Intelligent Material

Die deutsche Version gibt es hier (Blog der Dialog Reggio Landesgruppe NRW)

Sponges, cardboard rolls, plastic cups, tea bag tags – everyday objects, which become throw-outs after use. Children instead can breathe new life into these objects. Inspired by several projects from Reggio Emilia (Italy) and by impressions of early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres in Germany in June I called for pictures with everyday objects as material in Early Childhood settings. Today I can share a selection of the examples I collected:

Abundance and variety are important characteristics of this kind of material when used in ECEC settings (Thornton und Brunton 2014). Thus the „Tageseinrichtung Oase“ in Fröndenberg offers a large amount of ice cups. As the picture shows, they can be arranged as a wall or pile. Correspoinding ice spoons – a penny good as well – can be used to place patterns as the picture shows.

Ice Cups in Fröndenberg

Ice cups…

Bildschirmfoto 2014-08-07 um 19.05.56

…and ice spoons in Fröndenberg (“Oase”)



A construction of cups and sponges at the “Arche”

Sponges are also an appealing material. Children in the „Kindertageseinrichtung Arche“ in Mühlheim can use them for different purposes; they are not bound to one scope only but can represent different things. Theses sponges are construction material for real because their application is not determined (in contrast to playmobil figures for example). The soft and shaky nature of the sponges delivers new challenges to the children (and gives rest to the ears – chatter-free guaranteed!).



St. Margareta: Teebag-Tags

St. Margareta, Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: Tee bag tags

Thereby the collection of items as a process itself is important as well. At “Katholisches Familienzentrum St. Margareta” in Neunkirchen-Seelscheidt it took al lot of time, endurance and many collectors to bring together all this tea bag tags. These materials can support the development of “Formative Thinking”: “To transform activity experiences into thoughts it is necessary to deliver some kind of representation in the head of the child. By this the thoughts can become independent from the reality of activity” (Schäfer und von der Beek 2013, 117; transl. HK).


Plenty of Buttons at "Kidstown 2" in Bielefed

Plenty of Buttons at “Kidstown 2” in Bielefeld

Next step after collecting is sorting: For example in the „Kindertagesstätte Kidstown 2“ in Bielefeld, where a whole button pool has been assembled. For sure the plenty itself and the sensuous stimuli experienced in rummaging through the material provides an essential incentives. Particularly buttons with their variety of colours, forms and sizes invite to sort and grade. Schäfer and von der Beek (2013, 159) describe collecting and grading as an expression of the mathematic abilities of children.



Experiences with cubes at “Kath. Familienzentrum St. Margareta”

Evereyday material as pictured here facilitates specific didactic stimuli. Cubes for example, that are delivered in many ECEC centres, inspire to manifold aligning activities. Under the headline “In love with the one” a panel documentation in the “Kindertagesstätte Baenklerweg” in Hamm shows how a child adjusts and stratifies the cubes.




Magic of materials in Mühlheim ("Arche")

Magic of materials in Mühlheim (“Arche”)

The particular capabilities of this intelligent material develop even more if a light box or overhead projector is comprised. Translucent coloured tubes, bottle caps, corks and cups inspire the assembly of geometrical shapes, and light installation as it can be seen on this picture from the „Arche“ in Mühlheim.

An important source for ideas about used and everyday material is, naturally, the Remida in Reggio Emilia. This is a place were rejected and used materials are cleaned and prepared for further use – for example in the local infant/toddler centres. The Remida’s web page unfortunately is only available in Italian. But the pictures are suggestive per se. The most important information about the Remida can be found on the Reggio Children web page as well, which is in English.

Do you have own and more possibilities of application? You are cordially invited to share! Send them via e-mail – ideally with a short explanation:



Schäfer, G. E., & Beek, von der, A. (2013). Didaktik in der frühen Kindheit. Von Reggio lernen und weiterdenken. Weimar and Berlin: Verlag das Netz. (Didactic of early childhood. Lessons from Reggio and thinking forward)

Thornton, L., & Brunton, P. (2014). Bringing the Reggio Approch to your Early Years Practice. London; New York: Routledge.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Helen Knauf (2014, 8. August). Intelligent Material. Kinder. Abgerufen am 25. April 2024, von

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