Tag Archives: reggio

What is That White Stuff Flying Around? Co-constructing Knowledge, Sustained Shared Thinking and Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eyes.

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Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLS in our teacher-child interactions.  OWLS stood for





Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult.  In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.

If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)

My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.

The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses.  They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.

Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.

As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world  to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.


As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.



The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.

Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.

The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.

I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.

The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood.  The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.

Do Children Need Toys?

box sortingWe have been in the US for 6 weeks but our furniture and the majority of the childrens’ toys will not arrive for another month.  During this period we have become experts at finding things to play with from around the house.  We brought a small selection of basic toys – colouring pencils, scissors, a glue stick, paper, a ball and a few books, other than that we have made our own fun.  The other children in the street think it is strange to come to a house with no toys but if I am honest I don’t think there is a great deal that the children have missed.

I have been meaning to write a post about some of the household objects that we have played with for some time, but an article that I read yesterday made me look at it from a different perspective.  Sadaf Shallwani’s article Questioning Play and Child-Centred Approaches discusses her experience of teaching children in Pakistan.  Here, childrens’ learning was not built around pretend play but came from real experiences. Children would not learn to cook in a pretend kitchen but would be taught to use real kitchen utensils in a safe manner.

She also questions Western notions of child-centred education.  Early educators try to see the world through a child’s eyes and provide child-sized furniture and objects.  The value of using real objects is recognised in many highly-acclaimed pre-schools.  The schools of Reggio Emilia use many real-life scenarios as the basis for their projects and a colleague who visited the schools was surprised to find the children climbing onto adult-sized chairs and tables. A key philosophy of the Reggio Schools is the belief that children are capable.  With this in mind the teachers help the children to use real tools and objects. Similarly in the Danish Forest Schools that another colleague visited, young children were taught to use real tools and knives to whittle sticks and were free to roam in the woodlands and on the beach and trusted to return at the sound of a whistle.

child with archery bowI remember as a child using real objects from my kitchen to play shops and tea parties.  Toy versions of everything are so readily available these days that it is easy to be drawn into the need to buy more and more. It is also easy to fall into the trap of believing that children need adapted versions of things for their own safety. If we trust them with real things, spending time explaining the risks and demonstrating how to use them properly, children are more safety-conscious than those who do not understand the danger of the real objects.

Not having toys has been a very useful exercise.  We have used things from around the house and recycled boxes and paper to create an Olympics and a mud kitchen, we have borrowed books from the library and we have played ball games and skipping.

Here are a few other objects we have utilised:-

Pistachio Nut Shells

decorating shellsWe saved the shells from our pistachio nuts and the girls had great fun decorating them.  We coloured them so that we could make flowers and patterns and decorated some to look like ladybirds and other bugs.  My 3-year-old chose some pebbles from the garden to decorate as they weren’t quite so fiddly for her small hands.

cooking with pistachio shellsOn another occasion I gave my 1-year-old the tub of shells along with a pan, spoon and a number of containers.  She enjoyed scooping them and transporting the shells from one container to another. She also liked the sound they made as they fell onto the floor.  As she walked they stuck to her feet so I showed her how to pick them up with her toes which she thought was very funny.

Coffee Filters

coffee filter picturesI remember doing this activity in science lessons at school.  I gave the girls felt tip pens and coffee filters and asked them to draw patterns on them.

filter coffee pictures

When they had finished they were given a small pot of water and I showed them how to drip it on to the paper creating rainbow colours.


We kept newspapers and magazines with a view to making papier-mache.  The girls would like to enter a local parade on Saturday and I suggested they might be able to make papier-mache masks.

My 3-year-old had other ideas.  She decided to spread the paper across the floor. ‘I’m making a bed’ she said. making a paper bed

She had also made other things for her house by sticking boxes together

I’ve often felt that my house has been taken over by toys that the children hardly ever play with, so I’m not particularly looking forward to them all arriving.  I hope that  being creative with household objects will help us all to think about what we could use instead of buying yet another toy and maybe I can keep most of the toys in their boxes when they arrive.

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