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Beautiful Stuff! Chapters 1 & 2

July 10, 2011

Prior to a few weeks ago, I did not really know anything about Reggio Emilia.  As I slowly learned little pieces about his approach to education, I became more and more interested.  I ordered a used copy of Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Linda Gandini as a first step in learning more about Reggio education.

The process of learning with found materials begins, of course, with the collecting of the materials.  This is the process the authors discuss in the first chapter, Collecting, Discovering, and Organizing Materials.  As the children collect the materials, it is important to record some of the children’s perceptions on the process.  The collection process encourages children to look at objects in their world in new ways, opening their imagination.  Containers, preferably clear or white, in which the materials can be sorted and stored must also be collected.

Once the materials are collected, they must be sorted.  The children should be in charge of the sorting process as this helps them develop observation and critical thinking skills.  The sorting process also allows the children to explore the materials in an organized way.

Maintaining the collection is never over.  New materials can be added at any time, and in order to preserve the beauty and usefulness of the collection, teachers/parents should discreetly edit the collection in order to avoid clutter.  The children should also help keep up the collection.  Materials can be cleaned with soapy water and as the collection becomes jumbled through use, the sorting process can be redone. Moving and rearranging the materials can keep the experience alive (Ch. 2).

The collection should be stored in a studio, or laboratory, space.  The materials need to be visible and easy to reach and the children should be involved in the set up and maintenance of the space.  The space should also include an empty shelf where children can store their work, both completed and in progress.

In the second chapter, the authors discuss Exploring Materials.  Each material has unique characteristics and exploration allows for the discovery of these properties.  The children can make a “display” of materials they select.  The mat for the display can be a piece of construction paper.  Different shapes of paper can encourage different types of displays; a larger paper gives more room to spread out the materials and a smaller paper encourages a 3-D display.

Children’s explorations and their displays reveal the connections they have made and the complexity of their thinking.  It is important to record their explanations of their designs.  “Save a memory” of designs by either taking a picture or having the child draw a sketch of the design. The experience itself should also be recorded through pictures of the children at work and transcripts of their dialog while working.

It is often assumed that children need to make “something” in their learning, that there needs to be a product of an activity, but this is not always the case.  The process is often more important than a product.

Circles are often the first shape that a child draws and it naturally emerges from their scribbling.  Once the circles begin to emerge a child’s exploration of circular forms should be encouraged.  Round objects should be provided for the child to investigate.  A tray of circular objects with containers allows for exploration and sorting.


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