Classroom Environment

Open Ended Materials

One thing that I am very proud of is how intentional I am about choosing materials for the classroom. This is something I fully credit to the RIE foundations course and to a great support system around me; I have several people (including my wonderful co-teachers) that help me think about what I should bring into the class room and why.

I strongly believe in only providing children with open ended materials. These are materials that can be used in many ways and allow the child to actively create their own play. “The simpler the toy, the more a child must use her imagination and resources to play with it. Simple objects help children discover how things work” (Gerber, 89).Some toys (ones that light up, flash, play music, dance or move around) are made for entertainment. This would be called an active toy (because the toy does the work) and the child becomes passive. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (see  Ideas I shared on Facebook), who do we want to lead a child’s play…the child or the toy?

One of the my favorite aspects of using open ended materials is that no matter how old a child gets they can still use them. I’m a firm believer that infants and toddlers don’t get bored, they lose interest in items. In my classroom I prefer to leave items in the room for longer periods of time so I can see if the children start to use the materials in different ways. “Open-ended toys have endless possibilities for experimentation because there is more than one way to play with them and more than one thing to learn from them. As infants grow older these same toys continue to engage their curious minds because they discover new ways to play with them” (Petrie & Owen, 74). So what do these materials look like? Here are a few examples from my classroom:

ice scoops, plastic fruit containers, crusher lids
ice scoops, plastic fruit containers, crusher lids
bowl covers
bowl covers
cotton napkins
cotton napkins

 We’ve had these napkins the room since the beginning of the year. At first they were not used much. As the year went on the children started to use them for peek-a-boo but most of the time the napkins just laid untouched. This might have been a time were some teachers would have taken them out of the room, but we left them. Recently, the napkins have been used to wrap baby dolls in or laid out on the floor so the children can go “night night” on top of them. What would have happened if we had taken these out of our room earlier? What opportunities would we have robbed from the children in our class?

water jug and hair curlers
water jug and hair curlers
kitchen goods
kitchen goods
Jar and lids
Jar and lids

Resources:

Gerber, Magda, and Allison Johnson. Your self-confident baby. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998. Print.

Petrie, Stephanie, and Sue Owen. Authentic relationships in group care for infants and toddlers – resources for infant educarers (RIE) principles into practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005. Print.

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6 thoughts on “Open Ended Materials

  1. Thanks for sharing some of your ideas for loose parts. Are you documenting the children’s “work”? If so, what types are you doing. I think you mentioned you’re teaching children under 2 and that project work is difficult.

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    1. You’re welcome! I just finshed reading your post on how the first day went (with the loose parts)! sounds like some really great work happened.

      I am documenting the children’s work with the materials. I use publisher and create a document that has 4-6 pictures of a child (or children) at work, then I write what the child did (no jugdments just writing exactly what I saw) and why it is important or developmentaly approperiate. I’m going to start including some quotes from the books I’ve read, so we’ll see how that goes.

      I am working with children under two, so as far as project work goes, I’m just gathering information right now. Taking pictures and having documentation of the children’s work and then putting them into really open ended groups like, outdoor play, music, kitchen play, interacting with others. I’m going to conintue with this and see where is takes me.

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  2. This is a great article, Becky! I popped in your room and noticed the lily pad bowl covers (I use one at home) and thought, what a unique material to have in a toddler room. Kudos!

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    1. Thank you Sarah! Vicki suggested them 🙂 they suctioned to the floor and I think the children like the feed back their body gets from trying to pull them off. The children have also figured out that they can peel the lily pads off of anything. Since the lily pads suction to bowls they suction to about anything in the room! I think they also make great teethers.

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