The Car Project

A Project by Three-, Four-, and Five-Year-Old Children at Illinois Valley Community College, Oglesby, Illinois

Length of project: 16 weeks
Teachers:  Sallee Beneke, Rebecca Tonelli, and Practicum Students

Phase One—Beginning the Project

We began in mid-January by investigating a nearby automotive lab. The topic was selected for its potential to engage 4-year-old Taylor, who liked cars, in project work. Our investigation began with a discussion and web about problems that can develop with cars. Discussion resulting from a first visit to the lab revealed the children's interest in the individual cars in the lab. Small groups sketched in the lab on many occasions and observed repairs and oil changes. Wheels, license plates, and motors were frequently the focus of attention. Children used tools to disassemble many car parts.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

By late February the children had decided to build their own car. A motor constructed spontaneously by Taylor sparked this idea. He suggested to the group that they should build a car for his motor, and they liked his idea. They began a list of parts for the car that they would need to construct. The list grew over time. Children volunteered for teams to build different parts and made additional trips to the lab for in-depth observation of the parts they planned to construct. The children continued to interview the automotive instructors. They graphed car colors to decide the final color of the car. Drawings were used to plan constructions. Construction of the car parts from found objects and classroom art materials provided many opportunities to practice measuring and writing skills. Children learned to respect each other's additions to the overall construction and building efforts. Constructions included seats, battery, jumper cables, windshield, dashboard, movable steering wheel, handles, gas tank, cell phone, air gun, bumper, license plate, wheels with tread, antenna, doors, brake and gas pedals, and a horse trailer. Dramatic play in the car continued throughout the project. Taylor's enactment of welding led to the addition of a real welding mask to the dramatic play area.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

The project came to a close by the end of April. As a culminating event, the children's car was transported to the lobby of the main campus for display. It was roped off as if it were a museum piece. Small groups of children came to the main campus each day for a week to provide tours of their car to those who passed through this busy place. A documentation panel showed how the car project developed. The children showed great interest in discussing this panel among themselves.


We had predicted that the children would be interested in the auto lab machinery, such as the lifts that raise and lower the cars. The children surprised us with their interest in cars. This reminded us that as adults we take many complex things in our everyday environment for granted. In fact, at first the children were not able to sketch an entire car. Their initial field sketches portrayed parts of cars. Encouraging the children to touch and discuss the features of the car part they were sketching had a dramatic effect on the quality of their drawing.

Exploring Car Parts

 children and cars

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