K0/K1 Young STEAM Inventors Conducting Investigations Through the Study of Playgrounds


“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” ~ Diane Ackerman

The learning that happens in the Young STEAM Inventor classroom is situated in play. Play-based learning is deeply grounded in research. Students are challenged to ask deep questions and use the observations they make to come up with cool and innovative solutions. They are able to make sense of the world by engaging with it through experimentation. Play not only helps students learn content for subjects like science and art, but also helps them learn social-emotional skills, such as sharing, boundary-setting, and empathy. We are very focused on social-emotional learning this school year at the East Boston EEC.

A great place where these learnings happen is in the playground. Dr. Marina Bers, professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and lead researcher for the Tufts DevTech Research Group, gave a TEDx talk in 2014 about how computer programming for young students should be more like playgrouns. You can check out the video below:


K0/K1 Playgrounds

For the past few weeks, I have been facilitating a lesson with K0/K1 students on using the engineering design process to build playgrounds. Each group of students went though the following steps to construct their playgrounds:  AskImaginePlanCreate, and Improve. They also gave me insights into the concepts behind each of their playgrounds.

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This group of students in Ms. Candace’s K0/K1 classroom decided to build a playground castle. They learned a new vocabulary word – “moat,” which is the body of water that surrounds castles and forts – and were quick to use it by building one!   

Look at these Young STEAM Inventors at work: “We had to make changes to the moat because we didn’t build it wide enough for the boats to go through. The second time we figured out what to do like real engineers do.”


“We are a tall Look Out Tower in case the soldiers want to attack it.”


“We just thought of this fire station idea in our brain and we found all the pieces that we needed to build it. We made supports for the building, slides for the fireman to slide down in case they get called to a fire. We made gears to to lift things up and down. If there is a fire we have a water cannon to shoot the water at the fire.


“We have another gear to help the slide support the firemen going down the slide. Some of them weigh a lot. There is a wheelchair in case someone gets hurt in the fire. We have fire boats in case there is a fire on the water.”


“I’m building a building in a playground for an elephant. Elephants eat peanut butter and hay. They’re going to try and get out of the playground. The elephants are going to climb 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Oh no it fell so I have to rebuild it. Now I have 10. That’s all I want to say.”

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“This is a treehouse. A small family lives in it. There is one room and kitchen”

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“I’m building a playground so kids can play together. It has a gate, too.”


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