Some Thoughts On Children And Materials By Tony Kallet

While visiting an infant classroom recently, I spent a few minutes watching and working with six-year-old Karl.  He was building a pyramid out of colored X Blocks, which as their name suggests, are X-shaped blocks that inter-lock with one another in interesting ways.  Karl’s pyramid grew to be about seven or eight blocks wide at the base and perhaps six blocks high with the apex placed symmetrically at the top.

After we had both admired it for awhile, I asked Karl whether he had ever tried making the same structure and then taking a few blocks out to leave some X-shaped holes.  He didn’t understand my question, so I asked him to help me remove one of the blocks.  The result left him wide-eyed with excitement, and he ran off to bring over the teacher to see the hole.  After one near-disaster, his intuition became excellent and he was able to remove blocks that did not serve a vital structural function.

It may be useful to think of a dialogue between a child and materials, accompanied by a second dialogue, or monologue, which the child carries on in his mind.

In order to join such a child-material conversation, you must obviously know what a conversation is about — not just the specific conversation at hand but conversation in general.

My analogy suggests that to join a child-material dialogue, one must know what it feels like to work with materials.

A person who is not used to handling materials in a free way, who is not used to listening to them, is not likely to be sensitive to the two-way communication between the child and the materials.  He may readily enough see what the child is doing with the materials, but he is less likely to consider what the materials are suggesting to the child and what it feels like to engage in this kind of interaction.

Tony Kallet
Outlook Mountain View Center For Environmental Education
6: Autumn 1972