3 Enhance the Curriculum
with Materials
The materials have their own inner life and their own story to
tell. Yet they can be transformed only through their encounter
with people. When we leave room in construction with
materials, leave silence or pause or breathing room, that helps
the materials themselves to express what they can express.

—Elena Giacopini
Materials in early childhood programs are the bones
of the curriculum and the foundation of the teach-
ing and learning process. They support what the pro-
gram values and frame the possibilities and actions
for living and learning with children. Collections,
offerings, and arrangements of materials reflect your
values, what you believe children deserve and are
capable of, and how you see your role. As you take
up the challenge of providing engaging materials for
children’s learning, begin by reflecting on the follow-
ing questions:
• What guides your current thinking about
materials and how children use them?
• Do you look forward to discovering interesting
treasures to give to children?
• Do you eagerly anticipate what children might do
with the materials you give to them?
If you compare collecting materials for children to
the pleasure of finding a gift for a dear friend, you
will likely transform the way you view your teaching
job (Brosterman 2014).

When you want to give a gift to someone, you
happily search for something you think she will love.

You carefully select the gift and present it in a beau-
tiful way, with colorful wrappings, ribbons, and fond
words. You eagerly anticipate the surprise and delight
your gift will inspire. You trust she will love it, because
it came from your close relationship. In child care or
teaching, the gift of materials comes from your rela-
tionship with the children. The materials represent
a bit of you and who you are, as well as the tender
way in which you know the children. The children
accept these gifts with appreciation, bringing their
own ideas and passions to them, which in turn is a
gift to you from them.

To help children use the materials in ways that
lead to more complex learning, you must challenge
yourself to become mindful and deliberate with what
materials you provide and how you provide them.

In this chapter, we offer a set of principles to help
you examine the elements and possibilities inher-
ent in the materials you collect. These principles will
enable you to see the “inner life” that materials can
express during encounters with people, as Reggio
educator Elena Giacopini suggests at the beginning
of this chapter. The last half of the chapter presents
an additional set of principles describing guidelines
for how to organize and set up materials as invita-
tions for focus and intention. If you carefully study
the photos, examples, and stories in this chapter and
take the time to try the activities mentioned here,
you are certain to grow your skills, knowledge, and
understandings, and experience the enhanced joy
and richness materials can bring to your daily work
with children.


68 Chapter 3
Principles Principles for Examining the Elements
and Possibilities in Materials
Principles for Arranging Materials as
Invitations for Focus and Intention
• Select materials using an enhanced view
of children.

• Invent new possibilities for familiar materials.

• Draw on the aesthetic qualities of materials.

• Choose materials that can be transformed.

• Offer materials that invite children to explore
schemas. • Provide real tools and quality materials.

• Supply materials to extend children’s interests.

• Layer materials to offer complexity.

• •
• •
• •
• •
• Create orderly, beautiful arrangements.

Provide a background for the materials.

Store diverse items in matching containers.

Group together similar materials with
different features.

Give attention to size, scale, and levels.

Arrange materials to suggest how they might
be used.

Reposition materials to spark a new interest.

Display books and other visual representations
with the materials.

Offer collections of materials to highlight a
learning domain.

Examining the Elements and Possibilities in Materials
Children constantly use materials to learn about the
world, explore their questions, and represent their
thinking. Their first job is to examine the properties
and functions of materials. As children manipulate
materials and learn their properties, they begin to
notice something in the material that reminds them
of something they already know. After making this
connection to something familiar, they begin to use
the materials to symbolically stand for that idea or
experience. As children become more familiar with
how objects can represent ideas and concepts, they
begin to use materials for this purpose. Our colleague
Joan Newcomb calls this “thinking in things.” You
can plan for and enhance this process by reflecting
on your own ideas and experiences with materials.

And you can work to know as much as you can about
the materials you offer. The following principles and
examples can serve as a useful lens for examining
and selecting materials to heighten your curriculum.

Select Materials Using
an Enhanced View of Children
The educators from the schools of Reggio Emilia
have advanced the professional conversation about
how teachers’ image of children dramatically affects
the kinds of materials they offer and how they expect
children to use them. In other words, your image of
children limits or enhances their experiences and
abilities. Consider the typical materials available for
infants and toddlers. Most of them are made with
bright, primary-colored, hard plastic surfaces and
commercial cartoonlike figures designed to capture