Nature Play On Vancouver Island

Nature Kindergarten On Vancouver Island

Say Yes to Loose Parts

Loose parts are basically any open ended material that a child can safely use. They have no specific function and therefore can be used in any way a child deigns, thus inspiring creativity and imaginative play. Loose parts can be moved, carried, combined and redesigned by the child. They are found in natural sources such as stone, wood, leaves or shells, recycled sources such as bread tags, metal, or cardboard as well as man made including felt, gems or peg people. I am always amazed at the all the wonderful, creative ways children will use loose parts such as a toddler banging pots and pans; a preschooler stacking blocks to build towers and a Kindergarten child arranging rocks, tree blocks and dinosaurs to create an adventure story.

The blog, Fairy Dust Teaching, writes that children learn:

  • Problem Solving
  • Engineering
  • Creativity
  • Concentration
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Fine motor development
  • Gross motor development
  • Language and vocabulary building
  • Mathematical thinking
  • Scientific thinking
  • Literacy
  • Social/emotional development

  • I also believe that through consistent, daily use use of loose parts in their play children are building relationships with each other and able to transition to mature, complex play. However I must include that our program is play based and children are learning through play and playful inquiry using frameworks like Story Play, Counting Collections, Daily Five, Exploration and Quiet Play.

    I would suggest that when you are first introducing loose parts to begin with small quantities, model how to use the loose parts as well as how to tidy them up. Gradually add new loose parts and in larger quantities to the classroom as the children become more responsible. If not you run the risk of children just dumping the loose parts and not understanding how to use them creatively.

    Choosing containers that are a good fit for the loose parts can play an important role in carrying, clean up and use. I often display them in small boxes and baskets near tables, learning centres and art areas so that the children can easily connect with them. Once the children have experience the location in the classroom will be less critical as the children will use the parts in all aspects of play; making games, retelling stories and in imaginative play.

    I like to include space around the loose parts and place them around the room for easy access. Some areas that work well with loose parts are block play, dramatic play, process art, mathematics and literacy.  Some containers that I use include mason jars for art and math; small boxes and repurposed baskets for story play and accessories.

    During Covid-19 I have put away all of the felt and fabric loose parts, including placemats and scarves. I have sorted my loose parts into recycled berry baskets, small metal pails and acrylic containers. I have also substantially reduced the available loose parts in the classroom to enable me to refresh the materials each week. The benefit of using recycled and nature loose parts is that I was able to quickly increase the resources for no monies except the cost of extra acrylic containers. At the end of the year I will simply return the nature loose parts to nature and recycle the overage. 

    During our story play soft starts, I use a mix of loose parts as well as art materials like clay, water colour paints, paint pens, sand and paper & glue.

    Loose parts are a valuable resource that can be used in small world play, math activities such as patterns, sorting, 1:1 correspondence, counting, more/less, addition and subtraction, social studies and science.

    It's amazing how quickly and easily you can collect loose parts for the classroom. Today I was in the hardware store and came away with free keys, large colour paint swatches and paint sticks from a generous manager. Recycled milk caps make for colourful play and can represent many different things such as pathways, water, icebergs... I have a soft spot for buttons as our younger daughter had a tin of buttons passed down from my grandmother that she played with for many years and over that time used them in many different ways including small world play, counting and lots of transient art. Now the tin sits on a shelf in my home waiting for grandchildren.

    Like all play materials I find it useful to refresh the loose parts so I only have some out at a time while the rest is organized in small storage containers to be rotated through the year.

    As a classroom teacher i have used a program called The Beautiful Stuff program to collect loose parts from my families. Once they arrive at school the children sort the objects and then decided where to put them : counting jars, art or loose parts play.

    Having used loose parts first as a parent and later as an educator, I cannot imagine teaching without them. It's hard to have a favourite use but story play and transient art definitely compete for first place.

    Thanks for stopping by,


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