4 things I learned from 4-year-olds

We’ve been busy hosting awesome Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thons in cities across the country. Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thons are super fun, hands-on events where kids, ages 4 to 7, test their mettle in STEM through challenges based on characters and story lines from the Paige & Paxton children’s book series.

Our most recent event was held on July 25, 2015, with 80 kids and their parents in the heart of the Flatiron neighborhood in New York City. These little learners learned a lot about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but we ended up learning a thing or two from them as well.

As we prep for our Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon in Chicago, here are a few reflections that I wanted to share with you about our New York City event.

#1: A dinosaur can be named Princess Sophia

Using the story Paige & Paxton Discover A Piece of the Past as background for the Paleontology module, kids learned that paleontology is the science of how we find out about things in the past.

Once the dinosaur bone excavation began at the Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon, the kids jumped right in. With Grandpapa Puzzle and other Puzzleland paleontologists, they uncovered dinosaur bones and created a model of dinosaurs just like real paleontologists.

Kids used their observations about the physical features of the dinosaur to tell imaginative stories about how their dinosaur might have lived a long time ago and gave their dinosaurs names like Tyranus, George, Penelope and even Princess Sophia.

#2: Teamwork makes the dream work

In “Paxton Finds His Perfect Fit,” the kids discovered that technology is much more than smartphones, laptops, and computers. They learned that technology is creating new things and new ways of doing things that make our lives easier.

Following the lead of Paxton and his Puzzleland Pals, the kids accepted the challenge of finding a way to make some of the work involved in the Puzzleland Elementary Bake Sale easier.

The answer: simple machines.

They built and operated simple machines — pulleys to lift ingredients, wheels and axles to transport goods, gears to mix the batter, and so on. The kids not only walked a way with a deeper foundational understanding of technology and its applications, but also used teamwork, communication, and problem solving skills to successfully build and operate simple machines.

#3: Kids have mastered the art of the workaround

Even though you are not supposed to have favorites, many of our Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon team members loved working with the kids on the Structural Engineering Module. This Engineering module centers around “Penelope Finds Her Perfect Fit,” where Paige and Paxton help their friend, Penelope, discover her passion for engineering. One of Penelope’s favorite things to do is to construct marshmallow towers. It’s not only fun but also reminds Penelope why she loves engineering: there’s more than one way to solve a problem.

At the Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon, the kids approached the challenge of building the tallest freestanding tower in a number of creative ways. One team, however, took the challenge to “new heights,” constructing a horizontal structure that looked a lot more like railroad tracks than a tower.

When reminded of the challenge: build the tallest freestanding marshmallow tower, they defended their approach like true engineers: “We decided to do it this way.” Translation for all of you non-engineers: there’s more than one way to solve a problem.

#4: STEM is a family affair

Parents came for a unique educational opportunity for their kids and left with so much more. What was most surprising about our Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon is that it truly served as a bonding experience for parents to learn and grow alongside their little learners. We had candid conversations about how to battle math anxiety (a documented phobia that is experienced by a high percentage of Americans, and particularly early educators), how to encourage math learning at home and how to foster an engineering mindset at an early age. Parents left with the enthusiasm, confidence and lots of tools to begin to foster the next generation of creative problem solvers at home.

Want to bring a Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon to your community?

Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon are unique experiences that you can bring to your community. We’ve been to New York City, Washington, DC, and next Chicago. Tell us where we should go next!

Written by
Kelley O. Williams
Director, Paige & Paxton
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Originally published at www.paigeandpaxton.com.