Although it might be hard to remember, kindergarten was a good time. We had afternoon naps, ate graham crackers, drew pictures of our pets and sat cross-legged in big circles with our classmates. And that was all before lunch! Sadly, we left that blessed in-between stage after preschool but before big-kid school long ago.
But to Mitchel Resnick, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, kindergarten should — and can — last a lifetime. As the director of Lifelong Kindergarten, a learning research laboratory for children, Resnick has spent a career developing top-of-the-line toys that combine traditional craft activities — like building LEGO structures and making art out of felt and pipe cleaners — with the latest technologies, so that his subjects can understand ordinarily complex concepts while having plenty of fun.
What he's found is something quite simple: When kids create, they learn. "When kindergartners build a castle out of blocks, they learn what makes a structure stand up or fall down, and when they make a picture with finger paints, they learn how colors mix together," he says. "I've been inspired by the way children learn in kindergarten, and I think that should be a model for the way people learn throughout their whole lives."
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. As one progresses through the school system, education becomes more about delivering information from one person (the teacher) to another (the student) instead of providing opportunities for exploration and experimentation. "It's just not possible to use what you learn in the classroom for the rest of your life," Resnick says, citing that many of today's young employees had top grades in school but are unable to take on new challenges. "Things change so quickly, and it's increasingly necessary that people learn continually and think creatively because they're always going to be coming up to unexpected situations and must deal with them."
Kids today are surrounded by these surprising scenarios: When they step on a mat as they walk into the supermarket, the door opens automatically. As soon as the sun goes down, the street lamps in their neighborhood turn on. "For most kids, that's just magic," Resnick says. "They have no idea how it works. We want to help kids understand the world around them."