As much as I love to encourage my children and the kids at forest school to play and engage with nature elements, I promote the same with open ended materials. These are the ones that can be used in more than one way, materials that have no direction and that can be used on their own or combined with others. They allow for more exploration, different ways of use, they encourage creativity by allowing you to decide how and what to use it for, they promote problem solving because you need to resolve whatever doesn’t work during the process and try and find a different way that works out.
I find that open ended materials engage children in deeper play that can last for longer. And because children learn through play, those moments of absolute immersion and concentration are critical and very important for their development.
We thought we needed more of a challenging activity today, so we decided to look for wood, a hammer and nails to see what we could make. Immediately the association with elastic bands came as I recalled seeing this somewhere before. Hammering is a natural practice, if you think about it, even babies practice that pounding movement with their hands, so I was intrigued to see how interested my kids would be with this. My oldest son started hammering and pounding the nails immediately and with almost no assistance, and only needed assistance at the beginning of the process to mark and push the nails a little so that hammering could begin. Hammering, to me, is like whittling. It involves your whole body and brain to be present, and yet it can be very calming.
Once he was satisfied with all the nails placed in the piece of wood, he started exploring with the elastic bands, choosing particular colours, making geometric shapes first, then creating scenarios that included boats and birds (it reminded me of origami shapes), then he moved onto completely abstract stuff and all of this was a process of doing–undoing-redoing and it kept on for long time.
My youngest son also got hooked on hammering the nails, although he needed more assistance because the nails we were using where pretty small. I would use bigger nails for younger children next time. Making shapes with the elastic bands was fascinating as he kept on trying to make the shapes that he knows and that was very exciting for him to see how he could make trinagles, squares and rectangles out of pulling elastic bands in different directions.
And, just as open ended materials are, my oldest son decided to make a new wooden base with a complete different nail alignment that could possibly work as a string instrument!
I am sure this will keep reshaping and transforming and that is the most valuable thing of all, it is just like nature, like life, like everything!
I would love to see your own designs, please share them with us or comment below about how it all works for your own kids.