Beautiful Junk

Egg cartons, buttons, rocks, pinecones, and old computer parts are all examples of loose materials or loose parts.  These materials are used to support thinking and spark creativity in the individual who manipulates them.  In the article Waste Materials, Tiziana Ciccone describes her travels to Reggio Emilia, Italy and the ideas and programs she took away and adopted into her own curriculum and instruction.

During her trip, she visited The Remida Center, which is essentially a warehouse full of recyclable items. She was so impressed with the center’s purpose that she wanted to bring this way of learning back to Ontario and incorporate it into her own private preschools, Reggio Kids.

The Remida Center in Reggio Emilia, Italy donates the collected materials to various preschools, schools, Junk1recreation centers, and senior citizen’s centers.  The center is a joint project of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia and AGAC, which is the gas, water, and trash collection utility.  With the help from the Friends of Reggio Children Association who manage the donations, this community project is able to promote the use of waste materials as resources by giving value to imperfect and essentially worthless objects.  The center collects these materials from unsold stock, rejects, or discarded materials from various industrial locations.

Ciccone shares that the implementation into her schools was a slow process because it required parent, educator, and community interest and involvement.  The main focus from the start was obtaining as many loose materials and parts as possible.  The parents were the first to participate by donating various items.  Assuming the parents would be hesitant to this approach, Ciccone was pleasantly surprised at how excited the parents had become by watching their children flourish.  Once the collection got big enough, the teachers got involved and adjusted the way the materials were organized.  After organization, the wonderful and vast collection of so-called “beautiful junk” was ready for the children to explore.

The children were immediately engaged in imaginative play.  They began creating simple objects such as butterflies, flowers, and collages from the materials.  After a short period of time, the children were creating more complex work.  As the children became increasingly familiar with the materials, they began to create and design detailed backdrops for stories, forests, and even their own representations of theories on how things work.

Junk2Once the success of this new approach was clear, Ciccone began aligning the loose materials with specific education guidelines and standards.  She first focused on how the materials could meet the guidelines provided by the Ontario Curriculum for Kindergarten.  She believed the materials could become tools for supporting basic concepts such as math, literacy, and science.  For example, children could use cords or pieces of rubber to work on math skills such as grouping or comparing numbers.  They could listen to a story and then take various materials to recreate a scene or character from that story.  Also, children could learn about the process of creating paper while sorting materials such as paper, wood, and cardboard.  Incorporating these waste materials into daily curriculum enriches learning because it is hands-on and allows the child to explore their interests in a unique way.

The amount of creativity and exploration is amazing to watch in a room full of children.  Incorporating loose parts into instruction allows children to follow their own interests in the world around them and explore these interests at their own pace.  Children are also excited about the learning process because it is project-based work that emerges with them.  Parents become involved when they see their children engaged and truly enjoying the learning process.  When the surrounding community becomes involved the approach is even more beneficial for all.

For more details about how The Compass School incorporates loose parts into the curriculum, please request a tour!

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