Reggio-inspired Innovative Spaces

Learning Resources for Primary Teachers by Margaret Lincoln

Developing Learning Competencies: Critical and Creative Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration

Innovative learning environments have much to contribute to the development of learner competencies. Research supports the explicit relationship between learning environments, innovative teaching practices and educational outcomes. Three key components of an innovative early learning space designed to promote and make visible the competencies of children are Materials, Creative Technologies and Pedagogical Documentation.

A Reggio-inspired Approach

In terms of innovation and personalized learning, a Reggio-inspired approach, based on social constructivist learning and learner-centered principles, has much to offer as supportive pedagogy. With a strong focus on learning through relationships, this approach facilitates children actively constructing their knowledge through their own investigations, explorations, interests and inquiries. This approach uses the power of documentation to make students' learning and thinking visible, enabling educators and others to examine the processes of learning and competencies demonstrated. Documentation is used both as a tool for communication and as assessment for and as learning. As this approach considers the environment as the 'Third Teacher', materials, creative technologies, and flexible physical space configurations converge to create provocative, inquiry-driven, open-ended learning spaces for young children.

Books to Inspire your Journey


"In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it."

Simon Nicholson, 1971

Materials, and their endless sensorial, representative and creative possibilities, present children with a range of learning opportunities. Loose parts, natural materials, found and reclaimed materials naturally support student inquiries and investigations, lend themselves to questioning and problem-solving, and sustain student engagement over long periods of time. Possibilities with materials support young children in using creative thinking and constructing new understandings and connections between objects, thoughts and ideas.

The Relationship Between Materials and Learning

" The materials we choose to bring into our classrooms reveal the choices we have made about knowledge and what we think is important to know. How children are invited to use the materials indicates the role they shall have in their learning. Materials are the text of early childhood classrooms. Unlike books filled with facts and printed with words, materials are more like outlines. They offer openings and pathways by and through which children may enter the world of knowledge. Materials become the tools with which children give form to and express their understanding of the world and the meanings they have constructed."

(Experimenting with the World: John Dewey and The Early Childhood Classroom, Harriet K. Cuffaro, Teachers College press, 1995, p. 33)

Children's Books for Provocation of Play, Interest and Creativity with Materials


Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials

Beautiful Stuff is an excellent book which documents the learning and teaching process of children investigating found materials. Its Reggio-inspired focus presents a project approach and intentional plan for using found objects in primary classrooms. It explores children's deep involvement in deciding and directing their own learning and profiles many examples of critical and creative thinking, communication and collaboration.

(Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials, Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini, 1999, Davis Publications.)

Project Ideas for Beautiful Stuff Inquiry Unit


In the early seventies, architect Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts. His ideas were that loose parts, materials which can be moved around, taken apart and put back together in new ways, combined, designed and redesigned, and tinkered with, create infinitely greater opportunities for creative engagement than fixed materials and environments. The materials have no specific set of directions to be used and promote opportunities for choice and self-directed learning and exploration.

Resources for Teachers

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Images of Loose Parts Materials

Teaching Resource

This book contains a wonderful list of materials that can be added to the environment and several good questions educators can ask themselves about collections of materials.

Empowering Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education

Beverlie Dietze, Diane Kashin 2015


Providing natural materials both inside and outside the classroom creates endless sensory opportunities to facilitate the competencies of critical and creative thinking. Natural materials invite children to explore, ask questions, connect to prior knowledge and experiences and develop curiosity. Costing very little and readily available, natural materials supports children's exploring and understanding of their immediate environments. These materials provide rich opportunities for descriptive oral and written language, storytelling, sorting, classifying, measuring and comparing...the interdisciplinary connections are plentiful!

Natural Materials Resources for Teachers

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Natural Materials Exploration: Books for Children

Reggio-inspired Mathematics from SD38 (Richmond, BC)


Critical and Creative Thinking with Natural Materials
Andy Goldsworthy for kids....


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Originating in the educational philosophies of Reggio Emilia Italy, Remida embraces the philosophy of reusing waste and discarded materials, both from the perspective of providing another 'language of expression' for children and educating for a more sustainable future. Collections of recycled materials provide inspiration for endless creative possibilities, enabling children to innovate, reinvent, and imagine, while collaborating, problem-solving, inquiring and communicating.
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Sustainable Technology Education Project

Making Toys from Reclaimed Materials

Cardboard Recycling Projects

Global Cardboard Challenge

Imagination Foundation


What is a Tinkering Space?

A dedicated space created in the classroom for children to 'tinker'; that is to explore, create, investigate with materials (recycled materials, found objects, loose parts). This idea blends the theories of constructivism and constructionism to allow children to 'think with their hands' and use materials to express ideas, new understandings or investigate questions. The aim is to provide materials and space for children to slow down and be deeply engaged in collaborative, curiosity-driven explorations. The space can be a curriculum in itself, offering invitations in art, science and technology to take risks, problem-solve and discover."

The Tinkering Studio at Exploratorium

Hawkins Centers of Learning

Museum Tinkering and Making Spaces

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The Art of Tinkering

From' The Tinkering Studio' at the Exploratorium

Take Apart Centers

STEM Book Resources


Given the opportunities and resources, children naturally tinker, engineer, invent, design, and create. Just as children construct knowledge with physical materials, direct experience with digital and technological tools and materials can further their abilities in problem-solving, inquiry investigations, and project-based learning. As children unfold their learning, technology can be a significant aid to their problem solving, especially in the case of the youngest students.

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Little Bits DIY Electronics

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LittleBits Educator Guide: Projects and Lesson Ideas

LittleBits Video

Making and Maker Spaces

Martinez and Stager (2013) have written extensively about how, by making tangible objects and constructing, children can actively create with purpose, learn by doing, and solve personally relevant problems.

(Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, 2013)

Video: Mike Eisenberg “Constructionism: New Technologies, New Purposes.”

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Coding: Developing Digital Literacy


Making Children's Thinking and Learning Visible

Pedagogical documentation is used increasingly in early childhood classrooms for assessment of and for learning. In considering how assessment can be aligned with changes in curriculum, documentation, through the interpretation of images and words, makes children’s learning and thinking visible. The presentation of documentation in a shared learning space can promote the value of collaborative inquiry. Teachers can collectively reflect on and analyze evidence of learning that deepens the understanding and co-constructed knowledge in developing professional practice.

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Pedagogical Documentation in early Childhood

Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood is an inspiring step-by-step guide to documenting children's ideas, questions, play, and learning in a way that enhances teachers' thinking and understanding at the same time. This book supports teachers on their journey to tell the stories behind children's work and inquiry.

(Pedagogical documentation in early Childhood: Sharing Children's Learning and Teacher's Thinking, Susan Stacey, 2015.)