I’ve been reading Learning Together with Young Children again lately. It’s one of my favourite Reggio-inspired books and although it’s intended for teachers, the suggestions it gives for providing an engaging environment are inspiring and simple to implement.
I was looking for something in particular that I had read; thoughts and strategies for making activities more engaging for children by choosing particular materials and displaying them beautifully and invitingly.
These days, I find myself more and more moving away from traditional toys and looking instead to loose parts and other non-typical materials for Jack (4yrs) and Sarah (23mths). I wanted to learn more about incorporating something like playdough or clay with loose materials.
I found what I was looking for, at the end of the chapter, there was a task. A task to set out a playdough invitation for a few weeks and then observe how the children played with it, making changes to the materials depending on the direction of the children’s play.
I thought I would try it for a week; a week of playdough. I like the neutral tones of uncoloured playdough and also prefer the initial warmth and feel of a freshly cooked batch. I just use the recipe on the back of the Cream of Tartar container. Two balls of playdough, now for the materials.
The book suggested a mat or tray to define the work space. I decided to use some of our A4 acrylic mirrors. Then a separate bowl or tray for each material. Keeping similar materials together helps children to explore the differences between materials more easily. It is also easier for children to see what is available to them when materials aren’t all in the one container.
Materials for making imprints
Materials for design
- sea glass
- tiny wood cookies
Materials for construction
Materials for pretend play
- Australian animal figurines
Jack and Sarah dove into it straight away. Sarah making imprints and Jack creating pretend worlds with the figurines. Sarah soon added more materials, some knitted fabric squares and small felt balls. Jack then added some people to be included in his stories.
I took a few photos and made note of Jack’s stories for the next time they want to play. The playdough is in a small plastic container on top of the mirror so they can get it out by themselves. And all the materials including the ones they added are in their bowls again.
Sarah has returned to the table several times to make more imprints. Jack has returned twice today, once to make some snails using the sea glass as a design for the shell and the other time to make a building with the sticks.
I am liking this task. Two days into it so far, three more to go. I wonder what other materials they will add over the week and how their play will evolve…