Downtown Derby: Day 4

October 15, 2018
14 June 2018
Day 4: Little Inventors! 

How time flies – we have now come to the last day of Downtown Derby. As we always say, “last but not least” – true enough, the children showcased the abundance of their imagination and creativity. During circle time on Day 3, we asked the children what they would like to do the following day. Anthony suggested, “Let’s make a boat!”, which garnered the unanimous cheer of the others. So much to the children’s delight, children were invited to interact with 4 table legs, 2 large cloth murals, some shoe boxes and small cars to make a boat! Children approach the set-up with uncertainty but quickly found ways to invent. 

Hmm... what exactly are these 6 cheeky ones doing?

Brown (2003) suggests that children need flexibility in their environment to be proactive in the play they create by themselves. He argues that a flexible environment creates a flexible child who can adapt and be resourceful in other situations. Therefore, when an environment has flexible potential, it is able to facilitate a child’s potential for curiosity, problem solving and creative thinking. In the same way, Nicholson (1971) introduced a theory of ‘loose parts’, which linked the degree of inventiveness and creativity that children engage within their environment to the different resources provided within it.

We provided the materials, but what really put everything together was the kids' imagination and creativity!

We gave them the loose parts, and we allowed magic to happen naturally amongst the children as they collaborated to create the ultimate boat that consisted of “burning volcanoes”, doors and pretty flowers. The addition of water did come as a surprise. Anthony had quickly noticed that there were paper cups and a drinking water dispenser. Perhaps he had made a connection between water and boat, but his initiative prompted the rest of the children to use water that added a whole new dimension to the boat. Filling paper cups with water, pouring water into the shoe boxes, flushing down cars down the “toilet” … children voiced out their ideas uninhibitedly and worked together enthusiastically to make those ideas come to life. As we watched them make up stories and engage in play, we thought about how to support the children’s interest, and added new materials like Yakult bottles with holes to see how the children would interact with it.

Kyler was so satisfied with this huge boat!

Sherri filled a Yakult bottle up but noticed the water started leaking through the hole at the bottom. She cupped the bottom and placed it aside. Kyler filled the Yakult bottle and noticed that there's a hole. He took a paper cup and placed the Yakult bottle in the cup, then proceeded to fill it up with water. Sherri observing her peers then filled up the Yakult bottle again but this time, allowed the water to drip into Jennel's bottle. The children had to think about how they could transfer the water onto the main structure quickly.

A scene that others might have construed as chaotic, messy and out of control, it is precisely this kind of play that we do not want to hold back. What good is there when we allow such “chaos”? Cremin et al. (2006) consider that standing back from children’s engagement in play is central for learner ownership, which can ‘foster autonomy and the opportunity for children to follow their own interests and shape their learning so that it is individually tailored’. When children have the opportunity to follow their own investigations, supported by an environment that motivates their discoveries, children become more confident to explore.

The children even took initiative in cleaning up before moving on to our next activity!

“To be creative think like a child; you did it all the time once so now do it again.” -- Paul Sloane

We often find ourselves teaching children to listen to others, but through this workshop, I realised that adults ourselves do not give children enough of our own listening ear! Listening is key to providing an environment in which all children feel confident, safe and powerful, ensuring they have the time and space to express themselves in whatever form suits them. It is not so much a matter of eliciting children’s preformed ideas and opinions, it is much more a question of enabling them to explore the ways in which they perceive the world and communicate their ideas in a way that is meaningful to them (Tolfree and Woodhead 1999).

The children were previously prompted to place their cars at any sections of the set they built, and then to snap photos of it using iPads. We put together those photos they took into a storyboard, with which the children shared their story with their friends.


When children experiment with new thoughts and ideas, or are curious to find out new things or take risks, they are open to creative thinking and doing. Jeffrey and Craft (2006) see children’s engagement with creativity involving open adventures where they explore and develop knowledge and learning through trial and error.

Jennel flying the blocks over in a hot-air balloon!
I honestly thought that once we brought the plastic blocks out, the children would chuck the other materials (like cardboard) aside. I was really surprised to see them getting excited about combining everything to create something even bigger and better!

Children have the benefit of not knowing what is not possible, so to them, everything is feasible. Adults, on the other hand, are only too well versed in what they cannot achieve and what cannot be done as we are surrounded by rules, regulations, laws and compliance. I watched how resourceful the kids were over the course of these 4 days and was amazed. I loved how in-the-moment everything was and was so inspired not to be overly rigid. Perhaps not everything has to be thought through so thoroughly.

Finally, putting together all their work over the past few days, children had a MEGA RACE on the race set they have built together using all the various materials like plastic blocks, cardboard, planks, cloth, tissue boxes and shoe boxes! Kyler and Alena volunteered to be the villains, shooting down the race cars as they go along. The racers were all crowned champions at the end, just as how it was a three-way tie between McQueen, King and Chick in Cars. 

Speeding across the race tracks - from the track made of plastic blocks, onto the huge one made of planks, cardboard and more!

The past 4 days have been delightful, both for the kids and the adults. Out of limitations comes creativity – it’s about experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, trying and having fun all at the same time. Children are born with such depths in them, so consider this: instead of asking them to think outside the box, how about we get rid of the box entirely and let children tell you how they would like to think and play?

Written by: 

Daphne Ang

Rockstar Communicator - The Dimple Loft

Daphne is currently an undergraduate in Psychology at the National University of Singapore. She enjoys working with children and strongly believes in learning from experience, especially for children as they manoeuvre through the world around them. She is inspired by the energy and positivity children have towards novel objects and situations.