Collaboratiing with Clasroom Teachers on Their Research: Using Materials in New Ways

Nancy and Robyn who teach the oldest preschool class (five going on six) decided this year to investigate one common material to see if there was anything more to it than they had seen before. The material, MagnaTiles, are really neat, but like so many toys, children's play can become repetitive after they are out in the classroom for a while.

Normally, the Teachers explained, they put the toys away when the children seem to run out of new ideas with them. But this year they decided to keep the MagnaTiles out and pay attention to them.
I got to support the group a couple of times while they were trying new things with MagnaTiles. One of the first things was to ask children to pre-plan a building. This allowed one group to play with the MagnaTiles in the Meadow room while I worked with another in the studio. Since I don't have a set, I offered squares of paper and scotch tape. Miles, Luke, Tucker and Tavish started by thinking about more ships. but eventually came up with a plan for a skateboard park with a bridge. Here they are composing a song about the bridge they wanted to build.
This was exciting challenge- could the boys engineer a bridge with MagnaTiles?
Back in their room later, they figured it out.

Next a group of girls came to make a plan to build Sabot school.
I offered thin cardboard
can you see the cardboard model winding through the building?

drawing the Sabot school   

We tried printing designs to build

building on top of the printed plan
While building Sabot School children realized they needed stairs. That was another big challenge, how to build stairs with MagnaTiles? Different children tried many ways- this was the most successful-

Helping Teachers find answers to research questions is one of the best privileges of being an Atelierista.


  1. Hello, I just wanted to say thank you for your generosity in sharing what you and the children of Sabot do. I have your emails come directly to my inbox because I know that they always either provoke me to think about something in a different way or scarily closley relate to something I am working on half way across the other side of the world in England!

    This post really connected with me. I mostly work with several pre-schools and primary schools in the area in which I live (I guess more in the role of pedagogista than atelierista although my background and training is in Fine Art). I can't tell you the amount of times we have debated what to do when a material becomes over rehearsed and the same ideas keep appearing but not evolving. I remember Dr Kathy Ring talking about drawing areas she had set up for large scale work and how that had become a space of repetition, however she too reminded me that sometimes it is important to stay with things because children often have this uncanny way of coming back to something after a while, and after exploring ideas in other materials with new thoughts.

    I think what you blog about here demonstrates the importance of going between materials, media and modalities and that in doing so it opens up the mind and body to new possibilities. I think for me that is what the 100 Languages mean, a dance between languages that are in dialogue with each other and help us to continually construct, elaborate and keep in fluid motion our thoughts, ideas and theories. I am reading a lot at the moment about rhizhome theory and this example that you give with the magna tiles shows the complexity and movement that is involved in out work with young children, it is a similar structure of thinking about learning and meaning-making in a way that is not progressive in stages or linear in direction but more like a connected network that grows and evolves in many multiple directions.

    Thank you for sharing again, I have shared this with my 'small following' on my Facebook page as I know it connects with many of them too.

  2. Thank you so much for reading and responding- it's so good to know there are other teachers out there thinking about the same ideas. I have some reading about the rhizomatic way of thinking, learning and teaching saved up for summer break. I am wondering especially about documentation and how to show the kind of complexity and movement you describe. Let's keep in touch! -Anna

  3. Have you come across the contesting early childhood series by Routledge edited by Swedens. Gunilla Dahlberg and UK's Peter Moss? There have been a couple of books that have really addressed early years and rhizomatic theory - I am not finding it easy, but as I once heard Gunilla say 'I know that there is something important to which to understand on the pages...so I keep going!' Glad she feels that too!

    The latest is Marg Sellars (2013) - Young Children Becoming Curriculum - looking at it through a lens of New Zealand Te Whariki
    then there is Taguchi - Going Beyond the Theory/Practice Divide (2009) (Swedish perspective)
    and Olsson (2009) Movement and Experimentation in Young Children's Learning.

    As for documentation - now that is a big interest of mine too with this idea of the rhizome. It kind of makes us rethink documentation or rather the re-presentation of it in a summative way. The traditional reflective narrative or linear chronological lines of progression does not fit with this, so neither does turning a page in a book or slide in a powerpoint. It requires something more dynamic and animated. I remember an older post you made about toying with things like Prezzi - there seems to be a richness with animation that enables a possible re-presentation of a more complex process. Certainly lots to think about!


Please do comment!