Saturday, June 3, 2017

Treasures in the Classroom

"To a young child, the world is full of materials to touch, discover, and explore. To find, collect, sort, and use materials is to embark on a special kind of adventure. For adults, gathering materials means rediscovering the richness and beauty in natural, unexpected, and recyclable objects that are all around us, but not often noticed." 
(Weisman Topal & Gandini, 1999)


There is something so magical about being in a thrift store - one of my favourite things to do is grab a hot coffee and spend an hour wandering the aisles and appreciating the beauty that lies within. There are so many interesting things to see and appreciate and it's fun to image the stories that the objects might tell if they could. Sometimes objects will transport me back into my childhood and remind me of things I haven't thought of in years (seeing a basket similar to the one my Nana used to use when hanging laundry too little to help but eager to stand beside her on those warm, sunny days). Those are the absolute best finds.

In our program we value found, recycled and natural loose parts. They are incorporated into all learning areas in the classroom and children are free to use them however they wish as they become play props to support their imaginative stories. Because we don't typically use commercial toys in our program, many of the loose parts and materials to support activities come from interesting places like yard sales and thrift stores. I want our classroom to be as unique and diverse as possible... not some image plastered in any glossy educational resource catalogue but one true to the heart and spirit of our children and community itself.

Last time I visited Value Village I came across a delightful bag of decorative spoons. As my daughter and I explored them we realized that someone had carefully curated these over time. Spoons from far away - the coasts of Canada, the Southern United States and even Europe - were included in the collection. It was clear that this was once a special collection for someone. Had this person traveled extensively and acquired each one? Did love ones travel abroad and always remember to bring a spoon home for this person? Cadence was enamored with the spoons. 

"'s so sad that these were so special to someone and now they ended up here!" She clutched them in her hand and enunciated her point by waving around the store. 

I smiled. That was exactly the point! Who better than to continue to appreciate the rich intricacies of the spoons - the carefully carved pictures, dangling charms, and interesting handles - than my vivacious group of kindergarteners. They find beauty and wonder in the most ordinary of objects and I knew the spoons would continue to be meticulously valued and appreciated in their care.

A few days later I introduced the spoons to the children. I offered them the opportunity to first explore them on a table and then use them around the room. At first most children were so excited to explore each one, often noticing things that had evaded me - the gentle way the handle twisted, the funny flamingo on the Florida spoon, and how one even appeared to have a diamond encased within. And as I carefully observed the children I noticed that including these treasures offered so much rich literacy and numeracy potential. As I listened I heard the complex vocabulary they were using to describe what they noticed. I heard them read the locations listed on each. I saw many who were inspired to sketch the spoons in their journals or ask for books about plants and birds so they could correctly identify which were on the spoons. They were engaging in rich conversations with one another and suggesting different children in the class who might appreciate specific spoons (e.g., "Emma would like the Texas one...she loves horses and this one has a little horsey on the end!").

Over the next few days the children incorporated the spoons into other centres and I observed math emerging in their work. Some children sorted the spoons based on characteristics like those with and without animals on them. Other children lined up the spoons by length or created simple patterns using them. As they used them at the sensory tables I overheard children counting as they measured sand into bowls or reciting recipes being stirred in the big pot. It was amazing to see just how diverse and rich the experiences that incorporated the spoons were.

After a few weeks I watched the children slowly find interest in other materials in our classroom. The spoons are displayed in a decorative basket on the shelf and are still explored by the children when they are needed to support their dramatic play. I know that many groups of children will continue to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of these spoons for many years to come. And I reflect back to what Cadence said many weeks ago when first discovering the spoons and think of whoever might have owned them before we did. Who was she or he? Where did they live? What were their life experiences? How long did it take to collect the spoons? What story accompanied each one? I wish I knew the answers so that I could thank them and assure them that our children will continue to treasure the spoons just as much as they did, one treasure at a time.

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