Hi. My name is Danny and I like to make things at school. Today I made a dinosaur jail. It had lasers that stopped the baddie dinosaurs getting out. It had a slide to give them food and some tunnels underneath…

When we think of Early Years settings and making with waste, we immediately think of junk modelling. Although a pile of cereal boxes, toilet roll cylinders and a roll of cellotape can be turned into ‘something’, it doesn’t really grapple with the bigger notion of ‘making’, particularly as children are often encouraged to create things to fit in with adult pre-conceived themes.Making can take many forms and encapsulates vast swathes of learning: making can be the result of design thinking – conceptualising solutions to everyday needs; it can be practical in the form of repair; it can be artistic in the pursuit of creating a thing of beauty or inventing a new recipe. Currently, there is a real excitement around the concept of ‘making’. The Waste House in Brighton, for instance, where mattresses are being used as building insulation and oyster shells from local restaurants are being reused to make tiles. Countless entrepreneurs and designers are turning things like bouncy castles into handbags and old flipflops into pieces of art. Fun Palaces spring up around the globe once a year to promote a sense of community through ‘making’ and the sharing of the talents of local makers. There is a global recognition that the ability to ‘make’ is a vital skill we need to develop to help tackle issues around sustainability, to find solutions to poverty, to innovate to tackle some of our biggest global challenges and to reconnect people to one another in a disjointed world.

Junk modelling is fun and easy, but it isn’t as skilled and far-reaching in terms of learning, as it could be. Junk modelling can also be counter-productive in terms of sustainability as glues, tapes and paint sometimes bind together what were recyclable items, thereby consigning the finished products to landfill.

The resurgence of woodwork is fabulous as it creates opportunities for all of the above. However, woodwork is a big commitment – in terms of teachers’ time, training staff and children, and buying in resources. And if it it’s not implemented properly, it brings health and safety considerations. That’s not to say we don’t love woodwork – we do. But for many settings, it’s sadly just not a priority for investment. However, we’ve been experimenting with ‘waste-making’ and we’ve found it hits the nail on the head (so to speak) without being too demanding on teachers’ time and school resources.It takes the old-fashioned tip tap shapes resource (the one with cork boards, small hammers & pins) and combines it with waste. All you need are some drilled lids, corks, spare unifix cubes, washers, keys – basically anything small with a hole in it. Add to it boxes, bits of foam or carpet underlay; and golf tees or thrown-out plastic gardening pins. What about hammers? Why not use some small eco-bricks.
Waste items can be joined together without tape, patterns can be made with small loose parts, physical skills are developed through hammering, designs are thought through, conversations take place about the materials and techniques being used, children work collaboratively and measured risks are taken. And whatever the children make can all be taken apart and be re-invented. Critical and creative thinking whilst developing a culture of ‘making’ with waste in the classroom.

We are the waste-makers

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