Circular Systems Thinking for Kids (2017)
I had already been working as a creative director and educator of systems thinking and circular economy when the Turkish Society of Rochester asked me to give some systems thinking and critical thinking workshops for children, in the Turkish language. I was responsible for designing the content and activities of these workshops. I faced two main challenges during these workshops:
I needed to translate all the terminology from English to Turkish. Moreover, I needed to make the vocabulary as simple as possible so that kids aged 5 to 12 could understand the processes.
Systems thinking requires some amount of base knowledge. For example: understanding about society, the ecosystem, or industry systems. These topics can be very abstract for children.
I asked for help from Yagmur Akarsu, a Turkish artist and RIT master’s degree student in Fine Arts, to help me translate the systems thinking terminology from English to Turkish. Yagmur is also an experienced Turkish language instructor for this age group. She helped me to understand the knowledge level I could expect from kids in my workshops. Our workshops challenged the students to learn and see the world around them in a critical and systematic way.
Each Systems Thinking for Kids workshop ran for three hours on Sundays over two semesters. During the first three weeks, students learned about essential skills and model-making using different materials and techniques, and also we defined 2D and 3D terminology.
We broke down the contents into topics which the already kids had experience with. We started with the “Meet Your Brain” workshop, which focuses on the nervous system and its interaction with other systems in the body. This first workshop helped them to understand the question: “What is a system?” In other workshops, we practiced empathizing in social situations. We also considered the implications of empathy on the ecosystem and interactions with complex systems and problems in their surrounding environments.
During the final two weeks of the program, we practiced ways to further develop skills for identifying the causes and effects of the actions we take in our daily lives.
The students in our workshops explored critical thinking and systems thinking as methods for boosting their curiosity and creativity. They also developed their skills for collaboration and problem solving. They began to understand the importance of holistic scientific research in creativity and design processes.
We created a small exhibition at the end of each session and asked the students to explain their projects to the rest of the class. This helped them to not only review their work, but to increase their confidence for public speaking. We received positive feedback from the children’s families and the program’s board members.
We all live in a very complex system but (for the past several hundred years) human-made linear systems have grown to dominate our daily lives, including everything from our educational institutions to our grocery shopping and media. This linearity is limiting. Instead of seeing and understanding the whole and its interconnections, we just see the parts which are highlighted by each linear system.
Teaching children to adopt systems thinking and to embrace empathy is an investment that has lifelong benefits. It helps kids to understand social networks, the connectivity of the world, the interconnectivity and complexity of problems, and how we can pursue solutions on a wide scale. This approach also helps kids to understand the reasons behind changes and prepares them to be ready for changes.
This workshop for kids in Rochester gave me a new perspective about how we can create a self-sustaining and lifelong educational system for kids. It also helps me consider how such an approach could benefit kids who do not have proper access to educational systems. Stay tuned and please follow this workshop on Instagram: #Circularsystemsthinkingforkids