Archive for the ‘materials’ Category

Meeting Materials

Posted 10 Feb 2012 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials

At a recent visiting day at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool we received many questions about how and when we introduce materials to children.

I like to think that we don’t introduce materials to children, but that children (and adults) and materials meet each other, and get to know each other, over a life time. And in that life time, relationships deepen, resurface, and are sometimes lost. New relationships are constantly forming because there is always a new material to encounter. And just as we have to get to know materials, materials have to get to know us. Clay, movement, music, will react differently in my hands than in yours; it is not a one-sided relationship.

All Along the Watchtower

Posted 09 Oct 2011 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials

Last weekend I was the keynote for the Ohio Voices for Learning conference. During the discussion following our work with materials as languages, we talked about moving from one language to another–from drawing to wire, or the verbal language to clay, etc. I think that too often ideas are simply re-represented; the clay model of a trash eating truck looks exactly like the drawing. Instead, moving from one language to another should invite new twists and turns, and should suggest an evolution of the original idea. Every material is unique and has particular qualities, history and references and brings something to a piece. If the material doesn’t speak, this implies that the language of that material isn’t fully understood.

Think about a good cover song; I love Dave Matthew’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” the Fugees “Killing Me Softly,” Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” (danger: rated R lyrics), Moby’s version of “Helpless.” These artists honor the original song, but they make it their own. The riffs on the original are what make it worth listening to.


Activities and Languages

Posted 12 Apr 2011 — by Jennifer
Category materials

This is a very small example of a very big idea. Children in a classroom at Walker Jones Education Campus became fascinated with the books of Eric Carle. They liked looking at his image, and recognizing his style of illustration from book to book. The class went on a field trip to the National Gallery of Art, where docents read Carle’s book “The Cloud” and then children looked for artist’s renderings of clouds in the museum’s collection. There was also an experience with materials connected to this field trip. 


After the field trip, children came back very excited about clouds. They went outside looking for  and observing clouds:

They had a conversation about clouds (one of the first conversations this classroom has had):

Teacher: What is a cloud?

J – a cloud look like white

N – a cottonball

J- a bowling thing

T- it look like a pizza

E – A dinosaur

S – it’s a … a big furry cloud is made of candy

M – look white

M- it cover the moon

J – a dentist toy

K – race car

J – it looks like a race car. it’s like a giant big cloud. You get another cloud and another cloud and another cloud

L – a cloud look like a hat that you have on

J – A cloud, it covers the stars


Adults met and  talked about what to do. We re-read the children’s words and made hypotheses and assumptions about what they were talking about. We organized, planned, discussed and gathered materials for what would happen next. We decided, based on both the conversations children were having outside on the playground looking for clouds–a lot of pointing out how the cloud was first a dog, then a princess, then a hat, for example–and based on the above small group conversation, that the transmutability of clouds was important–captivating–to the children.

We decided to try to capture this element of cloud-ness using materials. But which ones? Clay? Wire? Pencils? Shadow screen? We decided to create a provocation with sand (a material the children knew well) on a glass panel–where children could draw into and sculpt  the changing cloud forms. 

These materials captured the spirit of what the children were expressing about clouds–that they change from one shape to the next. Their sand drawings evolved from a pizza to a race car to a ‘dirty cloud’ (see below).
I think that this mini-episode captures a little bit of the essence of what it means to use materials as languages–the choice of the material is considered and specific, and it communicates the message and magic of what is being expressed.

Dictionary of Resources

Posted 05 Mar 2011 — by Jennifer
Category environment, materials

At a recent workshop I gave, I had a discussion with a participant about natural and plastic materials in the classroom. Pat, let’s call her, commented on the use of plastics in some of my images, encouraging me to rid the classroom of this material and bring in more natural materials, to be more ecologically sound. This got me thinking–is it better to use natural resources (pine cones, shells, leaves, acorns), or to use plastics (recycled CD’s, bottle tops, parts of soda bottles, odds and ends…)? It seems to me that at this time in our lives, natural materials may be the LESS green choice, since it means culling materials from mother nature that would otherwise be re-used by her. Plastics aren’t going anywhere–I am not in favor of purchasing plastic materials for a classroom, however I do believe that repurposing some of our waste (waste with potential) is ecologically sound. I also believe that it is important that we do not discriminate against a material because of personal bias. Children/adults have the right to encounter all the materials of life. I think the ideal classroom has the presence of all materials–a sort of dictionary of resources–that is a true reflection of life in the 21st century.

Treasures from IKEA

Posted 10 Aug 2010 — by Jennifer
Category environment, materials

Today I went to IKEA with Marley Joyce , Head of School at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool. This is an annual tradition which began the first year Marely came to St. John’s, so I would say this is my 6th trip with her. It is a big treat, for me and for the teachers, and Marley and I look forward to the outing every time.

I always get asked where I find my materials, and so I want to share with you what I see when I go to IKEA…(These cardboard rings separate the glass bowls, above).

Oh man, how about that texture? Don’t you just want to touch it?

Excellent collage and construction possibilities here.

There is almost always a bin full of this stuff, and you may get some strange looks at the check-out counter, but it’s worth it!

Here is a bin full of treasures:Don’t be shy! It’s recycling!