In a matter of minutes, four- to six-year-old mighty learners transform humble cardboard boxes into a fighter plane, a spaceship, a camera and imagined worlds yet to be named. Observing, documenting and playing alongside children are some of the ways educators at Early Learning at MacEwan are implementing Alberta’s early learning and care framework.

Never underestimate the potential of a piece of cardboard

May 7, 2019 | Society
“Come to my grocery store,” called out a voice in Hummingbird Room at Early Learning at MacEwan (ELM) in March 2018. When educators in the centre saw the preschool-aged children moving playroom items around the room and inviting others to shop it became the inspiration for more than a year of deconstructing, constructing and exploring with recycled materials.

Children brought boxes and bags from home, and went on a journey that began with a grocery store and transformed into a series of imagined worlds – all built with the help of scissors and many, many rolls of tape.

“Children use materials and see possibilities for them that are far beyond what adults might see,” says Dawn Hodder, an educator at ELM and recent alumna of MacEwan’s Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) program. “The things they build become part of their world – pieces of cardboard become an essential part of their day, their play and their stories.”


One cardboard box, endless possibilities.

It’s one of many examples of how ELM educators are thinking about the role of materials in their early learning program – and a topic that nearly 60 early childhood educators, administrators and policy makers came together to explore at Pedagogical Pathways 2019 on May 2, hosted by ELM.

Dawn shared her carefully documented experience of learning and discovering alongside children in ELM’s Hummingbird Room at the third-annual symposium, which had educators discussing the many ways children communicate their ideas, questions and imaginations.

“When we sit, watch and hear children’s ideas, we become co-players, which leads to co-learning and co-imagining possibilities,” says Dawn. “We hear what the children are trying to tell us, and we can plan and take action to facilitate more thinking. We learn, explore and discover together.”

The approach – and the conversations sparked at the symposium – is intricately tied to Flight: Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Framework, co-authored by several MacEwan ELCC faculty members, including Lee Makovichuk.

“The work of early learning and care educators is complex and diverse – it’s relational work that defies a checklist approach,” says the assistant professor in MacEwan’s Early Learning and Child Care program. “Flight is intended to guide educators to observe closely, and reflect on what children do every day. ELM educators are leaders in our field, and their thought and intentionality in bringing Flight to life inspires others in the field to see possibilities in their work with children and families.”

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