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Inspiring critical thinking and creativity in the next generation of architects!

What do you get when you put a variety of leftover tiles in front of preschoolers?
A feast for curious minds and creative hands!

One of my five year old students designed this house. Look at the clever use of a little, round tile to make a door knob on the front door! She also used cupcake paper liners, bought from RAFT, to decorate around the house. She used a pink bottle cap and was proud that she had a very unique, pink Sun!
One Sunday morning, in my art school, the Dune School in Newark, CA, the project theme was “Tiles”. As always, instead of telling them what to paint or construct, this was an open-ended art activity with no preset instructions or rules. I do this to encourage creativity and critical thinking in my students.

I kept a tray of tiles of all colors, shapes and sizes along with bottle caps, yarn, buttons, cupcake paper holders and other RAFT materials in front of 4 and 5 year olds. I said “Today, you get to be an Architect.” Immediately, one child asked “Who is an Architect?” I replied “An architect is one who makes things like houses and buildings and today, you get to be one!”

With the “oohs” and the “aahs” of growing excitement, I left the children to build their own dream houses! Collaboration is one of the key elements in my classes as the kids feed off from each other’s creativity and come up with art work that never fails to surprise me!

I could see the creative juices flowing as these children started talking to themselves and to each other about what they could build, while picking up their choice of tiles. One child started making a bridge, while another started stacking up the tiles to make a tower. One child picked up the tiniest round tile and while staring at it with pure amazement, she said “This will be my door knob for my house” and she started building a house (Reminded me of the Kohler advertisement where the lady asks the architect to build a house around the faucet!). Looking at her build a house, the other children soon followed suit. They all wanted to build their own house(s). What followed would have made Leonardo Da Vinci so proud!

After creating their unique constructions, the kids then glued them on a vinyl floor mat bought from RAFT, so they could make a composite picture and take it home for show and tell!

RAFT has been a great inspiration for me. I feel like a treasure hunter at RAFT. You never know what you will find. The raw materials like bottle caps, pieces of foam, fabric, wood and other things help me devise projects for students of all ages. RAFT educators have also given me great ideas that I share with my art students. The art projects are open-ended, which in turn help to bring out the creativity in my students.

Free-form art can help build the 21st century skills – collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication - in children as young as 3 years old! As there are no set rules or limits to their imagination,children need to do some critical thinking to be creative! As an instructor, I let them collaborate and communicate with each other, to get richer ideas.

By Pravina Hegde Patil
Pravina runs the Dune School in Newark, CA which is a creative arts program for both children and adults. Pravina is a RAFT member since May 2011.

Do you have an innovative idea that can help build 21st century skills in young learners? Share it with us – email us or comment below.


  1. Can't agree more with Pravina...a teacher who is an advocate of creativity & use of waste - the children have a wonderful time building an art work out of their imagination


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