oaks, cakes and spaghetti

multi-material and multi-modal collages
When: July, 8-12 , 2019 Participants: Giulia (8 years old), Seryka (8 years old), Marlene (9 years old), Anna (9 years old), Mattia (10 years old), Ludovico (11 years old)

With this documentation, we want to show how to create and support a context where children have freedom and autonomy in observing and making any material or tool available their own and part of their projects. This lays the foundation for exploration and improvisation and consequently opens up new opportunities for discovery and research.

During the week-long camp, the materials, plants and people who inhabit scintillae offered opportunities for new exploration, investigation and tinkering.
The space evolved day by day, following the thoughts of the children, bearing witness to their projects, and the materials themselves were transformed according to the children’s needs and ideas.
Their inventions and ideas gave rise to new creations.
Oaks, cakes, spaghetti… materialized.

On the first day of camp, we invited the children to explore the space. This consisted in a sort of walk through the space,during which we asked them to observe, touch and imagine what the objects and materials at scintillae could be.

Some materials, such as yarn, mosaic tiles and corks, were recognizable and easily linked to known uses. Others, which were unrecognizable to the children, were observed, named and used based on their characteristics and qualities.

One material that attracted particular attention was a ball of feathery/fluffy pink yarn.

Anna immediately made an association with a cat’s fur.
From words to actions! She took a piece of the yarn and stuck it in her pants: a tail and “Anna the cat” appeared. .

With the same material, but exploiting other qualities like its length and its softness (almost like a caress, Giulia 8.), Marlene and Mattia proposed playing/dancing limbo with the whole group.

During the following days, the children designed and produced hand puppets, a project born from the interest of the group. Each puppet had a unique personality and lived in a one-of-a-kind world, which reflected their diverse characteristics and histories, and these worlds became part of the story they created together.

To do this, thanks to the experience from the first day, the children used the different materials, tools and languages available in space.

Their freedom and autonomy in selecting different materials, testing, modifying and hybridizing them using different languages (analog and digital) led to the creation of multi-material and multi-modal collages.

On one of the two tables, Anna chose an iPad as her main tool and proceeded to design the world for her unicorn Scintillae using visual language.

Given the complexity and variety of subjects in her project, the atelierista suggested
the possibility of using the Photoshop Mix app: this allowed her to photograph, adapt and assemble different elements into a single image.

“a chocolate waterfall, gummy candies, cake-houses and castles”

(Anna, 9 )

The combined, digitized materials took on new characteristics and meanings: beads became candies, a piece of light brown fabric created a chocolate waterfall, the cake-house was made of LEGO bricks, with fabric as icing and a bead as a cherry. The castle was a drawing. A natural and fluid transition between analog and digital elements created the world of “Scintillae, the unicorn”.

Marlene also chose an iPad as a tool to represent the green world of her snake Veleno, but unlike Anna, she decided to describe the characteristics of this world in writing:

“it’s full of oak trees and poisonous snakes”

(Marlene, 9)

Her search for materials to create her world began: pieces of green plastic became the foliage of the oaks, wood chips were tree trunks and the snakes were drawn, colored, photographed, isolated and added to the image.

The green background is a close-up photo of the fabric of one of the hand puppets at scintillae. Marlene deconstructed the puppet-object to isolate and personalize its characteristic quality she needed to create her character’s world.

Together with Anna, Marlene combined digital and analog instruments and the materials present in space. The continuous exchange of ideas, techniques and languages with Anna, seated at the same table, contributed not only to their creativity, but also to their autonomy; the adult became less and less necessary, just an observer and documenter of the processes that were taking place.

Mattia and Ludovico were working at another table: they chose a computer with Scratch.
Both used the same tool, but with different ideas and processes.

Ludovico was inspired by a piece of red plastic that reminded him of

“firey rocks and spaghetti “

(Ludovico, 11) for the world of his “dragon Graffio”.   The atelierista suggested using the app that Anna and Marlene were using to photograph the material and import it into Scratch.

Since he was already familiar with Scratch, Ludovico used the image of the piece of plastic (photographed, isolated from the background and imported into Scratch) as if it were a stamp.
By multiplying it, he created a world of spaghetti rocks: the food of the dragons who inhabited his puppet’s world.

To add more details, characters and other elements to the world of his “dragon Graffio”, dissatisfied with the possibilities that the materials available offered, he decided to draw a red sun, which he then imported with the app he had already used and placed on the spaghetti rocks.

To portray the dragons that inhabited Graffio’s world, Ludovico created a sort of bestiary of dragons made with different techniques: he took and isolated photographs of his puppet “Graffio” (in the lower right corner), a toy dragon and a Sprite he chose and imported from the Scratch library.

Mattia’s process was similar to yet different from Ludovico’s. He also chose a computer with Scratch as his main tool, given his previous knowledge. Instead of starting from an existing material or object, he decided to draw the basic element that characterized the world of “Ermano the werewolf chicken”: a chicken biscuit.

With the support of Ludovico working alongside him, Mattia experimented with the same code used by another child, multiplying the image: one chicken biscuit became a group of chicken biscuits.

Noticing what was happening around him, Mattia thought that his world was not only made up of digital materials, but also of concrete ones. He identified some elements in the space – a plant and a stool – that were transformed respectively into the woods and a throne for “Ermano the chicken”.


As this documentation illustrates, choosing and offering certain materials rather than others and making hypotheses about possible scenarios and interactions are the basis for creating a context for children. Welcoming them and giving them time to observe, explore and relate to the materials around them is fundamental so that they can build new and unexpected meanings. The adult must take time to listen to and observe what is happening, let go of initial hypotheses, deconstruct and overturn them and continuously rebuild them together with the children and their processes.

Playing with materials, improvising (creating and doing something with what is available at the moment) can open the door to the immense inventive and creative complexity of both children and adults. If digital media are added, not only as a tool, but also as material that can be created, transformed, manipulated and adapted, the possibilities multiply.

Subjects, materials and languages in dialogue and at play, where thoughts and intentions are mixed with inventiveness and improvisation; research becomes play and play becomes research.

“Inventing is finding, rediscovering. But in order to find, one must engage, with active hands and mind, rummaging, fumbling, rooting around, in both physical and intellectual realities.”

S. Zingale, “Interpretazione e progetto, semiotica dell’inventiva”, (2012) Translation by scintillae