Jennifer Azzariti, the first atelierista in a U.S. school to work with Amelia Gambetti, an educator from Reggio Emilia (and currently Liaison for Consultancy in Schools at Reggio Children) uses the artistic processes of master artists as a basis for understanding materiality and applies this insight to early childhood education (ECE). For example, using a portion of the following documentary program produced by PBS, Art21, Azzariti exposes participants to Laylah Ali’s thoughts about and processes for her relationship with materials through art. Notably, Ali reveals that art is not an escape, it is a manifestation of her perceptions of her reality. She confesses that her intent changes as she works with material and only when the artwork is complete, and she has lived with it, can she truly articulate what it is about. Ali, with deep knowledge of her materials and her processes for working with these materials, is emotionally and cognitively connected to her materials. She characterizes her relationship with materials by sharing that her use of the materials leads to new material that gives back, that takes on a life of its own and this surprises her when she looks at it. Ali, amongst other artists, may be viewed at:

Through artists’ works, Azzaritit shows how people need to have access to materials, to spend time exploring materials, to get to know materials deeply so that they might develop their intelligences and understand concepts such as aesthetics, composition, color, and texture in a context that is meaningful. Materiality is well supported by leaders of the Reggio Approach, such as Gambetti, who often speaks about the human power of intelligence, of being aware of the decisions we make in life, and our responsibility to help children to think, to develop their multiple intelligences. Thus, Azzariti encourages educators to help children to develop relationships with materials because it is critical to their capacity to grow, to learn, to exist with and make use of material throughout life. One of the most significant quotes shared by Azzariti comes from Lauterbach (2005):

If we lose our ability to make meaning—that is, to interpret, to find form in the raw materials of life—then we stand in danger of having meaning made for us, a rupture between what is said and what is done, between false intentions and disastrous consequences.
(p 248)

I had the pleasure of meeting Azzariti in 2011, when she spoke to participants of the Innovative Teacher Project about materiality. The event was hosted by Sanchez Elementary School, a public school in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Azzariti’s work has helped me to become more aware of the important connection between hand and mind–that one must think and make decisions when working with materials. I am resolved to help children to build relationships with materials, and as much as possible, many materials. I look forward to noticing and reflecting on how children’s choices about materials reveal their intelligences and communicate their ideas.


Art21, Inc. (2005). Art21: Art in the twenty-first century (Power). Arlington, VA: PBS.

Lauterbach, A. (2005). The night sky: Writings on the poetics of experience. New York: Viking, Penguin.