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How Playful Prototyping Can Help Kids Become Innovators

Has your child ever used Legos or Play-Doh to build different types of buildings, cars or even entire towns? Or have they ever used cardboard and upcycled materials to create a new toy or invention? Whether they know it or not, they are practicing an activity that some of the most accomplished inventors have used to help change the world: prototyping.

A prototype is an early version of a product or idea that is used to test its viability and effectiveness. By building and then testing different types of a new product, inventors and manufacturers ensure that what they bring to market is safe and reliable.

Often, when children embrace their innate curiosity through the act of play, they naturally engage in prototyping and experimentation. In fact, research conducted by celebrated psychologist and researcher Alison Gopnik found that even from a young age, children engage in scientific thinking and that the act of play is in itself a form of discovery.

"What we need to do to encourage these children to learn is not to put them in the equivalent of school, tell them things, or give them reading drills or flash cards or so forth,” said Gopnik in an interview with the National Science Foundation. “What we need to do is put them in a safe, rich environment where these natural capacities for exploration, for testing, for science, can get free rein."


Prototyping and the Innovation Mindset

Providing children with environments to freely explore their creativity and imagination is at the heart of all National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) education programs. Because all the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities developed by our education team invite kids to develop solutions to real-world problems, not only are they given the opportunity to create their very own invention prototypes, but in the process, they can also build an Innovation Mindset.

Developed in collaboration with our NIHF Inductees, individuals whose inventions continue to improve our society, the Innovation Mindset is made up of essential skills and traits that unlock creative potential. This mindset informs the creation of all NIHF programming.

We invite you to learn more about the Innovation Mindset by visiting our website.


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