What’s In Your Purse?

April 19, 2011

It’s always fun to see what’s in someone’s purse. During our April 4th training day in Kansas City, all kinds of items were pulled out of totes and shoulder bags and placed on the tables. No, it wasn’t a massive key search. It was an exercise in using open-ended materials to teach. Ellen Booth Church, the lead presenter, asked us to pull two items out of our purses and place them on the table in front of us. Then, we were to sort the items into categories. At each table we began to note commonalities — “well, the eyeglasses and the earphones are both worn on your head, so they can go together….” or “this pencil is yellow and so is that ipod…” Eventually we were all satisfied with our categories. “Good,” Ellen said. “Now mix things up and re-categorize.”

Once again we began sorting and asking ourselves the questions, “How are these things alike? How are they different?”  There was laughter and discussion as we began to look at the items in different ways. If prizes were given, I’d have to give first prize to the table that not only had the most unusual criteria (“All of the things in this group could fit in your nose.”) but also the most unique items (It’s amazing the things folk carry around!).  Even more amazing was how this exercise began to open up our ways of thinking and challenge what we thought we knew. And this, after all, is what education should do: Open us up. Turn the light on. Allow us the opportunity to be creative and innovative.  Education should move us beyond facts and into possibility.

That’s what I love about open-ended materials and experiences. They go beyond work sheets and create authentic “A-ha!” moments. Open-ended learning experiences encourage us to interact in new ways with our environment. Just like play. For the young child play and work involve the same actions: interacting with people, manipulating objects, and making discoveries that help make sense of the world. Learning happens naturally through play.

Why not try sorting activities with the little people in your care? Discovering how things are alike and how they are different is a great way to spark creativity no matter what the age.
So – what’s in your purse?


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