Curating Vintage Resources in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. 

Vintage resources have value in early childhood education. They are readily available and affordable. I love hunting for curiosities and oddities that would appeal to children’s imagination and encourage their creativity. I can’t think of a better way to pass the time, then to share the experience of vintage shopping with friends. The other day in a Habitat for Humanity store I shrieked with delight when I found a vintage sewing box. My friends came over, along with a few others, to see what had caught my eye. Right away, I could see the play value in this odd little item. It opens and closes! It can hold things! There are three levels and on each there are carved out little spaces perfect for small collections of buttons, beads, and little figures.

Vintage sewing boxes can cost hundreds of dollars but I paid only a few for mine. However, I might now need to buy one or two more! I can see more vintage shopping outings in my future. Shopping with friends was a wonderful experience. I am going to do it again! With professional friends, it can be a fun, interactive and self-directed professional learning experience!

As fellow grandmothers, my friends Pam and Rochelle were great vintage shopping buddies. They were enthusiastically excited with every treasure I found and helped me find more. We examined the shelves of glistening glass, wooden wonders, and blasts from the past. We talked about how our grandkids might play with various items and what they might learn from the experience. I can’t wait to do it again. On my next shopping trip, I will be looking for the following items. What do you think I should add to the list?

  • Nesting dolls
  • Sewing boxes
  • Wooden bowls
  • Wicker baskets
  • Weighing scales
  • Metal tea pots
  • Egg cups
  • Wooden boxes
  • Buttons
  • Cooking utensils
  • Antique suitcases
  • Pots and pans
  • Puppets
  • Shakers
  • Tins
  • Vintage toys

Vintage resources come at a minimal cost when purchased from flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales. Using these authentic, beautiful, often unwanted items with children will ignite their curiosity. When resourcing these open-ended objects, consider aesthetically how they will be placed in the learning environment. Wicker baskets, wooden bowls and antique suitcases would be wonderful vessels to hold resources that have been crafted with quality materials and speak to us from another generation.

These authentic objects connect generations evoking memories and stories. They may be old and dated but they are new to children. The children haven’t seen before. They will be eager to explore, engage and interact to discover the multiple purposes of each item. Imagine if these curiosity triggers were placed on antique hutches or tables! As with all items that are brought into learning environments, vintage materials should be audited often for safety and cleaned regularly. Chances are if they are still around after all these years, they will survive the rigorous play of today’s children. When I am looking for vintage resources, safety is always top of mind. I am also looking for these values:

The Value of Uniqueness

What items would catch your eye in a vintage shop? What would stand out and make you wonder and think? Who might have used it before? Where did it come from? Why is it so different and unique? Children will engage with the item because it is unique.


The Value of Environmental Sustainability

Vintage resources have a timeless quality. They have a stood the test of time and are durable. Instead of buying new, consider the old and reduce your environmental footprint.

The Value of Culture and Heritage

What items speak to your culture and heritage? What items speak to the children’s culture and heritage? When these are added to the learning environment, there are authentic opportunities to celebrate our diversity.

To curate is to carefully choose and thoughtfully organize or display. If we curate a collection of treasured belongings and display them with care they don’t have to be expensive or rare. Consider the wabi sabi approach when arranging vintage resources. This Japanese design tradition considers how items balance each other visually by combining horizontals and verticals. Items are arranged according to ‘the rule of three’ which is based on the theory that odd numbers attract the eye because they look more dynamic and less staged than even numbers (White, 2021). What vintage items would you add to a learning environment? How might they be arranged and offered to children? Perhaps it is time for a vintage revolution in early learning! Maybe it is time for a vintage shopping trip with your professional friends?! I hope find some treasures!

One thought on “Curating Vintage Resources in Early Childhood Education

  1. I have items from family but never thought to bring them in. I have my grandma’s table attaching meat grinder she used for making chopped liver, a jar opener with a red wooden handle from the early twentieth century that we still use, and a Briki that my grandfather brought from Greece. I’m not sure how I’d set them up in the classroom, though.

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