What Is Architecture?

Take a few walks in the neighborhood. Explain that architects design buildings, and ask children what problems they think architects have to solve. Look closely at interesting doorways and windows, the variety of materials, colors, and sizes, and the differences between new and old structures. See if you can find a construction site to watch over time. And be sure to take along a camera to record the experience. Later, at group time, encourage children to share their observations and talk further about the role of the architect as a problem solver. Invite children to learn about architecture and being architects by participating in an architecture learning center.

Setting Up

Have several tables and child-size chairs for work and display space. Provide a low bulletin board for photographs and children's architectural renderings.

Workshop Ideas

Shape Structures Cut colorful soft sponges into different shapes, add an assortment of table blocks, and then encourage children to build houses, stores, museums, barns, and other structures people use on a tabletop or protected floor area. Builders can work alone or in small, cooperative groups to create neighborhoods, towns, and cities.

Architectural Images Hang posters and pictures of a variety of architectural sites - local sites, adobe pueblos, Chinese pagodas, the Taj Mahal. Add the pictures you took on your neighborhood walks. Provide crayons and paper and invite children to draw and display a picture of where they live, along with building additions they'd like to make. Talk about floor plans and encourage those who are interested to sketch their own dream plans on large sheets of paper. Introduce such words as blueprint, drafting table, and architect.

The Library Display books with pictures of interesting structures around the world and famous architects' designs. Ask parents or librarians for old copies of Architectural Digest and Better Homes and Gardens. Children may want to start their own architecture picture files. Offer children's books, such as The House That Jack Built by Rodney Peppe (Delacorte); I Can Build a House! by Shigeo Watanabe (Putnam); In Our House by Anne Rockwell (Crowell); Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Burton (Houghton Mifflin); This Little House by Virginia Burton (Houghton Mifflin); the tale of "The Three Little Pigs"; and Up Goes the Skyscraper! by Gail Gibbons (Four Winds). Some children might like to research building designs on the computer with the program Fun With Architecture (Learning Technologies Interactive).

Paper Parquetry Put out an assortment of colored construction-paper shapes. Encourage children to move them around to design creative futuristic buildings, cities, space stations, and so on. Suggest they try folding, cutting, and curling the various shapes to create 3-D structures. Offer glue and cardboard so children can make miniature models to share.

Construction Site Use at least one refrigerator-size carton, more if you have the space. Help children make a plan for their building and then determine where they want the doors and windows to go. (Cut these out with a matte knife while children watch.) Next, divide the box into various rooms and create furniture, wallpaper, the works!