By Melissa Be (CED-group) and Desiree van Reeuwijk (CED-group)
When the children enter the group they are immediately impressed by the mountain of empty milk and sprinkles cartons in the building corner. The teacher brought these today as a new impulse for play, because she noticed that some of the children were not able to engage in play well anymore. While exploring materials, Noa, Isa and Yamil immediately think of the idea to build a restaurant of the empty milk and sprinkles cartons, combining these with the building blocks. Hydar and Vivian go to the house corner. Vivian takes an apron from the cupboard and starts cooking her favorite dish. The table is nicely set with a tablecloth, real plates, cutlery and cups. Some of the items are recognizable because they were brought from home by the children and their parents. Because the materials have a recognizable and labeled storage space in the corners, the children know exactly where all the things are. The teacher sees that Adam did not sleep well. She takes him to the reading corner to read him his favorite book…
Space as a pedagogue
According to pedagogue Loris Malaguzzi, children develop with the assistance of three pedagogues: other children (1st pedagogue), adults (2nd pedagogue) and the space (3rd pedagogue) []. In this blog post we will elaborate on the importance of the 3rd pedagogue, the space as a rich play environment, like in the example above. All children should be able to recognize themselves and feel safe in this space. The environment invites you to play together, but you can also withdraw and play on your own. In addition, the space and materials are constantly evolving; materials are tailored to subjects that children can relate to, for example within a theme. A variety of materials elicits different types of play. This keeps the children interested and motivated and supports them in their broad development.
Set-up of the room
In a well-arranged play-learning environment, children know their way around and find it easy to play. The corners have a clear function (e.g. fantasy play in the house corner and motor skills in the blocks corner). In such a play-learning environment, the materials are accessible to the children, are complete and have a fixed, logical, (labeled) storage space. In the above mentioned example, the cutlery is in the cutlery drawer and in the kitchen cupboard there are four plates, four cups and four bowls stacked side by side. By offering an overview (and somewhat limiting the material), the children do not have to search through the materials first to start their play. They can start immediately. The design of a play environment is good if the children show involvement with the materials in a natural way, without too much guidance.
Materials and children’s broad development
By offering different, challenging and recognizable materials, all children get a chance to gain new experiences just above their own zone of proximal development. Consider, for example, lifelike materials (milk cartons, pans, etc.) and open-ended material (knots, strings, boxes etc.). These types of materials offer different play possibilities and appeal to different developmental areas. You can build, manipulate, craft with it, or use it in fantasy play. By combining different materials, the imagination and thinking of children are stimulated. As in the above mentioned example, the various empty packages and blocks in the building corner can lead to new building techniques and role play. Recognizable and challenging materials provide engaged play.
A well-arranged play environment gives children the feeling: “Wow, I want to play here!”. From this feeling, you as a professional (together with children and colleagues) can guide the development of children. Children learn best when they are highly engaged in playful experiences!
 Cagliari, P. et al. (2016). Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia. A selection of his writings and speeches. 1945-1993. London, UK: Routledge.