ABOVE AND BEYOND: Architectural Investigations and Design with Your High-Ability Child

Article excerpt

When I was twelve years old, I explored architecture for the first time. My father, a builder and contractor, used to drive me to school. Each day we would stop by several building sites that his firm was developing in the Springfield, Massachusetts, area. That year I gained a new appreciation for construction and buildings - from the foundation to the final use. I also developed an understanding of building materials, environmental issues, and the primary focus behind the choice of most sites - location, location, location.

My initial architectural experience was observational, but later that year I had the chance for a hands-on architectural activity. In seventh grade, I participated in a science fair. As part of my presentation on space shuttles and flight, I researched space flight, put a model kit together, and developed a poster board presentation. Today when I walk into a building I automatically think about the processes that went into its construction, as well as the practical aspects that allow it to serve the community.

During July, 2005,1 taught a course, "How'dThey Build That?" that integrated my knowledge base and life experiences. I taught this class at The Summer Institute for the Gifted at Oberlin College in Ohio. As I developed the course syllabus, I tried to remember what had interested me as a twelve-year-old, but I found that the best consultants were the 4th, 5di, and 6th graders who were enrolled in the class. Rather than telling them what we were going to learn, we developed the course syllabus together. This guaranteed that they were interested in everything we were studying - and that optimal learning took place.

High-ability children have a natural interest in the world around them, particularly in buildings. Whether you live in Oberlin, Ohio, San Francisco, New York City, or Springfield, Illinois, you and your child can create architectural adventures together. Architecture is traditionally a course of study that students begin in college or graduate school, but children can participate at a much earlier age and begin to develop an understanding of buildings. Many high-ability learners have a natural interest in Egyptian pyramids, roller coasters, castles, cathedrals, and Greek and Roman architecture. Perhaps your family doesn't have the funds for a trip to Egypt or England, but there are other ways your child can learn about these structures. It's not a question of having extensive financial resources, but improvising the best way you can with what you have.

Architectural Experiences for Your Child

Children can explore architecture through several formats. The first is a research project in which your child reads and writes about an architectural site, usually a famous one. Many research materials are available for notable landmarks, and children can focus on different aspects of the project such as the history, building process, or current use. However, these projects require no original resources, and in the end they provide a learning experience but not a genuine investigation. The project is a compilation of other sources and the research experience is limited to the library and Internet. Your child reads about the building, rather than exploring it on a first-hand basis.

Can your child investigate architecture in an imaginative way? To be imaginative, you child should look around and think about what she sees. Can the buildings within eyesight lead to an interesting discussion about history and architecture? If your child lives in a rural area, she can study the structure of barns, and their utilitarian design, and even older structures such as stone walls. If your family lives in a big city with a notable skyscraper, your child can, with, your support, study that building, and of course, visit it. If your family lives in a New England town with colonial buildings, your child can analyze how Greek and Roman architecture was translated into American architecture. …