Inventors Day: the importance of tinkering and play.

Working with Shonette Bason-Wood, and being a Spread The Happiness Teacher, has taught me one thing… stop waiting to be happy!


The Spread The Happiness diary and calendars make everyday an exciting day for you and your class. What’s best about the diary is that you are never quite sure if the days in the diary are real or not! But that’s the point, don’t wait for a day to do something new, exciting, daring or different. The diary gives you permission to be the teacher you want to be, and the teach in ways you’ve always wanted to. Which brings me to Inventors Day.

Thursday 17th January was marked as Inventors Day on the Spread The Happiness calendar. I hadn’t seen any of the usual posts on social media about an international day for inventors but it motivated me to observe play in the Maker Space that I set up and developed since 2016. So I spent the afternoon tinkering with the robot kits we have and it made me remember all of the fun we’ve had working with different robotic toys over the years …. and I’ve never shared them!

Designing a Maker Space

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First of all I needed a create a space where we had space to build, design and test. This is in addition to the traditional construction area of boxes of different blocks and tracks. It needed space for both children and robots to move within. The floor also needed to be a hard surface so it could be marked out with masking tape and robots could drive across it. Lego was also important, it couldn’t be stored in one box. It needed separating out in to colours which helps children to find the right piece. Shallower boxes of colours means the smaller pieces aren’t lost at the bottom of a deep box!

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There needed to be places to mark make too. To design ideas and evaluate them by recording in pictures or writing. A large black board, clipboards and hanging pots with writing materials proved helpful in providing these resources, but also in marking out the space.

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Project Mars Rover

One of the first projects in the Maker Space was the Mars Rover work I planned with Apple Distinguished Educator Jason Milner back in 2016. This came after my Reception class had sang to Major Tim Peake, who was on board the Internal Space Station.

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Jason and my Reception class watched clips of the Mars Rover on the iPad then set out using Dash, Lego, foil and tape to make their own rovers. Jason also set up a green screen area to film the robots driving on a Mars landscape.

The activity encouraged lots of talk about the design process and space but also about design and evaluating how well the activity was going. Children made changes to their designs as they played with the robots, controlling Dash similar to a remote control car with the Go app.

Project Flash Light

Little Red Riding Hood needed to get to her Grandma’s house but it was dark in the woods. She needed a flash light. This prompted lots of design work with robots Dot and Robo Wunderkind; both making use of Lego adapters too.

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Children used Lego to build a carry handle on to Dot and used the Go app to switch the lights on and off. If Little Red saw a wolf on her walk, she could sound an alarm siren and flash the lights red to attract the attention of the nearby Woodcutter.


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Robo Wunderkind is another robot kit which allows for customisation with Lego blocks. This robot kit is very adaptable, and in this model the children use the power block (orange) with the LED light block (yellow) and two block adapters (green). They built the handle on to the flashlight with Lego. This robot is controlled by an app called Robo Live.

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Parts of the handles fell to pieces, joins were not secure and designs needed to be adapted. Children had to try and try again. They also learned about cause and effect in the apps when controlling the robots. They found out which buttons turned lights on and off, how to design a remote control with sound buttons and how to communicate danger with lights and sound.

Project Robot Football

Apple Distinguished Educator John Jones was busy playing Sphero Football with his Digital Leaders and sharing the coding challenges on Twitter. This inspired me to bring football and coding to the early years!

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In this project, children used Dash with the push bar accessory, Robo Wunderkind with the motors, wheels and Lego block adapters and Blockly with the bull bar accessories. Goals were set up and children used the robots like remote control cars to score goals with a ping pong ball.


Not only did children’s designs and strategies change, they also evaluated which robot was the best to play football with. They ranked the players 1st, 2nd and 3rd through trial and error of playing Robot Football.

Project Royal Wedding

Meghan Markle made history in our classroom by becoming the first bride to walk down the aisle of a Royal Wedding with a robot playing a xylophone. She also had 2 robot bridesmaids.

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Children used the Xylo app to compose music that would play Meghan down the aisle. They programmed the notes on the Xylo app along with the movements for the Dash wearing the xylophone accessory. The two Dash bridesmaid were controlled with Go like remote control cars.



Another child also asked to use Skoog, which I linked to GarageBand, to play some organ style music for our Royal Wedding role play. This was an effective way to give everyone in the class an engaging role! Every child wanted to play weddings.


Project Transport Bananas!

After reading the Eden Project story ‘The World Came To My Place Today’, we were learning how food gets to our school. It was the same day that our bananas were delivered bruised. This was a great opportunity to explore the best way to transport fruit without it bruising.

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Children used Dash robots with Lego adapters to make storage boxes for oranges and apples. They controlled the robots with Blockly Jr for better control. Blockly Jr is a free app that connects to Dash by bluetooth and lets children code the robot using arrows of forwards, backwards, left and right (like you would control a Bee Bot). This meant the children could predict and measure the steps needed to transport the fruit from one place to another.

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The transportations weren’t successful on the first time (or the second, or third!) The designs that children were so proud of did not hold up in the long run testing. Lots of adaptations needed making to get the precious fruit delivered without bruising like our bananas.

Project Emoji

In a discussion about feelings and identifying emotions by facial expressions, we explored how to display emotions through the robots. The children built a Robo Wunderkind robot and used the LED screen to make faces on the robot using the Robo Live app.

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This engaged children in PSHE discussions, talking to me about what makes a person happy or sad. They told me how to identify a happy face or sad face. They also talked about the feelings of their peers when they didn’t get a turn on the robots. This meant better sharing could take place in our Maker Space!

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The designs of this stationary robot became more complicated as the days went by. The robot even got arms and ears with Lego blocks!




img_1960 2 copyLater in the week I added the motor block to give the the robot’s head the ability to turn and look around.

Children also added the LED lights to the model so I could talk about colour representation. Which colours look happy and which look sad? They linked the colours of emotions to our whole school behaviour management system of green, yellow and red.

Happy emotions are green and therefore good. This opened up the discussion of feeling sad, being red and if it is bad to feel sad. It was a teaching point for well-being. Feeling sad isn’t a bad thing, it is ok to be sad and talk about it.

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This was the week I also introduced Coji to our line-up of robotics kits. This robot is controlled by emojis in the Coji app. The robot receives the emoji message from the children, displays the emojis on it’s screen then acts out the emotion with movement and sound.


I can hear this being said over and over again as I wrote this post. I know there is a lot on offer in terms of robotics kits in my Reception class. But that shouldn’t leave you disheartened. This is still possible for you! First of all, most of this learning is focused on design and evaluating. The most important resource you need is Lego or any other construction kit blocks. Next you need something that is controlled remotely, like a remote controlled car – I tried to liken the control of these robots to remote controlled cars as I wrote it. If you’ve got Bee Bots in school, you can purchase Lego Block Tape from eBay or Amazon. Stick it to your Bee Bots to add blocks to them (and remote controlled cars!)

Microphones are great to use too. Get those Easy Speak microphones that TTS sell and stick Lego tape to them. Children can add wheels and push them around to deliver messages. What about sticking some Talking Points on to a remote controlled car to drive a message to somebody in the room. You could also use Lego tape and flashlights from the Science store in school. Make handles for Little Red to carry the flash light and find ways to add coloured filters to front of the flash light.

What I have learned about tinkering.

Tinkering is the computational thinking term for what early years practitioners know as play. It is play with robots or code. If you are looking to buy robotics kits for school, you will be buying in to play for all children. When classes in Key Stage 2 uses these robotics kits, they get to play with them. They get to learn how they work through exploration. Maker Spaces with robots become continuous provision for Year 6 children. You can learn more about Key Stage 2 tinkering in a post I wrote with Jason Milner here.

In terms of early years provision, I am always observing The Characteristics of Effective Learning in the Maker Space. The Creating and Thinking Critically strand is always being demonstrated in play here and mostly by children who wouldn’t demonstrate these learning behaviours in other areas. The Maker Space gives all kinds of learners the opportunity to be creative and critical.

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I have mapped The Characteristics of Effective Learning to The Cornerstones of Computational Thinking in this matrix to help you plan for coding and control in the early years. You can download it for free here and learn more about developing computational thinking in the Foundation Stage here.





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