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Project Plans Introduction


The Rigamajig project-based lesson plans are designed to guide teacher and program staff in using Rigamajig for curricular needs in school settings. We present five lesson plans for Kindergarten to Grade 2 and five lesson plans for Grades 3 to 5. This guide accompanies each lesson plan as both an introduction to Rigamajig play and a user guide for supporting child-directed learning through play.

Rigamajig lesson plans are informed by:

  • National education and STEM standards and may be selected for use according to:
    • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)1
    • Engineering Design Skills2
    • 21st Century Skills3
    • Common Core Mathematics Standards4
    • Common Core English Language Arts and Literacy Standards (ELA)5
  • Research findings on the benefits of free play with blocks and loose parts for:
    • Engineering6
    • Mathematics7
    • Spatial Skills8
    • Language9
    • Social Competency10
    • Physical Activity11
  • Experienced early childhood and elementary educators

Rigamajig Play Philosophy

Content Authors

Zachary S. Gold, Ph.D.

Horizon Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Education, Concordia University

James Elicker, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Purdue University

Cas Holman

Associate Professor, Department of Industrial Design, Rhode Island School of Design

In Partnership With

Supporting Rigamajig Play

The following information may be used to support children’s Rigamajig play while implementing each lesson plan. Be sure to use this information together with the specific guidelines highlighted in each lesson plan. Most importantly, allow children to be creative, exploratory, and imaginative! Remember, the purpose of the lesson plans is to enhance children’s meaningful engagement with Rigamajig in whatever direction the children choose.

Possible Comments

  • Tell me about what you have in mind.
  • That’s an interesting idea! How can you do that?
  • Ask children to talk about experiences from their own lives as related to their ideas and constructions.
  • Would you like one of your friends to help you do that?
  • I see something that you made that goes up and down! (or around in a circle, or rolls) How does it work?
  • Can you think of a way to fix that problem? Can you think of a solution? Can you try a different way?

Rigamajig Play Principles

  • Allow children to explore their own Rigamajig play ideas. Rigamajig is the vehicle to explore these play and engineering concepts. The children are the creators and have the ideas.
  • There is no set formula for “right” or “wrong” outcomes. Children may produce a variety of Rigamajig ideas to meet the basic objectives of the lesson plans. No two creations or play sessions are alike.
  • Be comfortable with letting children’s play evolve. Let them make mistakes and problem solve together. Resist the urge to “fix” things for children and to show or tell children how to do things.
  • Pay attention to children’s idea and actions, and support play with strategies that focus children on their own ideas. Ask about what they are making, how they are making it, and what they can do to make it better. Discover insights into children’s thinking and foster those insights.

Materials Needed

  • Rigamajig Basic Builder Kit.
  • Additional needed materials are suggested in the lesson plans.
  • Encourage children to incorporate found materials from their environment as part of their Rigamajig contraption as they explore and follow through on building ideas.
  • Optional: provide drawing materials and paper so children can plan before, while building, or after they are done to document their work.

Getting Started

  • Optional: Show and discuss video of different movements of structures or machines that operate in ways similar to the goals of the lesson plan (i.e., construction site, cranes, bridges, towers, simple machines, etc.)
  • Optional: Use books, pictures, visual aids, puppets, or dramatic play before creating. This will help encourage a playful environment and foster children’s creative processes.
  • Organize play groups of 3-6 children per group. Group sizes may depend on age. Younger children should play in smaller groups.
  • Allow at least 30 minutes for play. (60 min. is best)
  • Define the play space for the children (at least 10’ x 10’). Older children might need more space.

While the Play is Underway

  • Observe with an interested and supportive attitude and, as needed, encourage problem-solving thinking, creativity, collaboration, discussion, and questions.
  • Ask children to talk about or replicate examples from their own lives.
  • You might say:
    • Tell me about what you have in mind.
    • That’s an interesting idea! How can you do that?
    • Would you like one of your friends to help you do that?
    • Can you think of a way to fix that problem? Can you think of a solution? Can you try a different way?

What to Look For

  • Watch for children’s teamwork in their thinking and construction. Offer encouraging words about working together to build something.
  • Pay particular attention to how children go about their construction process. Do they seem to have a specific goal? Or, do they seem more focused on learning about the properties of the materials and different things they can do with them?
  • Pay attention to the language children use when communicating with you or other children about their teamwork in the construction process. What do their words reveal about their knowledge of objects, physical processes, design, and/or social collaboration?
  • When children indicate they accomplished something, give them a chance to demonstrate their construction and how it works, and share with other children.
  • Call children what they are and name what they are doing. Encourage these labels:
    • Teamwork
    • Builders
    • Engineers
    • Collaborators
    • Thinkers
    • Problem Solvers/Solution Finders

Wrapping Up & Reflecting

  • Children can make a drawing of what they built and how it works.
  • Take photos of the construction(s), if the children seem interested in recording what they did with a photo. (Make a stop motion video of the children’s construction process).
  • Ask children to draw a series of pictures about how they made their construction (show the process, from beginning to end.) Ask them to write a caption for each picture, describing what was going on.
  • Clean up time: Encourage children to put the Rigamajig pieces away in a neat and orderly way.
  • If children are unable to finish construction during a play session, offer the opportunity to leave the pieces together and finish building next time.
  • Lead discussions with children, one-on-one, in small groups, a whole class group, or between classrooms in schools, reflecting about their experience.
    • Share something about what you made today with Rigamajig (tell about, show drawings, and/or read that you wrote; project drawings on the smartboard)
    • How did you think about what to make?
    • Did you work with other kids? Who? What did each of you do?
    • I noticed when you were building you changed your plan. What did you change and why did you change it? What did you discover as you were building?
    • I see that you had a problem getting your crane to go up and down. What did you do to solve that problem?
    • Would you like to work on (your construction) some more next time? What else would you like to do with it? What are your ideas for next time? What other problems could you solve using Rigamajig?

Helpful Tips & Troubleshooting

  • Allow children time to explore the Rigamajig pieces and learn about their material properties.
  • In the early play sessions, lay out the Rigamajig pieces on the floor organized by type.
  • When children start their play, they will see more clearly how the pieces can be used.
  • Resist the urge to solve problems for children. Instead, ask questions that orient children toward building challenges and provoke their own thinking about solutions.
  • Allow children to make mistakes. Celebrate “mistakes” as learning opportunities.
  • Trial-and-error processes result in deeper learning and memory skills!
  • You might say: Oh gosh, what happened? What can you do now?
  • If the children are not understanding the Main Goal of the lesson, to prompt them to think and work in the desired direction, say, “Let’s think of some things that we have seen going up and down, or rotating around in a circle. What comes to your mind? (Refer to videos, if you watched them.) Could you make something like that?”
  • If the play space is part of a larger play area such as a gymnasium or large motor room, it is okay to use masking tape to section off the space for building with Rigamajig.
  • Consider children’s age when organizing and facilitating play. Younger groups may need more close support. Try sitting on the floor with children as they play.
  • Take time to develop a common language by naming the parts of the Rigamajig pieces.
  • Children will then have an agreed-upon way to communicate while working together. Communication is key!

Try Rigamajig in a Variety of Environments

  • Incorporate features of the school or play context into children’s Rigamajig play.
  • Organize play sessions both indoors and outdoors.
  • Vary the play space with respect to size and location.
  • Allow children to use additional play materials such as toys or blocks.
  • Have fun with each lesson plan using the design of your school or classroom.
  • Allow children to use stairs or ramps with Rigamajig.
  • Explore how Rigamajig may be used with playground spaces and gymnasiums.
  • Use classroom furniture to aid building, such as chairs, tables, and desks.
  • Encourage children to use materials and ideas from multiple classroom learning areas.

References & Resources

  1. Next Generation Science Standards
    National Research Council (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  2. Engineering Design Skills
    Gold, Z. S., Elicker, J., Bairaktarova, D., & Evangelou, D. (2017). Preschool Engineering Play Behaviors (P-EPB). Copyright © 2019 Zachary S. Gold, Ph.D., West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University. Montreal, QC: Concordia University.
  3. 21st Century Skills
    Beers, S. (2011) 21st century skills: Preparing students for the future. Retrieved June 2019
  4. Common Core Math Standards
    National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors.
  5. Common Core English Language Arts & Literacy Standards
    National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors.
  6. Gold, Z. S., Elicker, J., Choi, J. Y., Anderson, T., & Brophy, S. P. (2015). Preschoolers’ engineering play behaviors: Differences in gender and play context. Children, Youth, and Environments, 25(3), 1-21. doi:10.7721/chilyoutenvi.25.3.0001
  7. Wolfgang, C. H., Stannard, L. L., & Jones, I. (2003). Advanced constructional play with LEGOs among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Early Child Development and Care, 173(5), 467-475. doi:10.1080/0300443032000088212
  8. Verdine, B. N., Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Newcombe, N. S., Filipowicz, A. T., & Chang, A., (2014). Deconstructing building blocks: Preschoolers’ spatial assembly performance relates to early mathematics skills. Child Development, 85, 1062-1076. doi:10.1111/cdev.12165
  9. Cohen, L. E., & Uhry, J. (2011). Naming block structures: A multimodal approach. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39, 79-87. doi:10.1007/s10643-010-0425-x
  10. Rogers, D. L. (1985). Relationships between block play and the social development of young children. Early Childhood Development and Care, 20, 245-261. doi:10.1080/0300443850200403
  11. Sutton, M. J. (2011). In the hand and mind: The intersection of loose parts and imagination in evocative settings for young children. Children, Youth, and Environments, 21(2), 408-424.