Who doesn’t love a challenge? When Rachelle from TinkerLab identified egg crates as the material to be used for this month’s creative challenge, I was excited. Tinkerlab describes: “The objective of these challenges is to help children learn to trust their own ideas, build creative confidence, and envision new purposes for common objects.”
However, after a few days of staring at the egg crate atop our counter, I began to doubt whether we would participate in this challenge after all. Instead of my mind racing with ideas on how to use these knobby little cardboard wonders, my mind was uh, uh . . . blank. So, I took a step back and decided to seek out some expert advice instead.
I humbly brought these deconstructed cut-up egg crate pieces to some eager little hands who, by the way, had no problem figuring out how they could be used.
Greysen identified these as “bins” and stacked them.
She then called them “sailboats,” so I brought over some loose parts.
She played and played, incorporating these loose parts into her play.
Infant & toddler material use is not typically like that of three, four, and five year-olds.
Infants and toddlers are encountering new-to-them materials every day. By withholding my explanations for the “proper” purposes of some materials, my daughters’ ideas of what things can do and be take precedence. Giving very young children both time and space to play with open-ended materials like boxes, blocks, tubes, and egg crates as they see fit, we convey our trust in their ideas and attribute value to their spontaneous play.
The Hundred Languages Begin in Infancy
Infant and toddler experiences set the stage for later play but are valuable periods for learning in their own right. It is in these early years that children explore materials primarily through their senses, as well as come to understand the limits and potential of each material/art medium they encounter. With experiences like these constituting their play history, children can potentially have a deeper understanding of playthings. The purpose of materials will transform from exploration to resource. A four year-old child who had unlimited access to blocks, clay and sand as a toddler, for example, has several ways to imagine possibilities for building when she is ready to build with intent. Thus, children can draw on early play experiences with sand and blocks later on to help them figure out how best to make their ideas happen. Understanding the potential of each plaything becomes another language of sorts.
So in the end, what did we make with our egg crates?
I’m not entirely sure that we met criteria for this creative challenge. Regardless, this play gave my daughter experience- experience with having an idea, with her parent responding in a way that supports that idea, and finally, adding some experiential knowledge about how materials, namely egg crates, work or more accurately, can work.