All Design Thinkers Ever Need To Know They Learned In Kindergarten

Building upon what I wrote last week about what I want to teach the world, I would like to suggest that all Design Thinkers ever need to know they learned in Kindergarten.  As I read the articles and blogs and watched the videos this week, I couldn’t help but think that in Kindergarten we DO this.  It is not defined or labeled as such, but intrinsically and intuitively Kindergarten teachers and their students are Design Thinkers deep down.

One of the frameworks for Design Thinking that resonated with me is the DEEP Design Thinking Model.  The following graphic from DEEP creator, Mary Cantwell‘s website illustrates the DEEP model in very kid-friendly terms that I can relate to.  Let’s face it…I teach Kindergarten and Grade One, not Grade 12 Physics or Philosophy (what I would consider the most difficult high school courses for me).  Everything has to start somewhere and in Kindergarten we develop the building blocks of knowledge, skills and attitudes that students will demonstrate in higher grades.


For each of the four letters in DEEP there is a connection to what we do every day in Kindergarten.

DISCOVER: inquire, explore, research
Every day there is something new to DISCOVER in Kindergarten. Whether it be discovering how play dough feels when it squishes between our fingers, or watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, children daily explore their environment in the classroom and out in nature. There is no greater joy than observing a child making new discoveries about the world around them!  To see a child an interest, ask questions, look for answers in books and online and begin to research is such a wonderful sight to behold.

EMPATHIZE: understand, needfind, define

With every task in Kindergarten, whether as simple as learning the formation of letters or as complex as critical thinking and inferring meaning into texts or social emotional situations, everything is a search for meaning and definition.  Why do we do things the way we do?  Why do we learn things in a particular order?  Why do we stretch our brains and “think outside the box”?  Everything we do is to promote understanding and empathy. Empathizing with each other puts a framework around the fact that each learner is at a different place on the continuum of development.  Knowing that each classmate does not learn at the same rate, nor has the same capabilities or expertise allows the children to have a broader scope of appreciation for each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

EXPERIMENT: prototype, ideate, hmw

A large part of Kindergarten is creating and making things.  Lego, blocks, sand, water, elastic bands, paper, crayons, paints and whatever other materials the children can get their hands on are all materials that young children can use to demonstrate their Design Thinking. It is this experimentation through PLAY that children learn. My students will often create, build, break-down, rebuild or recreate during their play time.

PRODUCE: storytell, feedback, iterate

My students have become very proud of the products of their designs.  Whether it be their blog posts to show their learning, or their creations, they have developed a sense of the importance of sharing and making learning visible.  Before Christmas, one of our activities was “Santa’s Workshop” where my students had to design a toy that Santa would make, draw it in 2D, then produce a prototype in 3D from the materials we had around the classroom.  I can’t think of a better example of Design Thinking. My students were given a task that they felt very strongly about, and used their design knowledge to produce an end product. You can see an example of a finished blog here where my student has uploaded a photo of her green prints (Santa doesn’t use blueprints 😉 ) and a photo of her finished product.  For those of you who don’t read invented spelling, her title says “Scaredy Squirrel” and is based on the books by Melanie Watt.  Notice that Scaredy Squirrel has a nut just like in the books?  What took about three days of very hard work could be seen as “just play” to an outsider, but it shows me that my students are truly learning the fundamental building blocks of education.  These students are digging DEEP (pun intended) and are becoming Design Thinkers.

Early Learning

15 thoughts on “All Design Thinkers Ever Need To Know They Learned In Kindergarten

  1. I am glad you found some of the resources I sent your way helpful! We discussed in #dtk12chat how we lose a sense of play and the ability to experiment, make mistakes, and bounce back with laughter and try again. I am not sure when things become so serious. Mary’s MVP school (the source of DEEP) decided to go with a trickle up process, where the younger grades are using design thinking. I like the DEEP process but as a secondary teacher and of Aboriginal heritage, I like a slightly different and more reflective process.

    Our little twitter group (anyone reading this we hold it at 6PST) is growing and there are schools focused entirely on Design Thinking. On a personal note, when I attended the Stanford’s dschool week long intensive for teachers, it was the first time I felt at ease with learning with others and the space that I was in. For teachers reading this, it is sometimes challenging to shift paradigms and design thinking can be really discombobulating. Still, I am really glad to see the movement reach other here in BC.

    Bye for Now

    • Thanks so much for chatting and helping me to wrestle with the big ideas of Design Thinking, Bonnie. I appreciated your input and insight into something quite foreign to me. You’re right, it is discombobulating. I think what cleared things up the most for me was Mary’s graphic that I included in my post. To see it all laid out so simply helped me deconstruct what I do in the classroom every day and acknowledge that even though I may not consciously think about it or label it, there are elements of Design Thinking that are included in my daily work with my students.

  2. Wonderful brakedown of DEEP for younger students. I try to put Design Thinking in the framework of #geniushour for my Kinders. Liked the connection to Robert Fulgham’s poem in your title.

  3. I loved that you use the words: discover, empathize, experiment and produce. Discovery for kids is very much needed, as they truly do need the opportunities to ‘play’, but it is amazing how much learning can come out of ‘playing’!

    Empathy should be part of our curriculum or at least part of our everyday practices for all students. We were just talking in the staff room about recess play and that many students are separated based on age. We don’t do that at our school, and it is incredible to watch the older children look out for the younger ones. Creating ‘big buddy’ situations creates such an amazing community feel within a school, and I think it is important for students to have these opportunities.

    I love the idea of experimentation… that students don’t always have to be right the first time, and that through the process of trial and error, or changes through the process, their end product has been altered many times before it is completed. In the end, through this experimentation, they can show a product which exemplifies all their hard work and is truly an example of their best work.

    Very well written Michelle.
    – Tracey

    • Thanks for the response, Tracey! It has been interesting trying to distill Design Thinking into what is applicable in Kindergarten. Seeing that a lot of the reading and video examples refer to high school and business, it took me a little longer to break it down into something manageable for me. Having to deconstruct what we do in Kindergarten to put a label on it perhaps will help show that K students are really Design Thinkers as they play.

      We have a great Big Buddy system in our school. Our Grade 5’s act as mentors for the K’s and actually take them out and teach them how to play on the playground safely in the first week of school. We also meet weekly throughout the year to do projects and read together. It is a great way to build community!

  4. Michelle,
    I enjoyed reading your blog! I loved that you shared your student’s work. I too picked DEEP as my area of focus this week. Involving students in play is such a intrinsically important part of the learning process, no matter what age they are! In the past I felt that it was acceptable to allow children to learn via play in the younger grades but not when they are older. Not allowing play removes that element of creativity and slows design thinking and processing. Even as an adult I feel the need to play to learn new concepts, creating a DEEPer understanding.

    Thanks for sharing Michelle!

    • Thank you for the comment, Lorrie! It makes me sad to think that play has been stripped out of children’s lives as they progress through the grades. I am really hopping that teachers will take the BCEdPlan and run with it when it comes to play. I would love to see what play looks like in older grades, not just with things like #geniushour where students choose what to tinker with, but instead in a regular curricular class.

  5. Isn’t play what it is all about? We are all design thinkers back in the day. It was the way we lived and played. Needed to build a fort out of a old pallet, a fallen tree and some branches…? You just did it. prototype, fail, try again.

    Today adults feel they need to engineer their children and their learning experiences but it is this engineering that has sterilized our children’s thinking. If you remember, last fall I did a blog post titled “Inquiry Based Learning – Are we just slapping a rubric on life?”

    In many ways I think we are trying to duplicate what simple play used to provide us when we were kids. Skills and behaviours like collaboration, ingenuity, invention, bravery, calculated risk… All the sorts of things Design Learning and Inquiry learning are attempting to duplicate.


    • Yes, Keith, play IS what it’s all about! It’s what I love so much about teaching Kindergarten. The “powers that be” got it right when they decided to acknowledge play as the core of learning for Kindergarten. What I am hoping (as I am an eternal optimist) is that even though the labels are different (Design Thinking, Inquiry, Innovation…) it all boils down to the common denominator that we must find our passion and experiment until we reach the best outcome.

      And yes, I loved your blog about inquiry. Why can’t we just get back to the simplicity of play?

  6. Thank you Michelle for taking the time to lay out how design thinking can look in a kindergarten class. As a grade 4/5 teacher, I always find this helpful because it helps me visualize a starting point and the building blocks that can be layer on that foundation as the students grow older.

    I appreciate your perspective! You blog makes me want to delve ‘DEEPer’ into the DEEP model for the level of students I’m working with.

    • Thanks Suzanne! I think that in the deconstruction of the DEEP model of Design Thinking it is much easier to see what we teachers have really been taught to do all along. It now has a name and a definition. Thanks also for mentioning my blog post in your blog. It’s nice to see ideas overlapping and validation of each other’s opinions in EDCI 335.

  7. Pingback: Design Thinkers in Our Midst at SBartel's Blog

  8. Pingback: All Design Thinkers Ever Need To Know They Learned in Kindergarten | Inquiring Minds

  9. Pingback: EDCI 335: Design Thinking in Education | a learning journey

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