Monday, August 26, 2013

New Reggio-inspired materials in our classroom

Materials have a key role in a reggio-inspired environment. They must draw the children in and entice them to explore, to create, to undo and redo and to wonder. They must be carefully selected by the teacher to prompt learning and lead the children towards discovery.

So what are we talking about here? What is so special about Reggio materials?
First of all, like the Montessori materials, they must be aesthetically pleasing, natural (wood/ceramic/metal rather than plastic) to trigger the interest of the child and invite him to play. They must call to his senses (which usually is achieved by the fact that Reggio classroom use natural items as well as authentic materials). Unlike Montessori whose materials are didactic and can only be used for one purpose and one way only, Reggio inspired materials must be open-ended. What are open-ended materials? Simply materials that can be transformed, that comes to life in the hands of a child. Materials that require the child to use their imagination or their experiences. Bocks are a very good example of what I mean here by "open-ended". If I give a child a block that has been shaped like a car, it will be used as a car. But if I offer a plain wooden block to the child, he will use that block as a tree, as a bridge, as a house, as a tower etc.. Here is the beauty of the open-ended materials: they enhance the play experience  because the child is a lot more involved in the process of playing (imagining, solving a problem, finding a solution, creating, innovating, discussing, explaining etc..)

So what kind of open-ended materials have I brought in our classroom:

  •  silks and scarves in the Small World area for the children to create sceneries and landscapes.
  • simple wooden blocks (I bought bigger sized blocks)
  •  fabric scraps in various sizes and textures to a small collection of animal figurines or people
  • cotton wool and  natural materials like rocks, sticks, pinecones in the Small Area.
  •  basket of  pebbles to the block area and see how your child incorporates them into their play.
And of course, I have added plenty of mirrors. That was one of the first thing that struck me when I started studying Reggio-inspired blogs. Mirrors are primordial and can be found everywhere. And this is not just because they bring a sense of beauty to the classroom. They encourage depth of inquiry to any activity. Children who use mirrors soon start to use objects differently because of the 3 dimensional aspect the mirrors bring to the game. if the children are working with play dough on a mirror rather than a tile or a mat, the mirror suddenly becomes part of what they are creating.
Here is a quick look at the other materials I am using in the different areas I have now created:
  • In the Small World area:
I am presenting a SM environment using a board of felt (to stimulate senses), wooden animals and a miniature wooden farm.

Two wooden doll houses that can be played with individually or separately. Note the use of mirrors again to add to the experience and the different props to be used.

I also bought some little wooden gnomes and fairies on ebay and Etsy that can be use for any type of Small World pretend play.

GNOME HOME - mushroom house with gnome- wooden carved toy - waldorf inspired
BLOWBALL - DANDELION FAIRY - nature table toy - carved wooden figure - waldorf inspiredFly Agaric MUSHROOM HOUSE  and gnome - waldorf wooden toy for nature table 
And the children will also be able to use the fabric and scarves there too:

and plenty of other natural items:
basket of shells (which could also be used in construction)
painted rocks
  • In the Construction area: 
bigger wooden blocks by the mirror

I am using the Montessori sensorial geometric solids here as they can add to the learning. They still can be used in the way Montessori has taught us and cards could be added to do so.

Smaller wooden blocks to build castles


sticks I bounded together to be used as bridges or as enclosures

round wood cuttings

pine cones


wooden props

Again, we will be using the Broad Stairs in the construction area for construction purposes but it will also be use for its original didactic purpose.


 As I said before, this is an on-going transformation as I am still adding bits and pieces to our classroom. I keep taking photos as I do so and I will keep writing posts to show you all. We are going back to school on Friday and I am still trying to improve our new environment. Sometimes I look at it and I feel I haven't done enough or I have failed to create an harmonious atmosphere... Then I have to remind myself that it's a transformation in progress and that the children will lead me in the right direction once they are back.. I will be able to follow their interest and listen to their requests or wishes... Fingers crossed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The 3rd teacher: our new Reggio inspired classroom

So if you have read my last 2 posts, you will know that I have  decided  to integrate some of the Reggio Emilia approach to my teaching methods. But so that we are clear,  I do not claim to be a Reggio teacher. I have, however, after a few months of study, learned to borrow bits and pieces from different Reggio-inspired teachers, blogs and from many books on the approach. It's not perfect yet.. There are things that I would like to change completely but time and resources were short so I had to do with what I had or what I could find at home (or in car boot sales).

 So where did I start? I transformed my classroom and started with a blank canvas. First, I moved all the furniture in the middle of the classroom. I removed most of the materials too and piled them up wherever I could! What a mess!!!

I studied many pictures of Reggio classrooms and I do love how they are designed to become the third teacher. If the environment is set up right, the children will be more likely to be actively engaged with the materials. I have made sure that the children are actively engaged and that they are  learning through play. I kept my Montessori areas (maths, literacy, science, sensorial and practical Exercises areas) but I made room for a block area and for a small world corner. 

Some of you may ask me why I didn't add a home corner, and why I chose a small world area instead. First of all, I don't have a huge space to play with. So my options were limited. Secondly, at this stage of development and with limited exposure to real life experiences, small children benefit a lot by having small world play clearly modelled to them. Contrary to popular belief, children don't always know how to pretend play, especially with imaginative toys promoting role-play; they do need guidance to show how they can re-enact situations they encounter. Why? Maybe because they have not yet either experienced the scenario for themselves in real life or watched the adult demonstrating what to do. Or because they haven't got the skills and maturity to do so just yet.  When I started my preschool, I did have a small home corner (despite what Montessori thought) but I had observed how chaotic it could become: children were not ready to engage in the early stages of proper imaginative play and the corner was usually a chaotic  and messy space where children felt they could go a bit "wild" . So I got rid of the homecorner as I found it unproductive and as I was eager to follow Montessori by the books. But after a few years of observations and work with the children, I can now say that in my books, Small World play is the stepping stone to homecorners. Let me explain:
  1. children start to learn how to use their imagination independently at first then with one other peer.
  2. They start to narrate their play and thus developing early story-telling skills
  3. They start to re-enact familiar experiences in a similar way to role-play
  4.  I found that small world play can be very cheap to set up if you really want to and easy to make from found, natural and recycled materials. 
  5. Small World Play promotes  creativity if you provide children with open-ended materials
  6. Engaging for all ages from 2 up until 10! Same scenes, different skills and outcomes. 

The children I teach in my preschool are aged 2.5 to 4.5 this year and I think the Small World Corner will address their needs much better. Here is a snap shot of our corner:

And here is our new construction area:
I really think blocks are the epitome of open-ended materials. Children express their creativity when playing with blocks, making designs, constructions and sculptures. In the construction area, a child needs to think, to solve problems, to negotiate and invent. And while they do that, they learn about Blocks require a child to think creatively, problem solve, negotiate and invent. They learn about balance, angles, height, perspective, stability and symmetry through trial and error as they construct their buildings. Magic!! And if you add a mirror, the child will learn  to think 3-dimensionally!!!! 

I have re-thought our reading corner and excluded it from our circle time area. It is more defined this way, especially as I have tried to turn it into a little cosy and private area with the help of a few cushions scattered on the floor and a little lamp (please note that I need to add an extension to the lamp and hide the lead as it is not safe the way I am showing it to you right now). I am hoping the children will find it inviting and will feel more enticed to come along and quick a book for quiet time.

Beside the reading corner is our circle time area. The calendar hasn't been changed and children will sit on the floor together.
Right beside our circle time area, you will recognise our jigsaw shelving unit (which happens to also serve the purpose of a desk - my desk!).

Right beside the jigsaws is now our nature table! I am hoping to use it a lot more than I have in the past and I will look for inspiration on all the wonderful blogs across the blogosphere. I wish I knew how to work with felt and make all these beautiful landscapes that my dear friend Karen creates (click right here to have a look at what she does! Amazing!). Unfortunately, I don't.. I have added mirrors to the table and in front of it to add another dimension to the display and to attract the children. I haven's set it up yet but I will keep you posted on our different types of nature/interest tables in the future.

I haven't moved our science shelves. They are fine where they are and the materials can be used on the round table placed right besides them. On the left hand side of the science area, we are back to the construction corner.

As you enter the room, the first corner you meet, right on the left by the window is our Montessori literacy area (writing and pre-reading). I have a mirror displayed on a small easel for the beginning of the year: I guess you can consider this as my 1st Reggio provocation. I am hoping the children will look at themselves and feel like drawing a self-portrait using the markers/crayons, and googly eyes at their disposition on the table and shelves.

Montessori insets and markers/crayons

Reggio provocation?

Tracing tray

Montessori sandpaper letter and my phonics booklets

In the centre of the classroom, you can see our Montessori Practical Exercises shelving units.  Here is a quick look at what I have put on our shelves for the start of September.

spooning and tonguing

nuts and bolts, key sets and salt pouring

fine motor skills (pincer grasp and hammering, play dough) and our tray of table mats

opening and closing bottles, and transferring activity from one jug to another

Using pegs

Catching fish ( magnetic game) and lacing activity

More lacing as well as balancing game
On the right hand side of the PLE area, you will find the Montessori Sensorial corner, right in front of the reading den.

By the Sensorial area, you can see our Montessori maths shelving until and our Geography/History corner.

And of course, our little art corner with the sink right beside it.

So what do you think? Any suggestions? As I explained, it is going to be a progressive transformation. There are so much more to do !! Stay tune for our next post on all the new materials I have brought in following the Reggio Emilia approach..