Kids building car from cardboard, art supplies, auto parts
URBANA – David Nash steps into a red car, buckles his seat belt and looks at classmate Okemas Pocan for directional help as he plans their trip to the movies and McDonald's.
But something's weird here.
David is 4. And so's Okemas.
No worries, though, because these students built their car out of cardboard, art supplies and real car parts. Its parking spot is in their classroom in Washington Early Childhood Center in Urbana, a public prekindergarten program.
The map Okemas looks to for directions leads to highlights in each child's imagination.
"It's an opportunity to develop problem-solving techniques," said teacher Melanie Kenney. "There's a lot of measurement and figuring out how things fit together."
She said the six-week project teaches the 3- to 5-year-olds vocabulary, social and cognitive skills.
The project also teaches them all about cars, from safety rules to steering directions. An Urbana police officer came in to show the students proper driving and traffic rules.
"They also get to take a driving test," Kenney said, displaying a sheet with questions about road signs and seat belt use, and photo "licenses" for students who completed the test.
"This goes really, really fast," said David, who added that he knew to slow down when driving past schools.
Students began their research by inspecting Kenney's car. The students constantly referred to pictures of its engine, dashboard and other areas as they figured out what they could make to stand in for all the parts in their car, cardboard cupholders and plastic-tube-and-paper clips engine included.
"The more they do, the more creative they get," Kenney said.
Sometimes stand-ins weren't needed, because parents donated the real thing – like a steering wheel, side mirrors and radio.
When David stopped for gas, Shellie Moody, 4, filled the tank. Then she ditched her ride to walk across the room to watch "Cars" on TV as Bruce Willis – the 4-year-old, not the movie star – took her place in the back seat.
"I think we need some oil. I'm gonna check that," said Okemas. After checking the oil can under the hood, he breezed back into the car. "It's all done. Rea-dy to go!" he chanted.
Jackie Larson, mom to Alanna, 4, said her daughter has come home with enthusiasm about cars and lots of new vocabulary words.
"She loves it," Larson said. "I don't even have to tell her to put her seat belt on."
Alanna even made her own vehicle "with a cardboard box," her mom said. "It's good. We still have it; it's in her room."
Kenney said the key to the project is the room for collaboration. "Everybody can contribute and everybody can participate, so there's a lot of engaged learning," she said. "This will get their mind rolling on what else they can do."