2.3 : Teacher Action

Your first task is to gather open-ended materials.

You may already use materials in your setting, so you can either take action to gather more materials, or perhaps to organize the materials that you already have. Remember the age group that you are working with, and also think about the expectations that you have for children's play. If the items are delicate (a piece of moss, a mirror), what are your expectations around those items? Think about how you are framing the experience, and the materials, for children.

The focus here is on free, or very low cost, materials. In the prompts and provocations section of the course, you'll see the tendency towards the reusable and the temporary: rather than gluing or taping or painting, these materials, much of the time, are meant to be reused. Things will happen where materials can't be used again, of course.


Look around your own home and classroom.

There are interesting materials everywhere, and you can gather your first items by looking into your junk drawer, your recycling bin, your closet, your garage. Many of my favorite items come from things I set aside at my house: interesting plastic packaging from a new item, plastic bottlecaps, cardboard of all sizes, handfuls of nuts and bolts - you'll be surprised at what you can find in your own home.


Involve Families.

This is a double win: children get excited about helping to source materials, and families are part of the journey to understanding the value of using open-ended materials with children. Think of a few simple items that you might want to begin with - nuts and bolts, for example - and ask parents to look for any unwanted items at home, with their children. Years ago, I worked with a teacher who requested tea boxes, and she ended up with hundreds! You can gather all of the children together to open the bags and sort the materials, engaging children in the ownership and excitement around loose parts. Follow up with parents with photos and stories of children at play with the materials to illustrate constructivism.


Go to the Hardware Store.

The hardware store has become one of my favorite places for loose parts. In particular, Reuse hardware stores are gold mines for interesting materials, often items that are being taken out of the waste cycle when people donate construction materials that otherwise might have been thrown away. A google search for reuse hardware store and your location will likely bring up a variety of places in your city or state. Some of my favorite hardware store items are doorknob caps, electric fence insulators, light switch plates, tile spacers, drawer pulls, and giant bolts.


Go to the Art Reuse Store.

Along the same lines as construction/hardware reuse stores, art reuse stores, or scrap stores. These stores, like their construction counterparts, take items out of the waste cycle to give them new life. Items are often sourced from factories or local industry, or by community donation. A comprehensive listing can be found here.

Go Outside with Children.

Rocks, pinecones, twigs, moss, leaves - there are plenty of wonderful natural materials for you to explore with children!  Head outside to play and observe, and gather a few favorite things to being back to the classroom.

The Dollar Store.

1000 straws? 100 tiny plastic figurines? 12 rolls of crepe paper? These are exciting things for children to have control over! Remember, we are not just looking for delicate things to move around a tabletop: we are looking for items that will engage children.  Rulers, marbles, masks - what can you find that will still allow children to make decisions about their play?

Observe Children at Play.

What kinds of materials are children drawn to?  What are children naturally repurposing?