Curious about Curiosity: Ditch the Plastic and Value the Vintage!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. I have been curious about the role curiosity plays in teaching and learning for some time now. Curiosity can be defined as an intrinsic desire to learn. Curiosity is stimulated by something in the child’s environment that leads the child to have a desire to explore, discover, question, and wonder (Dietze & Kashin, 2019). According to the wonderful second edition of Natural Curiosity: A Resource for Educators which supports the importance of Indigenous perspectives in children’s environmental inquiry, curiosity is natural. From birth children demonstrate a desire to learn about their world.

Outdoors, the world is full of wonder. Outdoors, curiosity is naturally aroused as everyday there is something new and exciting in nature. Nature is novel by nature. Indoor environments can be stagnant and boring for children when arranged the same way and filled with the same closed-ended plastic toys. These toys stand in contrast to open-ended materials that can be used in multiple ways. These are single-purposed toys which How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years recommends be removed and replaced.

Children are motivated to learn when they are exposed to new and exciting things in their environment. Scientists call this the novelty preference which develops from infancy into childhood curiosity and the desire to explore (Ostroff, 2012). Loose parts are open-ended, and they motivate children’s curiosity to learn. Additionally, there are many open-ended toys that are better than the plastic, single-purposed ones that we find too often in too many early learning programs. This blog post, offers a great list of open-ended options. I am going on record to say – I think we should be ditching the plastic! There are plastic, single-purposed toys on shelves right now, like those depicted above,  in many programs that can be replaced. However, I don’t mean that every piece should be gone. Plastic animal figurines are open-ended and are wonderful resources for children’s play. These can be purchased along with peg people, silk scarves, blocks and more to add to children’s learning environments. Loose parts can be sourced out and purchased from many suppliers. In addition, there are so many wonderful loose parts that come from the land, like rocks, pinecones, sticks and more which are free! What I have been curious about lately though, are grandma’s treasures. These come at a minimal cost when purchased from thrift stores and garage sales. Using these authentic, beautiful, often unwanted items with children would ignite their curiosity. They would be curiosity triggers!

I am lucky to have inherited some beautiful vintage items and I envision tea parties with my grandchildren in the future! I wish I had the time and capacity to go treasure hunting in thrift stores looking for vintage items that may not be considered toys but do fall under the definition of open-ended materials that can be used in multiple ways. Since my basement is already full of loose parts that I use in the workshops that I facilitate and all those family heirlooms it is probably a good thing that I haven’t gone hunting! Even though every time I see a post on the page, Second Hand Treasures To Inspire Educational Environments! I am so tempted! Instead, I live vicariously through my friend, Fawn St-Pierre, a wonderful early childhood educator who seriously values vintage! I am proud that Fawn, like myself is a registered early childhood educator in the province of Ontario. I have asked Fawn to share some photos of her finds and she has also kindly agreed to answer some questions. I am also inviting anyone else to comment below and share how you value vintage in your programs! Let’s start a vintage revolution in early learning!

What do you think about the role of curiosity in learning?

Exploration and discovery come naturally to children! Their curiosity is always at its peak of wonder! I believe that if we set up the learning environment as the third teacher with authentic and unique resources that spark that sense to question, we can really expand the children’s learning in so many imaginative and thought-provoking ways! In my setting I choose to create a rich and inviting atmosphere by using materials that were once “Grandma’s Treasures!”

How have you used vintage materials in your work with children?

We use unique vintage materials throughout our whole learning environment and in all areas of play, learning and development! Let’s explore our senses!!! In our library and literacy spaces we have a mixture of vintage and newer books! For me books are more than just words, it’s the beautiful illustrations that draw me in! I find that vintage books have beautiful pictures and really give children a way to look at photos in a different way than they are used to in the more modern illustrations that they see each day! We have the junior set of the little house on the prairie books, vintage national geographic magazines, 80’s picture dictionaries, typewriters, vintage stamps, scrabble letters, as well as many different sets of wooden numbers and alphabets.

How do you display and invite children to explore with these materials?

Our dramatic areas feature an antique suitcase table which is filled with vintage scarves, hats, ties, purses, brief cases, shoes, gloves, glasses, hair rollers and our special treasure jewelry box that is filled with clip on earrings, pearl necklaces, bangles, beautiful perfume bottles, vintage money and coins…along with many other fantastic treasures! Our home space is displayed with wooden bowls, cups, utensils, vintage pots and pans, metal dessert trays, a laundry wash board, miniature spoon rack and one of our favourite items is our vintage rotary wall phone!

We also have metal tea sets, ceramic and porcelain cups and plates…yes, they are breakable! I believe that if children are given the chance and modelled on how to use breakable materials in the proper way, they will learn to respect those materials. Not only are you giving the child those materials to respect but you are also showing the child that you trust and respect them enough to be trusted with those materials! We also have our vintage music area filled with wooden instruments from all around the world and creative art expression with clay station and open-ended resources. Our earth science space with vintage wooden animals, magnifying glasses and exploration display case for our fragile nature finds! Our loose parts area is filled with resources such blocks, napkin ring holders and tea cup stands, door knobs, keys, cake stands, marbles, many, many more of “Grandma’s Treasures!”

What have been your favourite finds?

My favourite finds…oh my, this is a hard one!!! I have so many for so many different reasons! Thrift store hunting is one of my biggest passions and finding those hidden gems! I’d have to say my favourite finds are the typewriter, wooden rotary phone, dress up clothing and suitcase table as previously mentioned! Some other favourites include vintage tools and clay station tools such as our meat grinder, pasta maker and many metal and wooden utensils accessories. Our wooden pepper and coffee grinders are great for rice, sprinkles, beans and any other materials that we can grind up! The overhead projector is used in so many ways! Children are naturally drawn to light and objects that can be used to explore light! Transparency is always fascinating to me no matter how old I get! Vintage photo negatives, chandelier crystals, marbles and metal jacks are very interesting on a projector or light table too!

How do you display and invite children to explore with these materials?

Children are naturally curious about everything! I create our learning environment to spark curiosity and questions! Children are drawn to beautiful and intriguing materials, so I try to create interesting invitations for exploration. When setting up my environment for exploration, I also try to make everything as aesthetically pleasing as possible! Setting out provocations and creating curiosity sparking invitations for play are the way I invite children to explore!

How do you ensure that these materials are safe for children’s use?

I explore and play with them too! Most vintage materials were made to last, so they are not as breakable as plastic toys nowadays! “They don’t make em like they used to!” I do however check them over for cracks, rust, splintering wood, certain metals that may have been used back when they were produced and make sure that it is in great condition and can with stand a preschooler! Vintage materials have been around for a long time, so they have definitely had their share of dirt and dust in their many years, so cleaning is imperative.

In addition to the inspiration you may glean from Fawn’s words and photos, I recommend readers of this blog, check out the Curiosity Approach which hails from the United Kingdom, a place I often go virtually to learn professionally. I am especially intrigued by the interactive feature on the website, that lists the A to Z of Curiosity that includes the following:

Authentic Resources

Beauty is a Deep Human Need

Curious Minds


Enchanting Environments

Future (the Next Generation)

Global Inspiration

Homely Hygge

Invitations to Learning

Joy of Learning

Kinaesthetic Learning

Loose Parts


Natural Materials

Opportunities Outdoors

Process not Product


Reggio to Rudolf Steiner


Te Whāriki

Unusually Unique

Valuing Children

Who is it For?


Young Inquisitive Minds


In addition, to the website, the Curiosity Approach also has a Facebook Page with over 75,000 followers. I was very pleased to find both the website and page, so I could share the inspiration to ditch the plastic and value the vintage. If we remember that children are thinkers when they explore their world, we realize that vintage is novel. Stimulating environments lead children to actively work toward applying knowledge, trying new ideas and constructing strategies to gain answers to their questions. They will think about what they are trying to achieve in multiple ways. The newer the experience, the more ways children will think about options and strategies to seek answers (Dietze & Kashin, 2018). We can support the novel and the new when we value the vintage. In this era of consumerism, let’s reuse what has been used with such love by our ancestors. Just imagine the child who gets to pick up the china tea cup and play with the beautiful wooden bowls. What does this experience tell her about how we value her and her capacity to play with beautiful things?

4 thoughts on “Curious about Curiosity: Ditch the Plastic and Value the Vintage!

  1. I loved your post. It means a lot to me and it has inspired me to search for more about this project. It really make sense and it is an excellent way to enhance play and learning for children.

    Great resources.

    Kind regards, Silvana


  2. I loved collecting vintage for my classroom and find it hard to stop now I’ve retired! Collect for my three grandsons now instead


  3. I really love this idea that let children to explore the beautiful nature things. I want to gather more materials for our children to play!


  4. Pingback: Curating Vintage Resources in Early Childhood Education | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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