Module Four, Part 1


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    In the first part of this module, we meet our third and final case study centre, Tots Corner Early Learning Centre, and explore the ways in which they intentionally provide visual arts materials to stimulate all kinds of art making and investigations. We also look a bit more closely at loose parts for visual arts provision.

    Watch a video

    Materials for children’s art-making at Tots Corner Early Learning Centre

    In this case study we focus on creating an environment for the visual arts that supports children to be capable, confident and enthusiastic art-makers. The team at Tots Corner place the visual arts at the centre of their curriculum, and this is evident in the environment they provide. For many years the team has been on a journey exploring the implications of the principles and values that underpin the pedagogy of Reggio Emilia and the ways in which they interact with Te Whāriki. As in the pedagogy of Reggio Emilia, teachers see the environment as a powerful ‘third teacher’, which means that they devote a lot of time to creating a richly resourced and flexible environment in which aesthetics and beauty are strongly valued. They regularly inquire into their teaching, and their aim is to provide spaces which enable ethical practices in which children are empowered, and to move beyond what they call ‘technical practice’ or teaching to a recipe. Rather than focus their curriculum and practice on the transmission of knowledge, teachers develop shared inquiries with children that enable them to co-construct curriculum. They focus on developing their ability to listen to children in the many different ways that children communicate, and to create environments that both challenge and inspire children and teachers to share understanding and interpretations. In the following video, three teachers from Tots Corner discuss their visual arts practice with us, with a particular focus on the role of materials and environments, and the documentation that is displayed on the wall.

    Introducing the teachers

    Emma Thomsen works with infants and toddlers. She holds a Fine Arts degree, and has taught fine arts at university entrance level before retraining as an early childhood teacher. She has been teaching in early childhood for five years, four of those at Tots. Emma enjoys learning and sharing her learning with her co-teachers to provoke deeper conversations about meaningful things. Phillip Fox and Shelly Stapleford work with children aged between three-and-a-half and five. Phillip began as a secondary teacher working with diverse learners. This led to a job as an RTLB, until he was inspired by research on the first thousand days to work his way up into early childhood education six years ago. He has worked at Tots Corner for the past three years. He is driven by a commitment to high quality learning opportunities for all children, offered through a pedagogical approach that honours the integrity and rights of children to be heard, respected and challenged. Shelly has taught for 20 years and considers herself fortunate to have worked in settings that strive for high quality learning and teaching. Curating spaces for learning is a particular passion for her, as is taking part in inquiries that generate wonder for both children and adults.

    Watch the video interview in which Emma, Phillip and Shelly discuss the materials they provide to children for art-making, how they make decisions about provision, and how they present materials to children. 

    Tots Corner Early Childhood Centre, Long day centre, Auckland

    Emma Thomsen, Teacher of 0–2-year-olds
    Phil Fox, Teacher of 3.5-5-year-olds
    Shelley Stapleford, Teacher of 3.5-5-year-olds

    How materials and environments support children’s art making and aesthetic experiences

    What kinds of materials do you provide for children’s art-making?

    Shelley Stapleford: I would say wide and varied and it's definitely with intention and collaboration and research and a big thought process goes into basically everything we do here. 

    With the art materials, at the beginning of the year we will talk about the investigations that we plan to focus on, and although we have basically all the art materials available at all times, we will also include other things that can be included for those investigations that are upcoming so that the children can gain those foundational aspects from the very beginning, and so we as teachers can also gain that research in it before we are up and running with everything too. 

    How do you decide which materials to provide?

    At the moment, in the Tui room, we're focusing on understanding where our feet stand, so creating a local curriculum.  Every week we visit the ngahere - the bush down the road – and we take all the children and spend the whole morning down there getting to know the area. And that's something we've done for a few years. Being that Tots is in a situation of elevation, we're able to also see many parts of our local area. So, from that we've focused on Tots with the digital arts such as projecting images onto the walls and having digital photo frames and the iPad available for them to really immerse themselves in the digital arts and use that in their learning.  

    From our deck we can see things like Rangitoto, and the city and the Sky Tower. And also, we have a connection with Onepoto Domain which is at the bottom of Onewa Road, and all of those places we are creating a relationship with so that the children are able to eventually, hopefully, create their own narratives about a place that is so special to them already. But really coming together and creating a shared narrative together through the digital arts is what we currently focusing on. 

    Phil Fox: Even when we've just been down to the ngahere, we would come back with collections of sticks and leaves which we have been using to create art. And now they are building houses, which began as fairy houses, I think, and from there it evolved into the structure of the house and building the walls and then building bedrooms and it really worked well with the projector putting up the pictures of the bush that they could interact with. 

    Shelley Stapleford: Definitely from the Kiwi room which is the two to three and a half, and within this space is the three and a half to fives, we have multiple media available at all times. So just behind me on the shelves, there's colouring pencils, felt tips, staplers, hole punch, paints, watercolors, next door there’s clay, just down further in the atelier there are hot glue guns, and we often have PVA or glue sticks, so there's a wide range so that the children are able to form a relationship during those open ended moments throughout the morning. 

    How do you structure or arrange materials?

    Shelley Stapleford: The children have an understanding here, if there's anything that they can't see that they need, it's an open invitation to come and ask an adult to come and help them, and there isn't much that we've actually got away. There's only like the bulk amounts of paint, etc. Everything else is basically out. But even the other day a child had a giant piece of paper and wanted it in exactly half. So, we worked through getting the guillotine out and just showed their agency in being able to choose the piece of paper, but the actual size they needed, rather than having to make do with one A4.

    Emma Thomsen: And even with the under twos, I have a selection of different kinds of paper they can use whether it's like a diary, books, lots of lines in it, and if they feel like they want to write or big vast pieces of art style paper that they can do large expressions on, to clipboards where they might want to take pencils away with. That is all laid out for them at any time to use and sometimes the pencils might be up if there are small babies around, but it's still visible. They can still go “Hey, I would like to do that now.” 

    Shelley Stapleford: And the areas they use these materials too is really open. We often have children who it may be time for most of us to go out to the garden because we share a space in the dining room. But they know that they can make a collection of whatever they need for the art materials and take them outside and we can continue work out there. And equally we have a thing called “saving signs” or “work in progress signs” with a picture of them, and so they're able to place it on their work and know that they can come back to it and deepen their understandings of what they're working on. If it's a large piece or a collaborative piece and the child's not here, you know they want to go outside - it's a bit tricky with some things - so that's the other answer to being able to come back to work. 

    How much material do you provide? Can there be too much?

    Emma Thomsen: Well, I like to see everything through the arts, so you can't have too much of an art material. You might have less of everything else, in my view. We work with projects with the under twos, so we might be working with developing a working theory of one child to share it with all the other children. One at the moment is hiding, for example, he likes to hide things – I suppose that could be seen as a schema. So, we'll have all the materials out for that, whether it's fabrics, the light table to help with the peek a boo - what's hiding under here? Books that are about hide and seek or just hiding everything, so the one project invades the room so there's no family play area. There's no music area, say everything is allowed to be transformed by that one project. So for me, that's how you can never have too much - everything just gets seen through the lens of the visual arts.

    Shelley Stapleford: A word we use here is we ‘interweave’ aspects of art materials, investigations, basically everything into all areas of our spaces, so there will be paper on clipboards in the construction with different media to be able to draw or write with for such things as plans and design. There will be diaries and paper and all sorts of writing materials and say the desk where they have role play or where emergent literacy happens. So, I'd say that you can't have too much because you never know what you're going to need when, and so it's just interwoven into all aspects. 

    Are there any rules around the use of art materials?

    Shelley Stapleford: I would say we slowly introduce children to media from the Nest upwards so that they have the foundations to move forward with, to make their learning visible as they come upwards in age. Because that foundation work happens from so early, they have a deep understanding, generally of the media, or the dangers, or the excitement, or the things that cause wonder. But equally there are things, say in this room, we do deconstruction and construction of at the Tinker Table of computers and printers and all sorts of things that are donated to us, so perhaps for the first time children are using real tools.  We are active participants next to them, ensuring that they understand the media and how to use it, but in quite a hands off way. We will intentionally question them or ask experts – who are the other children in the room – to come and offer and lend their skills. So, we do it quite in an informal, hands-off, but very much supportive so they understand it. 

    Phil Fox: I think a lot of what we use being real equipment from sharpies to the screwdrivers, the saws and everything, there's a lot of respect there. We don't need to teach respect or set the rules around it because they are real things and that's appreciated by the children. They do respect them because they are available to them and we don't set those firm boundaries, and I think that leads to them being able to set their own rules and that works really well.

    How do you encourage children to continue and extend their art making?

    Phil Fox: I think a lot of it is allowing them, so we're not putting things away and we're providing the material there. So, if they’ve formed a relationship with it, they're allowed to come back. They want to come back. Then we share the work, we allow them to share the work. So, a lot of the time we talked about the digital media and the Tui room, so they'll take photos of their own and each other's work. They will then share it on the projector screen, discuss it with each other, and that encourages other people to come but also them to return to their work. And we haven't put their things away so they can come back. They can see what they did yesterday. They can then decide to keep working on it or to start again and do something new with it. 

    Shelley Stapleford: There are times when we need to explain that we can't save everything we create, sometimes with clay, which can be a material that can get expensive, but that we definitely have at all times. We enable them to take photos – either we take photos or they take photos of their work. Possibly they've created a plan, a drawn plan, so that's another aspect that they can come back to. It is important that we save a lot, but equally we can't save everything. So, I think as spoken about, we have things like the savings signs and the work in progress etc., and special designated areas within the space where work is kept special and the other children within the spaces understand that this is work to be respected, and that if they want to collaborate on that piece, they also need to ask the person who created it. 

    Emma Thomsen: I think for us, no matter what age group we’re working with it’s vital teachers are invested play participants whilst working with visual arts materials. So I'll draw with children or alongside children, not for them, but with them, so I'll be doing like a blind gesture drawing while they're making abstract marks, or I'm copying the abstract mark. I'm invested in their thinking alongside them - ready to capture their thinking, or ready to expand what they want to do, and I think that plays a big part in every age group that we work with, that the children want to come back because we're there. We're building a relationship through it. 

    Shelley Stapleford: As teachers we’re definitely active participants within the learning. We're learning ourselves about the media and about the children while working with and alongside them, and I think just having a teacher present at a space encourages children to join and go deeper into their learning.

    Phil Fox:  So, we're documenting what the children say and the children's voice and we are active listening, we’re recording their notes so they know we're listening. They can appreciate that we can then share that with the families, and they love that, and it encourages them to come back. What's happening in the Nest then continues through each room - all the teachers here. 

    Does the age and experience of the child influence how you engage them with materials?

    Shelley Stapleford: I like to think of it as learning the alphabet. So, an example would be with literacy – you don't jump straight to learning how to write words, you need to learn the structure in the form of individual letters. So, I liken that to understanding a media or language. From the Nest upwards are really learning the alphabet of the language and how that comes together. The qualities and the techniques and the skills needed, and that's built upon with each age group to the point here where they're able to use it to really explain and make visible to others their thinking for investigation work.

    Emma Thomsen: I think it's the same for any language, even if you're learning a verbal language or nonverbal language, you start with the basics and you build on that.  Just because they're under two or over two doesn't necessarily mean they're all going to be at the same level. So, let the children take the lead on where it is that there at with the material. I think that's also quite important. 

    Shelley Stapleford: We had a child start who possibly hadn't used clay before (going back to clay) and so they were working alongside a child who had lots of experience with it. And so, as teachers, we supported both of them in working with the language in a different way.

    Phil Fox: So, we had a new girl start at four during the first week of lockdown. And so her view of the centre was new at four, and then of course very different, because there were only seven children at the centre and she quickly formed a bond with Emma and the environment, the Nest, I think she really felt comfortable in that room.  

    Emma Thomsen: I think one of the things when I'm looking for the affinities of children, things that make them comfortable, and while I’m documenting the other children at that time, she was sort of drawn to the camera, so I let her have the camera as I often do. Even the smaller under twos who have the knowledge from home - as a lot of them do now with technology - and just seeing her feeling more comfortable in that taking some ownership of the space and feeling that sense of belonging that you do when you feel yourself as an author.  And she took these photos and I thought right, I really want to honour this time that you’ve spent with us, and I took the photos that she’d taken and made a selection and put them up on the wall with her name. It was amazing to see her bloom from that. She's carried on the camera work into the Tui room which has become quite a big thing now. It was really interesting – the photos she took were really interesting. She captured children from a peer perspective, which we can't do as adults.  And the under twos look at her work and really appreciate what it is, and I think probably coming in new her work isn’t on the walls either. So it gave her, I think, a bigger sense of belonging. 

    How can the use of materials involve a group of children in collaborative art making?

    Shelley Stapleford: Part of what we've done with knowing where our feet stand, we started off with Tots itself and spanning out. So, we had a photo of Tots on a large piece of paper - a lot of what you do in the Tui room surrounds narratives and sharing their stories, which enables us to see the strategies and working theories that they're working through. So, it was a flat, collaborative small picture of Tots on an A3 piece of paper, and then to create that playfulness to bring wonder and curiosity back. Also, the children, this has been happening for a week or two, so to invite new children plus current children back in, we projected the picture of Tots up onto the wall - quite large on top of paper so suddenly went from flat to upright. It was in the construction area, so they were able to interweave different languages and art material into it. So, the children created a narrative about Tots on here. Meanwhile, there were other children listening and taking part and doing things like creating the road map from Tots to their houses, using construction materials, inviting them back by creating wonder and curiosity again, while also making sure the environment is that third teacher - so really supportive, so if we step away as teachers that the children are able to continue with their learning and become immersed without us. 

    Tell us about the artwork and documentation displayed at Tots Corner

    Shelley Stapleford:  Documentation is very important in enabling the children, all of the protagonists, the parents, the teachers, and children, to be able to revisit current work and also visit historical work that could inform current work, so a lot of intentionality goes into work that you see up on the walls. We may write it as co-teachers and form it, but then it basically goes through every other teacher within the centre to add their lens and their expertise. Emma is our artist in the centre. So, she often adds her spatial awareness, her graphic ability to look at things. I like writing lots of words and then other people come in and cut out half of them so it makes sense so people don't lose interest. So a lot of collaboration goes into the pieces that you see, and there may only be a paragraph, but we ensure that basically the whole story that has created can be read in those few words and ensure that the pictures we use tell a thousand words so that some pictures may not even have words to go with them because we feel that they tell everything we need to without words being needed. 

    Phil Fox: And as far as a collaborative art project goes, definitely it’s the teachers were doing it just as much as the children in that respect. By the time something comes back to us, I don't know if I recognise the original words that were in it anymore. And it's incredible – Shelley and I can work together to write a paragraph, get it down to two sentences, and it will come back with this amazing design around it and how it's going to be portrayed and just plays to everyone’s strengths, so everything is deliberate. 

    Shelley Stapleford: To create a simple panel that may look simple on the wall, it enables us to go through all of the data and all of the work that has formed this and really helps us fine tune our ideas surrounding the investigation to carry forth into other research projects as teachers or alongside the children. 

    Emma Thomsen: One of the ones we’re doing at the moment is collecting documentation, just images that will just be on there like on constant show in a digital frame, and it's like wall documentation, but trying to dialogue a little bit with the children on that – what speaks to them so it’s not just always between the team, can be with the children as well. 

    Phil Fox:  So, once you have had to explain your idea to seven other teachers and an entire group of children, you have really refined this idea – it’s fantastic. 


    Delve deeper

    Exploring the intentional selection and use of materials at Tots Corner

    The teachers at Tots Corner talk about providing a wide range of materials, but also emphasise the intentionality behind their choice of materials – these are researched, thought about and discussed by the teaching team. Specific materials are provided alongside and in addition to the core set of provision available at all times, and are designed to support the upcoming projects and investigations. Both teachers and children are given lots of time to become familiar with the materials and the affordances they offer before the investigation begins. Emma says: ‘You can’t have too much of an art material!’. What do you think she means by this? The teachers also describe how art experiences can happen anywhere and everywhere. The visual arts are pervasive in this centre, with all materials offered being chosen for their artistic potential. 

    Did you notice that the teachers see all kinds of materials and media – such as the light of the light table and large pieces of fabric and scarf in the infant and toddler room, the blocks in the block corner, and old printers and computers to disassemble in the older children’s space – as art materials? The teachers fill their rooms with all kinds of loose parts and see all of this as ‘the arts’. At Tots Corner, children are encouraged to express themselves in many ways through their relationships with all kinds of things. The teachers present a range of open-ended ‘loose parts’ for children to use within their visual arts-focused curriculum. Children’s play with loose parts necessarily involves experimentation and creativity, the very skills that children need for visual arts work, and the teachers at Tots believe that the loose parts they provide invigorate their early childhood spaces and infuse children’s visual arts work. 


    What counts as an art material? Are there materials that can’t be used as art materials?

    One possible answer is that if something is moldable, manipulable, and movable, it could be an art material. If it can be transformed, or put to a creative purpose, it could be an art material. In other words, anything that is relatively open-ended could be an art material. Consider how hard it would be to transform or put to a (different) creative purpose a realistic model of a shopping till. Its very realism makes it hard for us to conceive of it as anything else. A cardboard box, pinecone or a scarf have so much more potential. The next reading describes the use of loose parts in early childhood environments in broad ways, and provides a useful foundation for thinking about resources and materials for the visual arts.


    Read ‘Materials for play’ and think about the way in which the visual arts in particular might benefit from the inclusion of loose parts in the early childhood setting. The article also discusses heuristic play or treasure baskets for infants and toddlers, and this is a concept which could be extended to include more traditional art media such as clay and crayons.

    Materials for play: Why open-ended loose parts are important

    ‘Loose parts’ are ordinary, everyday, open-ended materials that can be manipulated and used in various ways, moved, carried, shared, combined and taken apart in various configurations and designs. There are no specific directions accompanying the materials and many various outcomes are possible from their use. They have high affordance value in terms of what they can offer or provide to support children’s play, exploration and cognitive development, and can be easily transformed with children’s imagination. Examples are pebbles and leaves, ribbons, buttons, ropes, pot plants, figurines, chalks, papers, blocks and plastic pipes.

    Loose parts are often provided in art areas, providing children with opportunities to extend their ideas through art, sculpture and collage. However, creative expression can be encouraged in all areas of the early childhood setting, for example, as children arrange rows of sticks outside. Loose parts can also be larger parts for making structures, such as tyres, moveable blocks, platforms, ladders, and straw bales, and also include natural elements such as water or sand.

    What is heuristic play?

    Heuristic play is exploratory play with materials and objects. Children handle, explore and make discoveries about the properties and features of objects, and develop ideas for how they might be used or combined and how they relate to each other. For example, children might explore a set of balls, pom poms and other spherical objects alongside a range of containers and tubes. Heuristic play is sometimes provided via a ‘Treasure Basket’ for infants who are able to sit but are not otherwise mobile.

    Why should I use loose parts with children?

    Materials are theorised to be highly important in the formation of neural networks in the brains of very young children because they stimulate the senses. The ability to focus, sustain attention and identify salient features are activated and practised when children are provided with stimulating open-ended materials. These early skills are the foundation of later learning. The principle of loose parts is also underpinned by beliefs about the competency, skill and creativity of children. They can cater for all of the interests, strengths and cultures of diverse children, and children can create environments that suit their current skills. In practical terms, using loose parts in your curriculum also encourages the reuse and recycling of objects.

    The small body of empirical research that has been conducted on outcomes for children as a result of the use of loose parts suggests that, in relation to outdoor play at least, outcomes for children include an increase in:

    • engagement in a greater variety of activities and versatile play, and particularly constructive play and dramatic play through affordances for designing dramatic play spaces
    • more complex play narratives
    • social interaction and play with peers
    • complex verbal and nonverbal communications including negotiation skills
    • diverse risk-taking behaviours

    In addition, the use of loose parts and malleable environments is thought to:

    Stimulate sensory perception, and enable children to develop their powers of discrimination using their senses. Discriminatory skills are needed for identifying similarities and differences and for categorising objects.

    Stimulate discovery, both of the properties, possibilities and limitations of materials and also children’s understanding of what they can think and do as learners. Moving, manipulating and combining materials into diverse things with multiple meanings, and applying understandings about the properties of materials and what can be done with them, encourages higher levels of critical thinking and stimulates increased flexibility in children.

    Promote a range of cognitively complex play, including physical play, dramatic play, games with rules and construction play, and extend children’s length of engagement in play, by injecting novelty into play environments.

    Provoke creativity and imagination in terms of attributing objects with functions and meanings, such as turning a crate into a boat. Imagination underpins creative problem-solving and enables children to synthesise and apply knowledge as part of meaning-making and sense-making.

    Allow children to develop their own ideas and inquiries, which enhances their autonomy, self-direction and self-knowledge and supports feelings of pride, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Making choices from the many possibilities available to regulate play can encourage regulation skills and help children learn how to make good choices.

    Develop language and vocabulary for new objects, experiences and play scenarios, and stimulate rich conversations and storytelling.

    Develop early numeracy skills through providing a context for sorting, classifying, combining and separating objects, for mathematical skills such as counting, measuring and sequencing, and for risk-taking skills and problem-solving.

    Provide a context for the development of both fine and gross motor skills

    Promote social interactions and conversations. Open-ended play with other children involves communication, negotiation, cooperation, leadership, and decision-making.

    Loose parts at Tots Corner include coloured pencils, felt tips, staplers, hole punches, paints, watercolours, clay, hot glue guns, PVA, glue sticks, fabrics, a range of papers, blocks, sharpies (permanent pens), saws and tools. But all kinds of natural and recycled loose parts are also collected and gathered and presented in collections as a resource. Looking at the images around the centre, what else did teachers provide as art materials/loose parts? (You might like to watch the video again).

    I noted beads, sticks, leaves, pencils, bottle tops, matchsticks, bread tags, corks, cardboard packaging, cardboard spools, plastic flower pots, carpet pieces, wood laminate samples, dried flowers.


    Read ‘Materials for play: A short guide to selecting loose parts’ for some ideas on where you might collect loose parts for your visual arts provision.

    Materials for play: A short guide to selecting loose parts

    Teachers are responsible for choosing materials and tools for loose parts play, and their capacity for choosing and imagining the possibilities of materials impacts on children’s experiences. Materials are provocative: they evoke memories, provoke stories, invite actions and communicate suggestions for play. Materials also enable particular possibilities while resisting others: for example, using blocks evokes different ways of thinking and developing ideas than using paint and paper. 

    The variety and number of loose parts provided for children are thought to be related to the level of discovery and inventiveness possible as they explore. Use real, household items, found objects such as shells, and upcycled objects, such as tiles and ribbons, for open-ended potential and a breadth of experiences. Visit car boot sales and markets, and look for objects and materials with high affordance value. Dollar stores offer cheap resources including loofahs of different textures, glass stones, knotted tug ropes, and colourful transparent cups for playing with light. It is usually very simple materials which stimulate complex thinking and sophisticated and sustained play.

    Try to tune into the possibilities of different materials and think about the following features when selecting loose parts:

    Sensory qualities. Consider objects made of a range of materials, including paper, wood, glass, stone, fabric, ceramics or metal. Look for objects to stimulate touch by using different textures, shapes and weights. Select materials for unusual features such as shape, surface or temperature. Natural items in particular offer rich opportunities to experience texture. Consider visual perception through colour, form, length and shininess, and reflect on the aesthetic value of objects, materials and collections. Stimulate smell through fragrant items such as lavender, dried flowers and spices, and introduce a range of sounds such as ringing, tinkling, scrunching and scratching by using everyday objects such as metal pans, trays, bells and cans, wooden spoons, aluminium pie plates and foil.  

    Exploratory actions. Consider items that invite action, that can be moved, banged together, put inside one another, or rearranged. Use interesting loose parts that can be used to construct and design (but without glue or tape). Ensure there are also a good range of containers for toddlers, who will enjoy putting loose parts in containers. 

    Multiple sets of objects and a high level of diversity in objects. Items that are useful in multiple sets are tree blocks, pinecones, floor samples (tile, carpet, wood), coasters, napkin rings, small wooden bowls, driftwood, marble eggs, and bunches of keys.

    Safety. Assess the size, durability and appropriateness of objects and materials.

    The teachers at Tots Corner describe the children as respectful of their environment and the objects within in. The ‘real’ art tools and beautifully presented gathered materials engender children’s respect. This means that teachers can trust children to set their own rules. Tots Corner also demonstrates great respect for and valuing of children’s artwork in the way that teachers do not tidy up children’s constructions and works-in-progress, and come together regularly to share with each other and discuss what they have been doing. 

    Teachers also intentionally present materials to children in ways that motivate children to participate. Their aim is to create wonder and curiosity, drawing children back to investigate ideas as well as inviting new children to participate in this investigation. For example, they projected a flat, collaborative picture of Tots Corner on to paper attached to the wall in the construction area. The children started drawing and narrating on top of the image, and creating road maps in front of it. Teachers also use documentation and displays strategically, to help children revisit current work and historical work that could inform current work. For example, they put an image of the ngāhere (forest/bush) up on the wall alongside the sticks collected during a walk.

    The teachers at Tots Corner also emphasise how much time children need to learn about different media and materials and their structure or form, and about the qualities and techniques and skills associated with each media. Children at Tots Corner are slowly introduced to different media from the infant and toddler space onwards, building relationships and skills with the materials as they grow. As older children, they have a deep understanding of the media and can use them to express themselves and to explain and make visible their thinking or investigation work. 


    Remembering that the teachers at Tots Corner said they need time to research materials and find out what creative possibilities they engender, think about your experience and knowledge of different materials. How well do you know the ‘alphabet’ of each medium you offer?