Friday, June 25, 2010

Beautiful Stuff Learning with Found Materials

Beautiful Stuff Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini has been in my To Be Read stack for quite some time and I'm so glad I read it! This book was written to help teachers and parents create meaningful experiences between young children and materials. Materials you can recycle and reuse in a new way. I don't think these ideas need to stop with young children. I think children of all ages can represent knowledge and learning with found materials. This book is inspired by the work of teachers from Reggio Emilia, Italy and "The Hundred Languages of Children" exhibit.

It all begins with children bringing found materials from home. This helps foster a connection between home and school quite quickly. There is a sample letter and list of things that help promote this project. For example, yarn, buttons, juice lids, corks, fabric, marker caps, and much more. When the students bring in their brown paper bag, which is a great way to organize the amount and size of objects brought in the children begin a big project of sharing, sorting, classifying, cleaning, displaying, and keeping order. These are important life skills. The materials brought in foster exploration. Exploration for the objects properties and finding out what the object can do. I just loved these two lines, "exploring materials is an evocative experience. It stimulates the imagination."

In thinking about my own studio/art shelf space I realized these types of materials are too high and ones I've collected for them to use. They use to be eye level, I wonder when did I change this? Here is some thinking to benefit us all as we think about setting up our rooms next year. "The studio space is not an isolated place where artistic things happen. "It is a laboratory for thinking." It is a place to see that thinking can be expressed through materials. In order for this to happen, it is important to create a space where materials are visible and easy to reach so that there is the possibility for children to return to what they were doing and follow up on ideas. To have a special space where children can concentrate on their work with materials is conducive to learning and to children finding their own strengths."

As children use found materials to design they are able to demonstrate complex thinking and connections. The oral language used to describe their creations shows us complex thinking. We have to listen. After the children create using found materials they are often asked to "save a memory" by drawing. Drawing, takes their thinking and holds it in a new language often making their ideas clearer. This book is filled with colored photographs of children working which complement the text ideas for projects that follow. The projects aren't step by step directions but guidance for using found materials in another area of study. It can be overwhelming having so many materials to work with yet as a teacher I want to balance choice and open ended creativity. I loved the support suggested for children when doing this type of work, pick 8 objects to work with.

As I read through this book I could see a lot of connections with mathematics, reading, writing, and communicating. The book includes examples for displaying student's work for all to enjoy and celebrate. May you think about using found materials in your classrooms and enjoy.

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