Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Open-Ended Materials in the Classroom

Our Tumbleweed classroom is filled with many materials of various textures, colors, weights, and forms.  Train tracks, silks, wooden animals, books, and puzzles are well loved and returned to often.  Currently, our collections of various small parts receive the most attention: silver bells, round magnets, birch pieces, pom poms, seashells, chain links, and tiny mirrors are explored first thing in the morning and all throughout the day.  These open-ended materials prove to be incredibly versatile, as the children use them in any number of ways. 

Loading bells into the dump truck.

Small parts are used often in imaginary play, bells and pom poms becoming soups and cakes, and birch pieces standing in for cookies and sandwiches.  Seashells are used as bottles to feed cloth babies and beaded necklaces as backpacks for going on trips.  The children are constantly surprising me with their creative thinking, as ordinary objects become stand-ins for anything on their minds: self-care/caring for others, things that are “too crazy” (i.e. wouldn’t happen in reality), caring for the environment (e.g. wiping up spilled cake), things that adults do (e.g. make coffee, go to meetings), home/school routines (e.g. cooking food, going to sleep),  and exciting events (e.g. riding trains, going to the zoo).  Because open-ended materials suggest no “right” way of use, they have the potential to be incorporated into endless imaginary scenarios.  Coupled with the children's ever-expanding use of language, they become symbolic props for complex, abstract thought.

Using a necklace as a bandaid for an injured dragon.

Stirring bells to make soup.

Of course, the properties of the materials themselves offer plenty of opportunities for engaging play, as well.  Magnets are often combined with the metal bells and chain links for an exploration of magnetism.  Bells are collected in a small pail or purse and shaken, appreciated for the sound they make.  The extreme lightness of tiny pom poms makes them a fascinating candidate for dropping, throwing, kicking, and pressing against other surfaces.  Any combination of these materials might be used for filling a bowl or basket to the very brim, in an effort to see just how much will fit and what happens when the contents are transferred to another container (of equal or different size).  More recently, the children have shown interest in counting with the bells and birch pieces, the beginnings of understanding numbers as representative of physical quantities.


Watching the children exchange ideas relevant to their current processing and experiment with materials in new ways is such an exciting aspect of my time with them in the classroom.  The self-guided work of the children is astounding in its complexity as they transform ordinary materials into opportunities for making mental connections about their world, both scientific and social in nature.  As always, there is much to be learned from observing their play, particularly with open-ended and inspiring materials!

1 comment:

  1. This almost makes me want to have another daughter to let you raise her on up.