November 4, 2014

How to Explore Architecture with Kids

Exploring architecture with kids from an early age can help foster their creativity and expose them to potential new hobbies and career paths. From building a play fort to hosting an architecture-themed birthday party, today’s toolkit will help give you some fun ideas about how to make architecture more understandable for kids.

Take them on an architecture walk.

Take kids for a walk around places where they are able to engage with the built environment, including public parks, monuments, plazas, and buildings. Bring along some art supplies, such as paper and crayons, so they have a creative outlet during your exploration, and see if they want to draw a building or make a rubbing of an architectural detail, pattern, or texture.

To further enhance the kids’ experience, do some brief research about the site or neighborhood beforehand so you can talk to them about their surroundings and see what grabs their attention.

Some architecture organizations have established neighborhood walking tours specifically for kids as a way to give them a deeper understanding of where they live and why it looks the way it does. If your child seems interested in the topic, see if there are any tours in your area, and ask your child if they would like to go on one. This also gives them a chance to interact with other kids who have similar interests.

  • Example: Washington Architectural Foundation’s Exploring Architecture with Kids walking tour series was established last fall and combines neighborhood exploration with hands-on learning. Professional architects lead tours of architecturally-rich neighborhoods such as Georgetown and Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.; review basic architectural vocabulary with the kids; and oversee a hands-on design project, such as designing a model row house.

The expansive view from the 103rd floor skydeck at Chicago's Willis Tower captivates a young visitor.

Take advantage of youth and family programs.

Many architecture-related museums and historically significant places offer at least some programming aimed at kids. Take an inventory of any museums and sites in your area that are related to architecture, and check their website or call them to see if they offer kids programs.

  • Example: The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., has a special Kids Zone where visitors ages 2-6 are encouraged to get hands-on with the material. In this exploratory gallery, kids can build a tower or brick wall, browse an architecture picture book, dress up in construction gear and drive play trucks, and explore a custom-built “green” house.
  • Example: Family Day at the Center for Architecture in New York City takes place once a month unless otherwise noted. The popular programs are led by professional design educators, last around two hours each, and are intended for families with children ages 5-13. Activities include hands-on art and model building, design challenges, gallery tours, and neighborhood walks.

Build a fort.

Particularly crafty kids might have already attempted to build forts around the house out of everyday objects like blankets and chairs. Getting them a basic fort building kit can enhance the experience and ensure your dining room chairs won’t disappear from the table.

Encouraging kids to build play forts gives them a chance to design and plan a space, learn through trial-and-error about constructing it, and allow them to occupy and enjoy what they have created. Because the kits are designed for fort-building, they are typically easy to assemble and take apart, easing the clean-up process.

  • Example: Fort Magic sells fort building and construction toy kits for kids ages five and up. Kits come with a bevy of materials allowing for virtually endless fort designs, with instructions on how build a foundation, arches, boxes, wheels, and circles, as well as more intricate designs.

Kids and instructors pose with a completed geo-dome during one of the Center for Architecture's Family Days.

Host an architecture-themed birthday party.

Coming up with a new birthday theme every year for kids can be daunting. A fresh idea is to host an architecture-themed birthday party with hands-on activities that encourage design creativity.

Sample activities could include creating a building facade using collage materials, designing a model dream house, or building a skyscraper out of Legos. These parties can be thrown at home or an architecturally-rich space to enhance the experience. A “building” cake can also be an unexpected treat after a day of design.

Sign them up for architecture camp.

As you prepare for your child’s summer, ask if they are interested in going to an architecture camp. Many college-level architecture departments offer summer education options for interested students (though these are mainly aimed at high school kids). Museums and architecture institutions that already have established children’s programming, however, are more likely to have programs available for younger students over the summer. Such camps are a good way to give kids a more in-depth understanding of architecture and hone their creative skills.

  • Example: The Summer@theCenter program at the Center for Architecture offers week-long summer camps for students entering grades 3-12. The topics covered by the camps range from designing tree houses and dream apartments, to studying castles and creating architectural models. Special site visits and walking tours are also part of the camp experience.

Young visitors on a gallery tour at the Center for Architecture in New York view a display about Middle Eastern architecture.

With a little creativity and patience, exploring architecture with kids can be exciting and eye-opening for them -- and maybe even light their inner design spark.

This toolkit was written in consultation with Tim Hayduk, Lead Design Educator for the Center for Architecture in New York City.

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