Materials (Gifts From the Sea)

Friday, 24 July 2015

     Summer learning included a week long stay in Ontario, Canada where I attended the Transform Ed Workshop Series, given by Joanne Babalis.  There she shared her Masters' research on the seven layers of Inquiry-Based learning. The fourth layer, and the focus of this post, is materials. Other blog posts discuss the other layers that include image of the childtimespacelisteningdocumenting and planning.

   Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a 3-year old at a beach wedding. She was the flower girl and her job was to throw rose petals. During the ceremony, she played with the sand and petals, using her foot as a tool to dig and bury and make patterns.  She was focused and engaged throughout the entire ceremony (much to her family’s delight) and learning about the properties of sand and petals. 

    I’m a big fan of using hands-on materials in open-ended ways because it emphasizes process over the product and gives children opportunities to plan, think, create, evaluate, and take ownership of their work.  Through their explorations, they begin to do the work of scientists, engineers, and artists. Children are curious little beings and the possibilities for their work are endless. Can this be said of a worksheet? I don’t think so.

     While I’ve been using hands-on materials for quite some time, I’m just beginning to explore the idea of using them as provocations or “sparks” for inquiry. This past June, a friend brought me an almost perfect robin’s egg.  Later, she asked if I had showed it to the children. Instead, I had put it away with my “bird stuff” thinking I would share it next year in early Spring. I realize now that if I had been teaching in a more responsive way, I would have shared it the next day, listened to children's thoughts and ideas, and see what developed from there. 

     Like the bird egg, some of the best materials I’ve used were treasures that I didn’t go looking for.  They were either something I came upon spontaneously or items shared by children, families and friends.  This reminds me of a quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her classic book, A Gift From the Sea. “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”  


     I’m not suggesting that it is practical or even possible for me to acquire all of my materials in this way, but it seems that there’s something inherent to the spirit of inquiry that encourages me to trust the process whether I am gathering materials, children’s questions, or topics for exploration.


     So as I collect materials for the new school year, I may just take a few more walks along the parkway and a few less excursions to Dollar Tree or clicks on Oriental Trading.  I also may explore ways to invite children and families to become more involved in the making and sharing of materials. Lastly, if I am to receive a “gift from the sea,” I hope to recognize its potential, not just for exploration, but for it’s unlimited possibilities with inquiry. How will you collect and use materials in your classroom?

Thanks for stopping by!

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