Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini provided us with an inspirational starting point in our first year transforming our Kindergarten Program. In response to the Full Day Early Learning Curriculum Document, many teachers are beginning their journey towards the implementation of play based programming. However, abandoning traditional lesson plans and allowing room for our students to take the lead can be an overwhelming and, at times, intimidating endeavour. The Beautiful Stuff Project, allows educators to feel prepared and anticipate learning outcomes while allowing our students to actively participate, engage and control the direction of their learning in ways that are meaningful for them.
Materials are very important to the kindergarten classroom. Hundreds of colours, shapes, and textures are found within our room. The students explore, examine, and take care of these existing materials. The Beautiful Stuff project aims to investigate what it means to children when they have sought out, discovered, and collected materials themselves. Does this affect the way they use and care for those material? Are they more thoughtful, focused, and pleased with their efforts when they have been engaged in the process right from the beginning? What learning can come from this experience?
Beginning the Journey
We began by gaining an understanding of what our students understood about the word ‘beautiful’. Gathering as a class our students (all girls in our context) where asked the question “What is beautiful?” Their answers were documented:
a sparkly pink jewel, a princess, a ballerina dress, butterflies, a sparkly diamond.
To challenge and expand their concept of beauty, they were presented with a bag of ‘beautiful stuff’ consisting of materials such as: muffin wrappers, string, sticks, leaves, cotton balls etc. The found objects were displayed, passed around and manipulated. The students then co-construct of other things that they could collect that are beautiful.
Writing a Letter
The students are invited to write a letter to the parents explaining our project and asked them to assist with the collection of Beautiful Stuff:
For our classroom, we need help finding things that are beautiful. We need to bring it in to share and work with at our ‘Production Centre. We can find things that are beautiful but not from a store. We have made a list that has some ideas.
The bags were collected and displayed at the Discovery Centre while the girls waited in anticipation. We slowly began to open the bags. Bags were selected at random, opening one or two each day.
Each student is given the opportunity to share her own bag of Beautiful Stuff. Great pride is apparent while they carefully pulled the selected items out of their brown bag. The group waited in anticipation and orally shared their appreciation for the beautiful things. The sharing of meaningful materials from home demonstrates social-elmotional development as each student is asked to share an item that is personal to them and allow it to become a part of our communal materials. On occasion, students will be surprised by their peers glowing reactions to what they have brought, deciding that they would instead return the material home rather than share it where their peers … it is all a part of the learning process.
Sorting our Beautiful Stuff
Hundreds of beautiful things were brought into the classroom. After the materials were shared, they had to be organized. The girls took on this challenge confidently and with minimal guidance. Together they worked at sorting, classifying and organizing our beautiful stuff. The girls were thoughtful and creative when suggesting and deciding upon their own sorting rules. As each student opened their bag and displayed their materials the items were organized into several clear bins. As new materials were presented our students debated whether the items belonged in existing bins or if a new sorting bin would be created.
It is exciting to see how the ideas of students differ from year to year, guiding the direction of the project in different ways. We continue to see the materials collected during the Beautiful Stuff Project sorted and organised in a varierty of imaginative ways.
Colours, Shiny Things, Things from Nature, Soft, Slippery, Made from Paper, Size, Shapes … Things that Make Noise
What should we create?
The true ‘beauty’ of the beautiful stuff project emerges at the completion of our organization. Once the materials are sorted, each clear bin is labeled by the students and is placed for exploration at the Production centre. The provocative new materials elicits the creativity of our youngest learners who are innately curious and eager to create. Their interests and creative thinking guide the direction of their exploration and we, as teachers, observe and facilitate the ideas that emerge. We have seen a variety of different projects arise from the creation of our Beautiful Stuff – visual representations, oral narratives, names, alphabets, 2-D and 3-D structures, self-portraits, and most recently a collaborative city!
Transforming our Beautiful Stuff
These students were observed arranging materials on the flat surface of the Production table. In response, we lay white bristol board on top of the table to act as a blank canvas for their creations. We documented as students thoughtfully placed the materials they selected on the paper and documented their oral narratives that described the scene.
I put the little stick on the red ribbon so that I could make it beautiful – Kindergarten Student
Building an Alphabet
Several students collaborated to create the letters in their name by arranging materials and setting them with glue on recycled cardboard that was stacked at the Production centre. These students inspired their peers to join their learning, listing the letters created and determining which letters of the alphabet still needed to be created. Their completed alphabet built with found materials was displayed in the classroom and used by our students as a resource.
The Beautiful Stuff Project was documented, the panels on our walls telling the story of the learning that took place in the space.