhibit then design and create using wire and tools provided. Maxi (5) shared that he “worked on a chair” because he “saw a lot of model chairs.” Leila (6) chose to create a little person on a swing. She shared that she had to work hard to get it “just right.”

“I was listening to the video. It was kind of something. It was in English and German. The boy said that he was going to experiment and I listened that he was going to do something and I didn’t know how to and then he made games.” – Anishka (5)

The children felt inspired by the designers and also expressed a respect for the beautiful designs and products. They responded to the aesthetically engaging museum space with awe, joy and curiosity. Many children were especially drawn to the designers’ “stories” which were shared along with the different product displays. Some chose to listen and watch together with a friend on the small screens. They made connections and were captivated by the design processes and the designers themselves.

“Sophia said there was a little bit in Polish. We watched it two times so we could be really sure what it was.” – Carl (5)

Re-proposing Environments

Creating Spaces that take the Children’s Wonderings Further

Building on the children’s impressions, reflections and wonderings from the museum, we discussed together which materials they might like to explore in the classroom. We wanted to build on the children’s interests by actively supporting their own identities as designers and makers. We proposed transforming our learning space into a design studio with opportunities to engage with clothing design, monoprinting and wire designs.

As we planned the materials and proposals, we aimed to design and cultivate spaces that provided: 

  • opportunities for independent and collaborative explorations;
  • resources and materials to support creative expression and children’s developing understanding;
  • inspiration and support for agentic learning;
  • co-construction of meaning and collaboration in a social context.

Here’s a glimpse into our day during this inquiry; 

Wire Designs

Following the visit to the museum, a wire workshop was created by the teachers as a provocation to invite the children to revisit the museum experience. Working with wire is a familiar material for many of the children in the Early Years Centre having explored it previously as a means of sharing thinking and understanding. Connecting to the children’s prior knowledge of using wire as a symbolic language to represent ideas and understandings, we were able to support moving thinking forward around the process of making their product, as opposed to supporting using wire to create a product.  Using a storyboard format, the children drew, labelled and annotated the process they had used to create their product. This mode of recording the process provided us with a way of initially assessing understanding at the start of the inquiry, and to plan for further learning.

Posters – ‘Plakat’ –  Monoprinting

One area of particular interest for the children at the museum was the collection of posters (Plakat). Many were intrigued by a video where a designer went through a lengthy and creative process for the making of large-scale posters. We are fortunate to have an expert in monoprinting who agreed to spend time sharing about this process. The children excitedly welcomed our primary art teacher and artist as she demonstrated a variety of approaches to monoprinting.


This studio space was created in the classroom for the children as a provocation to engage and extend their skills and knowledge about this unique technique. Active engagement in this process supported the children with reflecting on the many layers of work and thinking in the creation of posters as products. They experimented with design and color combinations and discovered that production is a multi-step process. The children quickly gained impressive expertise and were excited to share their knowledge with another class.

“What you need first is supplies like paint, plastic sheets, and rollers. You need to make a plan too.” – Maxi (5)


Through our observations we identified that the process of creating a monoprint was highly engaging for the children and they quickly produced large volumes of diverse designs. We supported the desire of the children to have creative freedom to design in abundance and were also mindful of the ecological responsibility to use materials responsibly. We wondered together how we might use, reuse and repurpose their art resulting in a proposal where we offered the children an opportunity to create stationery cards and bags. We researched different bag designs by watching videos looking at images in books and online before settling on a product. Creating the bags involved some careful measuring and precise folding, and sharing how to do this with others. The result was a collection of stunning, creative and useful bags.

Clothing/Textile Design

The children were interested in the oversized clothes and colorful textiles in the museum and brought back many wonderings and questions about the sewing and creation of recycled clothing. We proposed creating a studio space as a clothing design studio where the children were invited to use fabric, ribbon, yarn, and pegs to design their own styles created on a mannequin. An expert in our school community, experienced with up-cycled sewing projects, joined us to share her knowledge and skills.

Intentionality and focused engagement were high in this design space. Some children chose to use tape measures to establish their height and length to make wedding dresses, skirts and more. Others were inspired by the winter weather to make hats, with pom poms.  Throughout these explorations, there was a high level of collaborative dialogue and negotiating about plans, designs and approaches.

I was with Anishka making the plan that we had.  We had to measure how long we wanted our skirt.  We measured Stella.”Cèline (5)

“I want to make a hat I can wear outside.” – Aaditya (5)

All of these encounters have actively supported the investigation of the process involved in the creation of products. As the children engaged with the proposals, they have used language, mathematical thinking and social skills as well as built identities as creators, makers and designers themselves. Working to develop products of their own imagining, the children have discovered that production is a multi- step process.

In Dialogue with the Children as Designers

Metacognition: Technology as a Tool for Reflection

As the children became increasingly expert at creating so many products, opportunities were offered to think about their learning process and share their knowledge. The children had developed solid understandings that there are many layers of work in the creation of products. Building on their intrigue with the designers’ stories they had listened to at the museum, we invited the children to become documentary filmmakers for one another. Interested groups of children were given iPads with the intention of filming and interviewing their peers, the designers, engineers, artists and tailors of our class.

” I like to video my friends working because I can remember how to make what they make after.” – Lali (5)

The Design Studio as a System

Throughout these explorations, the children began to understand that the ‘classroom as a Design Studio’ was a place where ideas, creativity, technique and skills can be used to make beautiful, interesting and useful products. Social skills and collaboration were highly valued and the children took responsibility for their ideas and for the shared creative spaces. Due to the strong sense of agency the children had for their work they were intrinsically motivated to record, through detailed writing, drawing and labelling,  the process of the planning that went into the creation of their product. As their individual confidence and expertise in the different design areas became increasingly evident to them, we noticed that their collaborations became increasingly heightened, working together harmoniously, taking different parts of the process working towards creating one product.

They felt a great deal of pride in their creations and recognized that their work could be shared with others. Anishka (5) shared, “Me and Carl had an idea. My idea is if we make a bag we paint it whichever colour we want and give it to the museum and write that we are going to the museum again. If write and give it to her and she says we could put into the museum so other people will see it too. When we are finished for the whole museum we can teach the others how they can do it and we can show them too.”

Anishka (5) elaborated on the idea she and Carl had:

“We can make a different museum, monoprinting, construction area. Actually, also I have another idea that the bag makers should pretty many bags and I thought about when they are going back and when they are going back they could have the monoprinting. We are just , like just one of them needs to have a sign where they say. The one that can do the bags, can do the bags and  if they don’t know they can come over and that’s the thing I thought about and show people with arrows, around the whole school.”

The children’s idea that they should create their own museum in order to share their products affirms their strong identities as designers. As a learning community, the children have created interconnected systems full of makers with a range of products and knowledge about process which they are eager to share with others. The children are currently in the process of planning their own Kindergarten Design Museum.

“Come to our CREATIVE MUSEUM. Everything you don’t know you can learn here!” – Maxi (5)

Please check back for Part Two

This project has been a collaborative exploration: The Kindergarten children of the Inter-Community School of Zurich, Alexandra Gentile, Kindergarten Teacher, Victoria Newman, Early Years Coordinator, Andrea Mills, Early Years Atelierista, Joanna McGarva-Brown, EYC Teaching Assistant, Claire Febrey, PYP Coordinator

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