JOYful Learning: Part 2

The JOY of the season, the JOY of learning! This is Part 2 of JOYful Learning, a series intended to bring the joy back to learning for your students, as well as in your teaching. If you missed Part 1, you can read about it here.
Joy 3: Let Students Create Things
Using our hands and minds to create something new gives us a sense of ownership and joy in the process of creating. Haven't you had the student who always seems to be picking up paper clips that have dropped on the floor? And the next thing I know, he or she has invented an object or gadget! My daughter, Elizabeth is the perfect example of a non-traditional student, whose mind is ALWAYS thinking of new ways to do things! When she was little, it was not unusual to find scissors, string, and tape missing from my desk drawer. She would jimmy-rig our backyard play structure with pulleys and baskets, and other inventions. We had to be careful walking through the house, in case we tripped or ran into unusual strings or objects. We need to allow time for kids to create things!

Maybe instead of always requiring written essays or reports, why not allow students to demonstrate their understanding with alternate projects? While still teaching research and summary skills, my students write a report on early explorers to California in the format of a front-page of a newspaper. They get so clever with their headlines and many LOVE to convey information about their explorer in the form of interviews, advice columns, comic strips, movie reviews! Even my kids who often struggle academically, bound into class, excited to share facts about "my guy"! (So funny when I first heard this! "Your guy? What guy?" "My explorer!" Of course! They felt such a connection with their explorer and learned so much about him!)
Whenever my students are writing (publishing) in the form of a book, they take more care in their writing. I try to add in art whenever possible, too! Knowing they have an audience who will read their thoughts is important to ownership.

Technology is a perfect venue for creating and gives students with an aptitude for visual-spatial skills a chance to shine! Rather than building a $100 mission kit from Michael's Craft store, my kids each designed and built a new mission virtually; it was incredible!(I personally have trouble with visual-spatial relationships, so this California mission architecture project was a stretch for me. . . I couldn't really help them!)

Joy 4: Take Time to Tinker
School is so structured (not necessarily a bad thing) that there is often little room left for creativity. Gever Tulley has a unique school and camp in San Francisco,California called The Tinkering School. It offers an exploratory curriculum designed to help kids—ages 7 to 17—learn how to build things. By providing a collaborative environment in which to explore basic and advanced building techniques and principles, we strive to create a school where we all learn by fooling around. All activities are hands-on, supervised, and at least partly improvisational. Grand schemes, wild ideas, crazy notions, and intuitive leaps of imagination are, of course, encouraged and fertilized. (Tulley, 2005) Check out his amazing school; I want to go there!! Here's Tulley's Ted Talk video explaining the value of tinkering!
My students look forward to our "Creative Clay Can" time; each child has a film canister with modeling clay, play dough, or Model Magic in their pencil pouches. Every so often, they take it out & just play with the clay. The squeezing and pinching and rolling is so calming & therapeutic! Or during Read Aloud, they create something to represent the story. When we read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, some students created the island, others shaped Rontu the wild dog, while other kids molded & pinched dolphins. Then we did a quick "gallery tour"; everyone gets up, puts their hands behind their backs and walks around the room looking at all the creations. I am always amazed at their ingenuity and what they have created!!
If you do not want to buy clay or play dough, there are many recipes to make play dough! The one below is an easy & very soft and pliable dough.
By the end of the year, many of my kids have added "sculpting tools" to their Creative Clay kit: a paperclip or toothpick, half a popsicle stick to cut, carve, and poke at their clay!

Sometimes straying from book, drill & kill practice and taking the time to tinker will bring joy back to learning. Great ideas come from experimenting and taking risks!

What do you do to foster creativity in your students?


  1. Love, love, love the clay idea. Where do u think I can go to get film canisters? Everything is digital now, right? Excited!

    1. I've asked Costco & any 1 hour photo places if they can save film canisters (when they get them)!! But the Dollar Tree or 99 Cent store has other small containers, too. Try the clay; your kids will love it!!