chapter  6
Design Playshop
Preschoolers Making, Playing, and Learning With Squishy Circuits
ByKaren E. Wohlwend, Anna Keune, Kylie Peppler
Pages 14

In the hum of activity in a sunny preschool classroom, young children bend intently over their projects on the small table strewn with Squishy Circuit kits: maker kits for crafting working electric circuits with playdough “wires,” battery packs, and LEDs, fans, or buzzers. As they busily stick small white plastic light bulbs into playdough caterpillars, spaceships, and pancakes, the children squeal “It’s red!” or “I made a yellow one!” as each bulb lights up to reveal its hidden color. One 5-year-old boy, Nate, leans across the table to offer helpful advice to a younger girl whose circuit is not working. “I want to tell you one thing. If you put one [battery lead] into one [playdough] ball, it won’t work. You have to make two balls, and put one [lead] into one ball and other [lead] into another ball.” However, the child with the nonworking circuit wants to instead flatten her playdough ball into a pancake. Suparna, a 5-year-old girl whose caterpillar glows with colorful lights, chimes in, “I know! You have to have two. So make a big pancake and then put into two [halves] and then put that battery pack into both of them.”

This chapter describes a preschool maker project that illustrates the potential of Design Playshop, a model people developed to support playful and expanded learning in makerspaces, communities of makers creating with materials in a physical place. In the hum of activity in a sunny preschool classroom, young children bend intently over their projects on the small table strewn with Squishy Circuit kits: maker kits for crafting working electric circuits with playdough "wires", battery packs, and LEDs, fans, or buzzers. A collaborative orientation supports shared knowledge production and distribution; helping and showing others are valued as ways to spread knowledge among makers. The study of collaborative playful design and technology learning illuminates the educational potential of play for expanding learning environments. The interest-driven, equitable, and engaged learning that a play-based model facilitates is particularly relevant to makerspaces that merge rigorous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning with creative innovation in the arts (STEAM).