Problem Statement: Design, which is a process of creating, supports individuals’ pursuit, experience and discovery, and contributes to the improvement of higher-order thinking skills. A systematic design education offered in the early years of life boosts especially creative thinking and problem solving skills as well as awareness of the environment and nature. Such education programs have been implemented continuously in Europe and America. However, in Turkey, there is no design education for children.
Purpose of the Study: This research aims to adapt into Turkish culture the Architectural Design Education Program for American preschool and primary school children aged 6-11 and to analyze its effectiveness in improving the design skills of Turkish children. The effectiveness of the program is examined within the sub-question if there are any statistically significant differences between the experimental groups instructed by adapted program and the control groups instructed by conventional activities in the concept of design skills exhibited through performance-based assessments particular to each instructional session.
Method: The Architectural Design Education Program was adapted into the Turkish culture through studies carried out with expert groups. In the academic year 2011-2012, 177 children were given this education program in a primary school in Ankara. These students constituted six experimental groups that represented all levels of grade/age (i.e. preschool and primary education from 1st to 5th year students/aged 6-11). On the other hand, a total of 167 children in six control groups received a program consisting of conventional activities. Analytic rubrics were used to assess, at the end of each instructional session, the products designed by children in line with performance tasks. With a view to comparing the design skills of children in different programs, Mann Whitney U-test for independent samples was used for analysis.
Findings: The analyses show that there are significant differences in the development of design skills between the experimental groups and the control groups at all levels of grade/age, and that the difference was in favor of the experimental groups.
Conclusion and Recommendations: The results show that all instructional activities carried out within the scope of the Architectural Design Education Program are effective in social, emotional and cognitive development of children aged six to 11, improving their higher-order thinking processes based on design skills. It is recommended that this interdisciplinary program, making use of mathematics, history, science and arts, should be integrated with basic areas of instruction in education programs so that its effectiveness can be enhanced.
Keywords: Children, design, creativity, problem solving, education