Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, famously said, "The child has a hundred languages... a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking." And yet, even though this is not the primary way that all learners make sense of things, in education, we sometimes limit ourselves to thinking with words.



When we offer our students the opportunity to engage in other modes of thinking with thinking materials, the materials can become active participants that help students to generate new insights about their thinking.
With these visual and symbolic languages available to them, learners can deepen and strengthen their thinking about complex questions and ideas. These thinking tools are particularly helpful in creating a culture of inquiry. 
There many possibilities for the types of materials you can invite students to think with.

Different materials offer different ways of thinking. Roberta Pucci says, "every material has its own qualities and personality. It is a kind of natural grammar. This grammar is the range of possible transformations that the material can undergo. You can have a dialogue with the material and the material will reveal itself to you." Ultimately, there will be a dialogue between the grammar of a material and the person who is meeting and transforming that material.

It is really important to allow students enough time to explore the materials so they can co-create collective understanding of the affordances of each type of material (ie: what can clay do?). With the knowledge of the 'grammar of each material,' students will know what each material can offer them before they are asked to, or choose to, think with it.




Educators have been creating opportunities for their students (K-12) to use materials as thinking tools. Peruse the images, dialogue, and questions in the gallery below to see how some of this learning is beginning to unfold. 


  • materials kss 3.PNG


    With Materials

    A document that has been co-created by Opal School and Harvard's Project Zero 

  • Copy of IMG_0361.JPG

    A List Of Possible Thinking Materials  

    This document was created to give you ideas about the types of materials that might encourage your students to learn new thinking 'languages' and think in different ways.

  • IMG_3428.JPG

    Questions To Ask

    Students As They

    Play With The Materials

    This document should give you some ideas about questions you can ask students as they begin to play with a material so they can determine what it can do (it's affordances).



Click on the image of the book for more information about how to use materials as thinking tools and partners in inquiry based learning. Also, learn more about the connection between thinking materials and the philosophy of reggio based learning. 

From teaching to thinking.jpg
the language of art.jpg
the good enough studio.jpg
in the spirit of the studio.jpg
Wonder Art Workshop.jpg
in dialogue with reggio emilia.jpg
encounters with materials.jpg
art and creativity in reggio emilia.jpg
story workshop.jpg
loose parts 1.jpg
loose parts 3.jpg
loose parts 4.jpg
reggio inspired math.jpg
working in the reggio way.jpg



Click on the blog posts below to learn from the experts. They will teach you how materials can be used as thinking tools with playful inquiry (including numeracy and literacy), how to create beautiful spaces that will allow students to form relationships with materials, and how to use pedagogical documentation to amplify learning and determine where to take the learning next.

These blog posts are all from the Opal School Museum of Play. To access these blogs, and all of the other content on the site, you will need to pay a yearly subscription. We think that it is definitely worth the money as it is excellent Pro-D.


The website is rich with videos, images, and dialogue, which all help to tell the story (in this case) of how to use materials as thinking partners in the

learning process.

The collection of blog posts below are all free and do not require a subscription. Click to learn more.

by Roberta Pucci

by Roberta Pucci

by Roberta Pucci

by Roberta Pucci

by Roberta Pucci

by Nona Orbach

by Nona Orbach

by Nona Orbach

by Nona Orbach

by Rebecca Heyl at Frog Hollow



Click on the image of the website or document for more information about how to engage students in thinking with materials.