Freedom breeds creativity in engineering learning

As a privileged daughter of two engineers, and a few generations before, my passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) would be somewhat obvious. A childhood dominated with 'boys toys', meccano, lego, scalextric and K-nex, I was at some points teetering on the edge of tomboy if not breaching it on occasion. This exploration and play learned from more male focused product gave me tactile, mathematical and spatial awareness. The freedom I had to go out and explore, venture into the hills and woodlands of the Lakes, to be exposed to the environment, risk and danger is something I am blessed to have experienced.

Master Builder Charlotte dons her overalls

Master Builder Charlotte dons her overalls

However these types of experiences are becoming increasingly rare for the generations of tomorrow and in-particular our future engineers. Why is that? Environments for play are being increasingly prescribed. Parents who swore to let their children learn by exploration are being forced, through many factors, to stick to a current norm of overseeing play in a safe, enclosed environment. How are we going to get children equipped to evaluate risk, cope with fear and assist in collaborative behaviour without real-life and real-world exploration?

As Peter Gray writing for the Independent addresses, the problems in life he faces 'require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play.'

So it seems that we cannot rely on academic systems alone to achieve these environmental developments within our children. Our education goes beyond the classroom. It is undeniable that even into adulthood our learning and ability to perform in our careers is not just down to the hours we put in at the office or the depth in which we explore our particular fields but it is about life experience, embracing current affairs, reading and social interaction. It is important to recognise the key ways in which we expand our thinking and approaches. This is also surely the reason for initiatives like CPD (continuing professional development) programmes?

Engineering in my blood, Design in my heart.

My path through education was not as 'clean' as I would have hoped, I had obvious strengths in the Arts but I lacked the attention span needed to fully excel in the Maths and Sciences. My teachers and I knew I was fully capable but to their frustration my want for life experience and to pursue creative ventures always led me astray. As a somewhat punishment to myself for focusing primarily on the creative, my final years consisted purely of Maths and Science still not truly reaching my full capability. As Ken Robinson mentions in his Ted Talk: Bring on the learning revolution! 'Education dislocates very many people from their natural talents'. Will we be able to realise the strengths of our future generations if we just leave it solely in the hands of academia for their education?

I am therefore a true advocate for the need for creative learning experiences outside of the classroom. In fact it is beginning to be realised that creativity is an essential part of STEM and in particular engineering. So we come back to the point, how do we unleash creativity and imaginative play to the generation growing up in these prescribed safe enclosed environments?

Perhaps this is the place for gender neutral, construction experiences whose scale is large enough for children to climb on, under or even within. Unleashing child creativity to develop their own environments and imaginings.

President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dame Prof. Ann Dowling confirms that 'Young children are, as I was, natural engineers, constantly seeking to understand the properties of materials as they engage with the world around them.'

As Co-Founder and Managing Director of Cinter, a consultancy specialising in product development, we have developed a product, XYZ, to do just that. XYZ is an exciting construction experience, one which will take the world of play to another level. Allowing limitless, imaginative and expansive play, XYZ encourages exploration and interaction in a safe environment and engages everyone to experiment and experience creativity.

XYZ Builds

It is also important to recognise that failure is to be embraced, children will have to challenge preconceived ideas in order to inform important decision making. Dame Prof. Ann Dowling again mentions that 'When the cardboard structure they have built is strong enough to support the weight of other toys and becomes a medieval castle, there is the thrill of persistent and successful improvement.' It is the basic principles in engineering and design that XYZ embraces in order to deliver and impart knowledge, creating an ever-growing demand as a learning tool for all ages.

XYZ is designed and manufactured in the UK. An example of a full product development service, taking an idea from pencil sketch, through stages of rapid prototyping and testing to an injection moulded end-product with subsequent brand, identity and packaging.

If you have been inspired to investigate further into the juncture between Education and Creativity, I highly recommend you take a look at the series of talks by Sir Ken Robinson here. I have been particularly inspired by the suggestions of a 'Fast Food Model of Education'.

For first hand experience and feedback from our customers, check this blog by Liveotherwise. 'A self contained toy, that stretches the imagination, encourages creativity, experimentation, cooperation. Allows for mathematical and scientific conversation, and is surprisingly pleasurable to the touch.'

Let's hope that by encouraging different methods of learning and creativity we can maximise the minds of the future.

To discuss more, ask any questions or to offer any feedback please get in touch, I will be very willing to provide answers and discuss themes.

Master Builder Charlotte ☺