What materials are you using to provoke thinking?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

When classroom materials are intentionally selected and organized, they have the power to provoke students' exploration, curiosity, thinking, communication, problem-solving, self-regulation, creativity, and can very well set the stage for lifelong learning.

According to Ontario's Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten Program (Draft Version 2010-11), 

"Early Learning-Kindergarten teams should ensure that the learning environment is inclusive and that it is one in which children feel comfortable and safe, yet stimulated to learn and explore.  The atmosphere the team creates is vital to the emotional development of the children.  The environment should be one that encourages empathy, interest in trying new things, and the development of self-confidence (p. 35)."

What immediately jumps out at me when I read this excerpt, are the words "stimulated to learn and explore."  It is my belief that it is vital to consider our learning environment, as well as the resources or materials found within the space that we create.

Some other advice when planning for the use of space, resources, and materials from FDEL-K Program (p. 36-37):
  • keep visual displays at children's eye level
  • provide a variety of materials and resources (familiar and novel, simple and complex) for children to explore, manipulate, and use, both in learning activities and in imaginative play

In our class we see five key stages of materials:
  1. Collecting
  2. Organizing
  3. Provoking
  4. Exploring
  5. Learning

Here are a few photographs of the types of materials that we have within our classroom paired with quotes that have inspired us:

"Children's nature collections breathe life into displays."
                                                               -Mary Anne Rody

Tactile experiences vary from child to child, nevertheless,
the richness and variety of materials is an indispensable
characteristic when planning the environment for young
children (Ceppi & Zini, 1998, p. 77).

"Have nothing in your classroom that you do not know
to be useful or believe to be beautiful"
(Diller, 2008, p. 17, adapted from William Morris).

In Reggio Emilia Italy they believe that, "the materials used
should be rich and varied.  They should create a multisensory
setting with surfaces which are smooth and rough, wet and
dry, opaque, bright, translucent, and transparent.  They
should have different features that change over a period
of time (wood, stone, flowers, fabrics) or remain
unchanged (glass, steel)" (Gandini, 2012, p. 325-326).

When materials are open-ended, they allow the possibilities of discovery and application of prior knowledge, as well as the formation of new knowledge.

What materials are you using to provoke thinking?  We'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Love how you display and store playdough in the jars. Thank you for the provoking my own thinking more. I love clear tubs for all my storage with no lids. Open to the eye. I just added various forms of wood from a craft store.

    1. Thank you Mandy!

      I agree that transparency is so important for children's independence.

      Love the idea of having a variety of wood. I'd love to see a photo!

  2. Thanks for posting this!
    I agree with you that the environment the children are in should stimulate them to learn and explore. I believe that everything in a child's environment should have a purpose. Because of this belief the quote, "Have nothing in your classroom that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" (Diller, 2008, p. 17, adapted from William Morris) really struck me. I have thought about materials being useful but the word "beautiful" made me think more about what I could put in my future classroom that is not only useful but looks beautiful! I think that word is very inspiring!
    I also like how you included that displays should be kept at children's eye level. I think this is so important because if the children can't see or access the materials, what's the point? This kind of purposeful design is what makes an early childhood environment great!