ERIC Identifier: ED369576
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Kim, Sonja de Groot
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Resource Rooms for Children: An Innovative Curricular Tool.
How many opportunities do children in early childhood programs have to become
actively engaged in creating their own curriculum experiences, selecting their
own materials, and finding new uses for objects? Most early childhood teachers
are taught to carefully prepare the classroom environment and plan activities
for the children in their care. The tables are set up and the right materials
are ready when the children arrive in the morning.
The work of Vygotsky and others has shown that children's ability to
construct knowledge is facilitated in an environment where learning is based in
a social context. Terminology (raft, mast) and concepts (weight, size) are more
easily acquired and better remembered in a curriculum that builds on children's
interests (Genishi, 1988). Children collaborate to pursue shared goals that are
intrinsically motivating and provide results to their action that are
immediately visible (Tudge & Caruso, 1988). In one project at the nursery
school at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, children constructed an
ambulance out of a box. This creation stimulated high interest among the
children, which led to increasingly elaborate construction plans and more
complex play behavior.
Children's learning is also facilitated when they are able to use a wide
variety of materials in a wide range of activities and in cooperation with
adults who help them ask good questions (Duckworth, 1987). These expanded
possibilities for children's learning can be fostered by adding a resource room
to a preschool classroom. Based on the staff's experiences with the resource
room at the Vassar nursery school, this digest offers suggestions concerning
resource rooms in early childhood classrooms, and discusses some issues relevant
to children's play.
SET-UP OF THE RESOURCE ROOM
Many classroom areas can be
converted into a resource space. For example, at the Vassar nursery school, a
large walk-in closet was transformed into a resource room by installing pine
shelving. In such a space, shelves can be placed every 18 inches or so and used
for storing small props and materials or for holding boxes and baskets. Bulky
items can be stored in large containers on the floor beneath the bottom shelf.
Cheap and effective storage containers include wooden fruit boxes, large
cardboard boxes from grocery stores, and laundry baskets. Labels should be
attached to such boxes or baskets, describing their contents. Matching the
objects that are placed in the boxes with the labels on the boxes helps the
children learn to categorize and sort.
Once a resource room has been set up, it becomes an extension of the
preschool classroom. At the Vassar nursery school, for example, 3-year-olds use
the resource room to find materials for exploratory play. When 4- and
5-year-olds come to the resource room, they often have an idea of what they're
looking for, perhaps an object to use as a mast on a ship or wings on an
airplane. Sometimes, items in the resource room spark the imagination. One
child, for example, found a pie plate and exclaimed, "Look! This could be the
mirror for our ambulance."
ITEMS FOR THE RESOURCE ROOM
For a resource room to function
effectively, a real collaboration among the school, families, and the community
is necessary. Also, a few parents or teachers are needed to maintain and
organize the room's contents, and to request new supplies when they are needed.
Recyclable items can provide many of the props and materials to be used in the
classroom. Items discarded by stores and businesses can sometimes be used.
Parents might bring in other materials such as yarn, buttons, plastic
containers, paper towel rolls, shells, pine cones, rocks, and feathers. Favorite
items of children are boxes, which become many things in children's symbolic
Often, items that children use at home can find their way into the classroom
resource room. An old tricycle or toy can be disassembled, and the pieces placed
in the storage room, where a new use awaits them. For example, the handlebars
from a tricycle might become the steering wheel for a school bus in one project,
and a peanut butter jar become a gas tank for an ambulance in another.
THE TEACHER'S ROLE
The teacher's role in an environment
where children collaborate in creating the curriculum evolves from a "dispenser
of knowledge" to a facilitator and co-learner. Teachers closely observe children
and their actions, listen to their conversations, and talk to the parents. All
this information then serves to set the stage for collaboration between children
and teachers in developing curriculum and in shaping the environment. The types
of questions teachers ask children reflect this interactive approach. "What do
you need in order to make a boat?" for example, leads children to other thoughts
and further actions. The children might examine books on boats to see what kind
of boat they want to make. After deciding, they go to the resource room, find
materials to construct their boat, and figure out how to attach all the needed
In dramatic play, children soon become the players. They assign roles, create
scripts, and act out their stories. In the course of their play, the function of
a boat might change from a passenger boat to a pirate ship. The teacher's role
here includes supporting and enriching this type of dramatic play. When children
are actively engaged, their social, language, and cognitive competence is
enhanced. They also become more task oriented and persistent.
THE ROLE OF ERROR IN CHILDREN'S PLAY
An account of the
preschool programs of Reggio Emilia, Italy (Edwards et al., 1993), describes the
role of error in children's play. As children discuss, argue, construct, and
reflect, they make accommodations with their previous perceptions, and their
knowledge is accordingly enhanced.
Teachers and caregivers have a tendency to prevent children from making
errors, or to point out errors to them while giving explanations: "Scissors
won't cut this type of cardboard"; "Those nails won't work on this kind of
wood." This tendency is natural, but it is more important for children to find
out for themselves and correct their own errors. One day in the Vassar nursery
school, a group of children constructed little boats with items from the
resource room. They had glued wood pieces together and decorated them. They
planned to let the glue dry and put the boats in water the following day. The
teacher knew what would happen but said nothing.
The next day, when they put their boats in water, the children watched in
astonishment as the boats slowly disintegrated. "What happened?" the teacher
asked. "I guess glue doesn't work in water," one child answered. "Let's try
something else," another child said. For a second time they constructed boats,
using different materials: nails, tape, and wire. Of course, this time the boats
floated without falling apart. This problem-solving approach, using resource
room materials, stimulated children's use of thinking skills.
SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATION IN CHILDREN'S PLAY
The ability to
pretend that one thing stands for another plays a critical role in the child's
development and in later achievement. "Pretending" is essential in learning to
read and do math, and in learning other academic subjects later in elementary
school. Play is the main activity during which the child develops this pretend
ability. Taking on a role (captain of a boat), pretending that an object stands
for something else (paper towel rolls for binoculars), developing a pretend
situation (we're on the ocean in a storm), interacting verbally with others, and
being persistent (playing the same theme for at least ten minutes), are all
indicators of good sociodramatic play, and are directly linked to later social
and academic competence (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990).
The resource room in the Vassar nursery school
is the children's favorite place to go with their teacher. Making use of the
resource room has developed in them a real feeling of competence. They know that
their thoughts and ideas are valued by adults and other children. They are not
discouraged when something doesn't work, but instead have learned to say, "Well,
that didn't work, what else can we try?" The confidence in their own abilities
and the skills gained in working collaboratively with others will stand them in
good stead as they grow and develop.
This digest was adapted from: Kim, Sonja de Groot. (1993). From Prop Box to
Resource Room. NYSAEYC REPORTER 39(3, Spr/Sum): 1-5.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Duckworth, E. (1987). THE HAVING OF
WONDERFUL IDEAS. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Edwards, C., L. Gandini, and G. Forman. (1993). THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 355 034.
Genishi, C. (1988). Children's Language: Learning Words from Experience.
YOUNG CHILDREN 44(1, Nov): 16-23. EJ 380 641.
Klugman, E. and S. Smilansky. (1990). CHILDREN'S PLAY AND LEARNING. New York:
Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Perlmutter, J.C. and L.L. Laminack. (1993). Sociodramatic Play: A Stage for
Practicing Literacy. DIMENSIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD 21(4, Sum): 13-16, 31. EJ 467
Seefeld, C. (Ed.). (1992). THE EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULUM. New York: Basic
Smilansky, S. and L. Shafatya. (1990). FACILITATING PLAY. Gaithersburg, MD:
Psychosocial and Educational Publications.
Tudge, J., and J. Caruso. (1988). Cooperative Problem Solving in the
Classroom: Enhancing Young Children's Cognitive Development. Young Children
44(1, Nov): 46-52. EJ 380 636.
Webster, T. (1990). Projects as Curriculum: Under What Conditions? CHILDHOOD
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