My name is Marianne Sardelich and my role is Curriculum Development at the UCDS Studio Program. The Studio is a school for infants and toddlers that was started almost nine years ago by UCDS. This was my second year in a curriculum development role and spending the majority of my time supporting teachers with their work in the classroom. Here’s an entry on an approach we used this year regarding personal items of great meaning for our students during our days (and naps).
Every year there is a question that the teachers in the Toddler/Preschool classroom ponder: Do we let children bring toys from home into the classroom? What makes this question a subject of debate are the unique challenges and possibilities that toys from home create. At the beginning of the year, bringing a toy from home can ease the transition into the school day. Many children use cuddly toys at nap time to help them fall asleep. Toys from home provide children with opportunities to practice sharing, taking turns, and negotiate problem-solving. These are also the reasons why toys from home are so challenging. When a child brings a beloved toy from home into the classroom, they are generally very reluctant to share it with a friend. The teacher is left with the decision to either try to convince the child to share or to let the child put the toy in their cubby. This leads to feelings of frustration and sadness for all involved.
This year, the teaching group in the toddler/preschool classroom decided to try a new approach to toys from home. Inspired by the way that toys from home are handled in the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, the teachers decided to create a place where children could keep toys they brought from home in the classroom. The hope for the box was that it would provide children who need a toy to navigate the transition between home and school with a safe place to keep it.
It would be a place where children could place a toy at the beginning of the day, check-in on it as needed, maybe remove it for nap time, and collect it when it was time to go home. It would be called The Special Things Box.
The teachers talked about this plan with the children during morning meetings. They discussed the size of the box and wondered what might fit in it. The children brought toys from the classroom to test in the box. The children determined that small items like cars, figurines, and Legos fit best and left room for more toys. To make the box their own, the children decorated it with paint. While they painted, they discussed what they would bring from home to put in the box: a baby, police car Marshall, a dinosaur. When the box was ready it was placed in the cubby room.
One morning, I watched one of our children (who has always brought a toy from home to school) go to the box and place his toy carefully inside, shutting the lid. Later when it was time for a small group exploration, the child came to the cubby room to put his coat on and took a minute to check the box. He opened it, looked inside, closed it and went about gathering his things. I thought, it works! The Studio has a place that honors children’s desire to bring special items from home, gives them the opportunity to share their items with their friends, but also allows them the space to explore all the things that The Studio has to offer too.