Materials are the Message

[ 1 ] April 7, 2010 |

By Mary Scott Hackman, Early Childhood Program Developer, Providence Children’s Museum

Children learn best when they are allowed to make choices and experiment — the process is as important as the outcome.

Apr2010 - MaterialsThis statement is not only powerful; it is the sum and substance of Providence Children’s Museum’s educational philosophy.  It is the message we believe in, the message we strive to impart with each program we plan.

As we think about the child’s process, we carefully consider the materials we provide.  When we give children opportunities to design and build, we challenge them to do it with an eclectic collection of leftover stuff — some might call it junk!  We want to give them plenty of choices so the product is all theirs.  We believe kids need to have control over their creations.  If you choose narrowly in terms of materials or provide children with lots of commercial items, then somehow the product is dictated.  Rather, when you place an array of open-ended items on the table, the child has an opportunity to design something entirely their own.

Watching a child’s creative process unfold is fascinating; you can tell when he or she is taking control over a project.  What they choose to include or exclude will decide the look of their end product.  Last spring, I planned a program where I placed bins around the room that held different recyclables.  There were jar tops, buttons, foam scraps and feathers; all sorts of design options.  Using these and in different combinations, children made robots, sail boats, cars and space vehicles.  And as materials were changed out, products changed as well.  One mom loved what her children were doing with the tops of peanut butter jars.  She approached me and whispered excitedly, “I’m going home to start a collection of our own!”

This is another reason we use everyday items in our programming.  Parents are constantly getting ideas of what they can do with the things they already have at home.  Look in your basement, your closets, your pantries, your drawers — your home is your kids’ ‘oyster’!  Another wonderful resource for artful junk is the Resources for Rhode Island Education center in Providence.  There you can find baskets of buttons, piles of foam rubber, and odd-shaped trinkets for your children to play around with.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, design…think about these the next time you throw away the plastic lid from the apple juice bottle.  It could make a great wheel or headlamp for your child’s next invention!

Explore the wonders of reusable materials at the Children’s Museum this month with different hands-on activities every day.  During school vacation, enjoy creative performances by Sparky’s Puppets, the State Ballet of Rhode Island, folksinger Maria Sangiolo, and an Earth Day presentation of “No Time to Waste,” a hilarious comedy about trash and recycling.  Check the Museum’s website calendar for details.

Category: free / cheap, kids, museums, preschool, tweens

Anisa Raoof

about the author ()

Anisa Raoof is the publisher of She combines being a mom with her experience as an artist, designer, psych researcher and former co-director of the Providence Craft Show to create the go-to spot for families in Rhode Island and beyond. She loves using social media to connect parents with family-related businesses and services and promoting ways for parents to engage offline with their kids. Anisa believes in the power of working together and loves to find ways to collaborate with others. An online enthusiast, still likes to unplug often by reading books and magazines, drawing, learning to knit, making pop-up books with her two sons and listening to records with her husband.

Comments (1)

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  1. Anisa Raoof Anisa says:

    I find fabulous things at the Recycling Center to use when I teach classes. I agree that the materials can inspire the kids and the process and the experimentation can be more valuable than the end product.

    Here are some projects I did with Kindergarten kids. Emphasis placed on experimenting with materials:

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