Why The D-School’s Alice Shi Kembel Lets Her Children Play With Trash (Part 3)

This week I’ve been writing about why I let my children play with trash (parts 1 and 2 HERE and HERE). Here’s a hint: Not only will the ability to think innovatively help children develop a love for learning, but it will eventually prepare them to enter the workforce of a rapidly-changing world that faces complex challenges in the areas of technology, health care, the environment, and the global economy. Here’s the third suggestion in this 5-part series on how to foster innovation in children:

Provide scaffolding for children in their creative processes.

This concept, often called “scaffolding,” stems from psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, which states that help from adults is most beneficial when it is provided in the Zone of Proximal Development, just above the level of what a child can achieve on his or her own.  Scaffolding allows children to accomplish more than they could by themselves in a developing skill or ability, and enhances the learning process.  Scaffolding techniques might include breaking a process down into simpler steps, providing hand over hand assistance, or giving feedback as the child works on a project.  As children develop and learn, their Zone of Proximal Development changes constantly, so parents need to adjust the level and type of assistance they provide to optimize the child’s learning and increase independence.

When my youngest son was two, he wasn’t able to rip off pieces of tape by himself, but he wanted to use tape for his projects.  To provide scaffolding, I started by tearing off tape pieces for him but allowed him to stick the tape on by himself wherever he wanted.  When he was a little older, I held the tape dispenser for him, had him pull the end of the tape to the length he wanted, and helped him tear off the pieces.  When he was even older, I placed my hands over his and showed him how to hold the tape dispenser with one hand, pull the tape with the other, and tear it off by pulling it slightly downward against the blade.  Eventually, he was able to complete the entire process by himself, and as a result, we buy our tape at Costco.

Join us tomorrow for the next in this series: Teach children to view setbacks as a opportunities to learn rather than as failures, and encourage them to embrace an attitude of experimentation.


Alice Kembel and her husband, George, are recent CA–>CO transplants, having just arrived in town after immersion in the Stanford D-School. You can find Alice at www.aliceshikembel.wordpress.com.

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