Category Archives: Beyond Catalogues

The Trouble With Toys

Lately I have been thinking about toys. Our childhood spaces are filled with toys, and we continually receive catalogues imploring us to buy more toys. Toys are ubiquitous in our business, but do we pay attention to them? Do we think about the corporate influence and marketization of toys?Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.31.54 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.26.20 PMConsider the big box stores, the ‘pink’ isle filled with dolls and tea sets, and the ‘black’ isle filled with action figures and remote control vehicles. There is an isle for babies, an isle for toddlers, a ‘learning’ isle, a ‘outdoor isle’ and an ‘arts isle’…..and more.  All these categories of toys sends three very strong messages:

  • Each activity a child engages in requires a different kind of toy
  • Boys and girls require different kinds of toys
  • Children of different ages require different kinds of toys

Do we believe this?

An educator in a multi age drop in centre was considering toys, particularly baby toys. She saw adults directing babies and toddlers to the ‘baby toys’ steering them away from the ‘preschool toys’. So she did an experiment: she removed the baby toys and in their place put an overhead projector. And voila! The overhead projector became a baby toy.

 What do you believe about toys?


The Absence Of Colour







What would happen if we created a space void of colour? Kim and I asked ourselves that one day as we contemplated what to do next with the provocation studio.  What would a space void of colour invite children to do? How would it affect their interactions, explorations and engagement with materials?

It took time for us to get to this question, this idea…… this provocation. We had spent the last year visiting many early childhood spaces. Often when entering these spaces we were overwhelmed with the colour and visual clutter of the spaces. Red, yellow and blue were prominent in almost all of these spaces. We often found ourselves wondering why…. Actually we wondered more who decided primary colours were what young children needed.

In November we visited the Reggio exhibit in Vancouver. We spent time examining how they used space. We noticed the use of empty space, the lack of primary colours and the intentionality of materials that were in the space.

In our search for inspiration we found artist Sakir Gökcebag who created an exhibit called Trans Layers made entirely of toilet paper. It was stunningly beautiful. We were struck by how he took an ordinary everyday object and transformed it.

Our idea for a provocation began to crystalize; we would create a space with the colour white. In researching colour theory we discovered white is actually not a colour, it is the absence of colour. We set out to find materials; we went to the dollar store, fabric store, thrift shop, Home Depot, Capital Iron and our backyards. We began to experiment with space and materials. We played with materials testing what they could do, continually trying for something new. We invited my daughter into the space and watched how she interacted with the materials. What ideas were sparked for her?  Documenting her explorations of the space we were able to look at the space through the eyes of a child and re-examine our ideas.WP_20130724_007

The provocation studio is meant to provoke. The ideas present in this space may make you uncomfortable or they may make you jump for joy. Either way we hope you are inspired to think differently about space. We would invite you to examine how a space void of colour makes you feel? What do the materials invite you to do? Finally we would encourage you to wonder with us; what would a space void of colour invite children to do?

The provocation studio is located at Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral. For more information about viewing times and the other wonderful resources at the Victoria ccrr please check out their site.



When my son was 4 he built a playground for caterpillars. He made it from cardboard and it was an enclosed space with a slide, some swings and some ramps for the caterpillars to crawl up and down. It took days to make, and many caterpillars were encouraged to play in it. Then one morning he discovered there were no caterpillars in the playground, only caterpillar fluff. Seems my 2 year old son had found the caterpillars and the scissors and……well, all that was left was the fluff.

 Cardboard continued to be an essential play item for my boys, from making a miniature city of ruined buildings for warhammer, (if you have preteen boys you likely know what that is) to a giant skate board park for finger boards (tiny skateboards).

 Parents and ECE’s have long recognized the value of cardboard: it’s free, accessible, and multi functional. Add materials from the recycling bin, some glue, tape and paint and the possibilities are limitless. But without two key elements all these great materials will never reach their potential: time and space. Kids need time to develop something out of cardboard, which means they need to work over a period of days or weeks. Which in turn means that the project needs a place to be stored.  ECE settings are notoriously short on space, and time is often chopped into small chunks for play, snack, outside time, nap etc. But look at what can be achieved when these barriers are overcome!

My good friend Sarah Hilliard at Lansdowne Preschool followed the children’s interest in robots……

boxes, egg cartons, fruit flats, paint….
and hours of collective work, became this….
a robot with a crown.

And the next year her kids were fascinated with castles so…..

became this!

 And if you still need more motivation check this:  an international cardboard challenge inspired by a 9 year old boy and his cardboard creation. 

Imagination, creativity, hands on learning, building community, sharing stories, inspiring wonder, possibility, and engagement……all this can be had with cardboard!

Share your cardboard stories with us!

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Everything is Better on the Beach: Part 2

Danielle is right, everything is better on the beach.

 This past weekend, my family and our closest friends went camping. We’ve been doing these trips annually for 27 years starting with the four of us and one baby. Now there are four adult kids plus partners, 12 of us in all. While the trips were wonderful when the kids were small, there is something even more amazing about camping with them now that they are in their mid 20’s. Watching these intelligent, talented and caring adults still enjoying each other’s company well, if you are the parents of adult children you know what I mean. So there we were with lots of great food, campfires, guitar and banjo music, maybe a bit of wine and beer(!!)…..and the beach.

 We set ourselves a challenge: make something from materials found on the beach. We brought along a few hand tools, some sandpaper, some string, some glue. We spent an entire day at it, no deadline, no expectations, no pressure. Some people started making something and never finished, others gathered materials and then just left them in a pile, and some didn’t do anything at all. Others made intricate and complex pieces.



The found materials didn’t demand perfection. They are beautifully odd, randomly curved, smooth and cracked, rough and silky. They allow a freedom in creation that commercial materials don’t offer. Perfection is not an option.


At the end of the day we all felt equally satisfied whether we made anything or not. There was joy and camaraderie in the making, mistakes and imperfections were embraced as part of the creative process.


No matter our age we all thrive in the freedom to play, to create, to embrace a project of our own choosing…..or make a pile of sticks and leave it be.


The spirit of the beach……that ‘s what I want all year.

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Real Stuff: Part 4


Personal disclaimer: When my son turned 5 my husband and I gave him an axe. He chopped some firewood, chopped some twigs and branches, and later chopped down a few small trees. He is now a grown man and has all his fingers and toes…..well…. he does have a small scar on one toe…..but it doesn’t show much.

So in my life as an ECE I am not  too worried about giving kids real tools. Thus it is that I provide hammers and knives for kids to use. Implements of destruction.  And therefore a ton of fun.

No one cut themselves, no one hammered another kid. OK, one kid cut her finger with a knife, but seriously, I was more upset than she was.

 Of course I am not advocating letting kids run amok with knives, supervision and precautions are needed.




I have found that when the expectation is that kids will be trusted to do the right and safe thing, chances are pretty good they will do just that.

What real stuff  do you allow children to take risks with?