Developing Perspective Taking through Maker-Centered Learning: Sneak Peek at the Early Childhood in the Making Playbook

Hi! I’m Vic, and I’m really excited to tell you about the awesome work that early childhood teachers in Hong Kong have been doing as part of the Agency by Design: Early Childhood in the Making project. Over the last two years, teachers at the Harbour Heights and Harbour Green kindergarten campuses of the Victoria Educational Organisation worked with researchers at Project Zero to bring maker-centered learning to their early childhood classrooms. Their work and the findings from the research are summarized in the Maker-Centered Learning for Early Childhood Education Playbook that will be launched very soon!

This is Vic, the guide of the Early Childhood in the Making Playbook.

You will find me in the playbook as a guide for readers. As a preview, below is an excerpt from one of the pictures of practice that are included in the book. Illustrated by this picture of practice, there are many ways in which teachers adapted maker-centered learning to address the interests and needs of young learners. The Early Childhood in the Making research team found that:

  • Maker-centered learning is a natural fit in early childhood education.
  • Maker-centered learning can foster agency, support young children’s understanding of systems, and promote perspective taking.
  • The use of visuals and manipulatives facilitates maker-centered learning in the early childhood classrooms.
  • Role play and storytelling support children to develop perspective taking as part of maker-centered learning.
  • Engaging in maker-centered learning encourages peer-to-peer learning even in young children.
  • Implementing maker-centered learning encourages teachers to step back and let their students lead their learning and making.

You can read more about these findings and educators’ maker-centered learning strategies and insights in the upcoming playbook. Happy reading—and see you around!

During the 2018-2019 academic year, Ms. Jennifer Lee explored ways to support her students in developing perspective-taking and empathy through maker-centered learning activities. She taught in a K3 classroom (5 to 6-year-old learners) at Victoria Nursery (Harbour Heights) in Hong Kong. As part of her inquiry focus, Ms. Jennifer Lee investigated the following question:

What strategies or activities can we use to help children grapple with the idea of perspective taking and empathy?

Jennifer was not alone in asking this question. Early childhood teachers have often expressed that it can be hard to engage young learners in taking others’ perspectives and being empathetic. It is not always easy for young learners to identify the motivations of other people, what they value, and what they consider priorities. Through her inquiry work, Jennifer took on the challenge of figuring out how to support her students in practicing their perspective-taking skills and empathy in considering the different actors in a system. To support her students’ perspective-taking and empathy development, Jennifer employed multiple approaches, including having students roleplay different individuals’ experiences, thinking, and emotions as part of a system and making visual representations of thoughts and emotions.

For a unit on transportation, Jennifer’s students looked at how transportation systems are created to meet the evolving community needs. Her K3 students studied different types of transportation and looked at why they were suited for different purposes. The students were fascinated by airplanes as many of them recalled first-hand experiences with flying. Following her students’ interest, Jennifer decided to focus the unit on that mode of transportation. The students began their exploration of airplanes by heading to the library to gather books about aircrafts. They also watched videos of pilots flying airplanes and discovered the complex parts found in the cockpit of an airplane. To further their inquiry, Jennifer asked her students if they would help her design an airplane for the role play area using props and recycled materials from their classroom. This role play area would also give students the opportunity to act out the experiences and responsibilities of different individuals on the airplane to encourage their perspective-taking skills.

Jennifer’s students spent time planning what was needed by looking through a variety of books featuring airports and airplanes. The students worked in small groups to create different areas of the role play. Some groups worked together to design the shape of the windows and the size of the airplane body. Others looked carefully through photographs and drew detailed pictures to mirror those of a real cockpit. Some students gathered props needed such as a tray to put airplane meals on, clipboards, and headphones for the pilot.

The process took about a week to complete before the students began playing. As they played, they continued to add different props to enhance their role play experience. For instance, they added a world map for the pilot, made seat belts using ribbons, and even drew small TV screens for the passengers. During this time, Jennifer explained that her role was, “to help them find materials and to encourage them to use language as they took on different roles within this system.” 

To make the airplane role play more purposeful and interactive, Jennifer provided visual representations of thought and speech bubbles to support students in coming up with what their character might feel or think. She adapted this strategy from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Program which her students were familiar with from previous lessons. Jennifer introduced the speech and thought bubble sticks by reminding her students of the different roles in the airplane system. Next she provided a conflict scenario to prompt student dialogue and invite them to reflect on what different emotions and thoughts each individual might experience.

There is a big storm heading our way and the plane is currently shaking very badly. There is lightning outside and heavy rain. Who is on our plane? What will they feel? Why?

Jennifer stepped back and documented the students’ conversations. She recorded the following perspectives:

Passenger 1:     I think the plane will fall down.
Passenger 2:     I feel scared.
Flight attendant:     I shouldn’t give food yet because the food might fall out of the plane.
Pilot:     I am thinking we go back to the airport because the plane will fall down.  

Using physical manipulatives in the role play area helped students gain awareness of thoughts and feelings different actors in the scenario might experience. When reflecting on the unit, Jennifer shared,

This activity helped my students realize each person is affected in different ways and may have similar or different reactions to the same situation. Children at this age can take on various perspectives, particularly when they read stories where they have the opportunity to imagine they are the character. I also learned that it’s important to provide children with appropriate vocabulary, so they all have an equal opportunity to participate and share their ideas.

Jennifer also found that with similar role play lessons, it is important to come up with a variety of conflicts or situations that are realistic to help young leaners understand these experiences are real and can happen. In future lessons, Jennifer thought that she could extend this activity by asking students to create a role play comic strip conversation based on a conflict scenario they acted out previously.

Over the course of Jennifer’s inquiry cycle work, she found that by engaging in role play over an extended period her students not only actively engaged in creating the airplane area but also accessed their prior experiences to imagine what others might be thinking or feeling. By posing a conflict, Jennifer encouraged her students to go beyond their initial ideas to how different individuals within the role play scenario might experience the same situation. Manipulatives and visual representations such as speech and thought bubble sticks helped Jennifer’s students access abstract concepts and develop concrete understandings of the experiences of roles in their play and characters in the stories they read.

This blog was published on November 23, 2019.
Authored by
ECM Team

The Early Childhood in the Making research team explores the application and adaptation of the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered leaning for early childhood education through a collaborative inquiry with the Victoria Educational Organisation in Hong Kong.