What does it take to educate a preschooler apart from a whole team of administrators, faculty, and a supportive staff? Well, three roomful of toys, educational materials, and an able custodian. The Instructional Materials Center (IMC) at the Child Study Center is a facility you most likely didn’t know exists, unless of course you worked at the unit. The materials here are so numerous, diverse, and engaging, it’s likely that if a child finds herself lost in the Center, she wouldn’t want to leave.
Toys are us!
The IMC has been around since 1973 and serves as a place where teachers borrow visual aids, manipulatives, and concrete materials for the children’s learning experiences. It started with just a small room but as enrollment grew throughout the years, there was a need to have a dedicated custodian to oversee the Center in the early 80s. More and more materials have accumulated—some store-bought, some donated by parents and teachers, some created by teachers, and some tailor made by the Sewing Center such as costumes for the annual CSC Play.
Today, with conservatively 100,000 items, the IMC is like a big toy store with lanes for easier organization of, well, quite a complex set of categories. In fact, for a teacher to go around and choose which materials to borrow, shopping karts, just like in grocery stores, are needed. Thanks to its custodian of two years, Genibeth “Jean” Libradilla (solo photo above), everything is manageable and accounted for. Aside from the staples in a preschool such as puzzles, toys, and flash cards, the IMC has alphabetized bins with objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet, different costumes of biblical and storybook characters, uniforms of community helpers, wigs, musical instruments, and many more, shares CSC Principal, Amabelle “Mobsy” Cariño. “Anything that would give children meaningful opportunities to ask questions, explore, investigate, discover, collaborate with their classmates, problem-solve, create, and innovate, or anything that sparks joy, wonder, and curiosity—we have them at our IMC.”
A day in the life of a custodian
The challenge, Libradilla says, has always been how to properly categorize the materials. Under animals alone, there are rows and rows of drawers of birds, farm animals, wild animals, animals and their young, insects, sea animals, and alphabets with animals. Under each category are those made of rubber, fabric, plastic, wood, etc. Would it be more logical to put all animals made of the same materials together or organize them according to specie? Just when Ms. Libradilla thought taxonomy was way behind her, she found herself coming up with new categories so that finding items would be easier for the teachers and her as well.
Then there’s the task of making sure the number of, say, Lego blocks borrowed will exactly have the same count when returned. How does one account for that if it is a whole box of Lego? Yes, you count them one by one. “Ang mahal ng isang Lego set,” jests Libradilla, then more seriously adds, “Pag kulang na rin kasi, mahihirapan nang buoin ng susunod na gagamit.” The great requirement for the job is really not the ability to remember but patience which Labradilla seems to have a lot of. Interestingly, part of her job is making sure pieces that get broken are fixed. “Madalas yung teacher na ang mag aayos kung may nasira. Minsan ako or yung maintenance personnel. Kaya parang hardware din kami, dapat may supply ng adhesive, wooden glue, etc.,” she adds.
Power of play in teaching
The IMC might seem like a toy store, but what it truly represents is how CSC uses the power of play in teaching children in their formative years. “Children learn best through play and creativity so all materials that we have support that. As a whole, our teaching-learning environment includes child-friendly learning areas, natural green spaces, and age-appropriate materials that promote effective communication and collaboration skills, creativity, and critical thinking,” says Cariño. The IMC is there as well to compliment the CSC curriculum which utilizes an Integrated-Thematic Approach to teaching where children engage in diverse activities that give them meaningful opportunities to interact and collaborate with their peers and teachers.
Several factors have to be considered before acquiring new instructional materials. It is not so much about purchasing the latest that are out there but focusing on the how the materials can support joyful and creative learning, meaningful student engagement, and authentic assessment. “The best materials are developmentally appropriate, open-ended, gender-fair, and do not need batteries,” says Cariño. “Open-ended materials like blocks, costumes and props, stuffed toys, scarves, and feathers are also great because these allow both teachers and children to think out of the box as they use them in many different ways.“
The IMC is open for faculty use every day and teachers may go there anytime to choose the materials needed for the week.
The IMC is probably one of the happiest places on campus but for the CSC unit, it is one of the most important as it gives the teachers more time to focus on planning and carrying out their learning activities without worrying about the availability of materials, explains Cariño. “We want to provide our teachers with learning materials so that they do not have to buy them with their own money. These readily available learning materials are treasures for both the teachers and the students. We’re all about joyful learning. Happy teachers make happy children, and happy children make happy teachers.”