Monday, February 11, 2013

Waste Materials as Resources-An Article in Exchange

Waste Materials as Resources
by Tiziana Ciccone

I first learned about the Reggio Approach in 1997 while attending a conference in Windsor, Ontario. I was instantly intrigued by the unique pedagogy. In the years that followed, I immersed myself in books about the Reggio Approach trying to learn as much as I could. It was not until 2004 when I travelled to Reggio Emilia to attend the Crossing Boundaries Conference and Study Tour that I truly came to appreciate the depth of understanding that was needed in order to make such a system of education work. The Remida Centre, in particular, made a huge impact on me. It is a unique warehouse that is home to the biggest collection of recyclable items that I have ever encountered.

Remida is not a simple collection of paper rolls, egg cartons, and tissue paper. It is so much more! It was my introduction to this collection that sparked what we now refer to in our schools as ‘loose material.’ [For those of you who have read Louise Caldwell’s book, Bringing Reggio Emilia Home (1997), you know that she also makes reference to loose materials. However, I did not discover Caldwell’s work until years after we began our own exploration.]

What is Remida?
“Remida is the house of objects. It is the place of children’s dreams.”
— A four year old (Remida, n.d.).

According to Reggio Children:

Remida promotes the idea that waste materials can be resources. The center collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discard materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim to reinvent their use and meaning. Remida is a cultural project that represents a new, optimistic, and proactive way of approaching environmentalism and building change through giving value to reject materials, imperfect products, and otherwise worthless objects, to foster new opportunities for communication and creativity in a perspective of respect for objects, the environment, and human beings.

Remida is a joint project of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia and AGAC
(the gas, water, and garbage collection utility) and is managed by the
Friends of Reggio Children Association. The center distributes materials
(paper, cardboard, ceramic, paints, cord, leather, rubber, wood, and so on)to teachers of infant-toddler centers and preschools, elementary, middle, and secondary schools, as well as to educational and cultural associations,senior citizens’ centers, sheltered workshops for the disabled, recreation centers, and so on.

It was evident to me that a huge support system was dedicated to amassing these materials and to maintaining the facility. I was fortunate enough to meet with the woman who was the backbone of this centre and she offered some suggestions on how to establish a Remida Centre in our own context. While I knew that we were not ready to begin a Remida Centre such as the one we had visited in Italy, nor did I believe that our community was ready to make such contributions, I was willing to challenge myself to begin something new. Thus began the collection of ‘loose materials.’

What are Loose Materials?
Loose materials, loose parts, natural materials, beautiful junk, odds and ends — these are some of the names used for an assortment of resources that are used to support children’s thinking, theories, project work, and daily experiences.

Our collection began with items that were easily available and contributed mainly by the parents in our school communities (buttons, cork, string, etc.). These items were then used to support our artwork (typically gluing). We also collected items from the forest (pine cones, pine needles, crushed leaves) and from a few local retailers. At first the collection remained small and the use of the materials static. At many different times the collection dwindled and everyone seemed to lose interest, because we were uncertain on how to proceed or unsure of what to look for to make the collection grow. We waivered in our belief that it was a wise investment for our schools.

In the beginning, we were disorganized. The growth of the collection and the interests of teachers and children were never coordinated; at times teachers were disinterested or unsure of how to use the materials, or the children looked at the materials but found no particular use for them or engaged with them with some trepidation. Despite setbacks, we pushed forward, seeking new items everywhere we went.

Frustrated with our slow progress we began to organize ourselves and made some systematic decisions. First, we designated specific areas for the loose materials. The items were displayed in clear containers and grouped according to attributes: stone, outdoor collection, translucent,wood, marble, tile, opaque, etc. Our intention was to have the children use the loose materials at their own leisure, and we wanted their work to be ongoing. Some materials that we felt needed teacher support were collected and kept in areas designed for specific projects and complex art-related activities.

Next, we began to look at ways to engage the teachers. This was one of the most challenging areas because they were accustomed to working with ‘crafty items’ that were traditionally glued to paper and called art. They were asked to consider different uses for the loose materials and, of course, this brought all of the work to a screeching halt. I have seen this happen many times when new concepts are introduced to
teachers: they go into a tailspin until they can realign themselves. We encountered resistance and it was evident that the teachers were intimidated:

“At first I found the collection overwhelming . . . I looked at the sea of things before me and I was afraid of failing.”

“I was so resistant to change. I thought to myself, ‘I never learned this in school.’ I wanted to just glue everything to paper!”

However, we insisted that they move forward.

Then it was time to invite the children to engage with the loose materials. It was not difficult to entice them. Their natural curiosity led them; and they were encouraged to investigate and explore texture, dimension, and various properties of the materials. They began to ask questions.

What can I do with this?” asked Jacob(age four) as he rummaged through the collection, moving the items from one side of the table to the other.

The children were uncertain of the uses for these materials, and in an attempt to coax them the teachers began to give the loose materials form. They began using the materials themselves designing collages,
making flowers, butterflies, and scenery. Although this seemed restrictive,we found it necessary to give the children some incentive to explore the materials themselves. Eventually the children began to feel more comfortable on their own and the teachers stepped back. It was amazing to watch the children surpass our expectations!

Work was photographed and preserved so the children could go back to their original creations and make modifications. Because of their properties, the loose materials provided open-ended possibilities, and excitement grew amongst the teachers as ideas were shared and documented.

As the children became more familiar with the loose materials, they began to work in new contexts designing elaborate backdrops for stories, forests, labyrinths, and representations of their theories on how things work. They began testing their theories, and making predictions and redesigning their work to fit their new models of thinking.

Our final consideration was how to validate the use of loose materials with parents. Of course, this occurred naturally. As the children’s work flourished, the parents were caught up in the excitement.

“I often found it difficult to believe that my daughter could make such wonderful things with loose materials. I found myself looking forward to leaving work or waiting for an email to arrive with her latest creation. It was so contagious!”

Parents began to understand what the vast collections were for. However, they also began to ask questions regarding the usefulness of the experiences. Yes, of course the work was beautiful but was it education. What were the children learning?

Prompted by these questions from parents we began to look at loose materials in a new way. We asked how this unique collection might meet the demands placed on us to support the Ontario Curriculum for Kindergarten. And so we were challenged to add yet another aspect to our work. The materials became tools for supporting math, literacy, science and other concepts that parents wanted to see in their children’s educaton. Teachers began to ask children thought-provoking questions.

None of this happened overnight. A great deal of time passed while the materials waited, like a friend hoping for an invitation to a party. When our invitations were finally noticed, the collection took on a whole new meaning and exploded into what we now consider a use of loose materials that is unique to the pedagogy that exists at Reggio Kids.

Our journey continues. And, as is often the case with children, they continue to astonish us with their unique perspectives. In the many years since we first began this journey, we have learned to slow down and watch the process of learning as it unfolds.

Caldwell, L. B. (1997). Bringing Reggio
Emilia home: An innovative approach
to early childhood education. New York:
Teachers College Press.
Remida (n.d.). Remida: Il centro de recicilaggio

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Winter Wonderland

While one group of SK students was busy exploring the concept that winter is black and white (their work will be posted in the next few days) another group of children begged to differ as they discovered the beautiful colors of the season.