Recently we had our first whole school “loose parts day” and it was a huge success.
The article “Loose Parts: What Does This Mean”, from Penn State Extension defines loose parts as follows:
“Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in multiple ways. They are open-ended materials that encourage concrete experiences, problem solving, imagination and creativity in children. There is no specific set of directions regarding how to use loose parts materials- it is up to the child how the materials are used.”
Loose parts are everywhere around our school every day – the variety of blocks, scarves and other props at pretend, natural materials at science and in construction areas like stones, pine cones, popsicle or other sticks, shells, are examples. We also create at collage with a variety of recyclable materials that children can combine in their own unique ways often.
It was our request that families bring in recyclables that led to our whole school experience with loose parts. We had so many bags of donations, it was clear we had enough for a whole school project!
We gave children time and space to freely explore the wide variety of materials we had collected (a few children from each classroom used our “Welcome Room” together) and we took note of the ideas that emerged.
Why is this kind of play so important? Children have always used found materials – either in nature or other areas of their environment – to interact with their world, invent and discover. This is entertaining and fun, but also leads to problem-solving, creative thinking, and, if other children are around, collaboration. There are multiple ways to use these materials, and each idea can potentially connect with or build on the next. There is no right or wrong approach as children organize, pattern, sort, or construct together. The materials offer rich sensory experiences, and many opportunities to discover more about the properties of materials and how things work. The possibilities are endless!
Here are some of the ideas children shared together:
• I can see you through the tubes!
• It’s binoculars
• It’s a telescope
• These tubes fit inside each other
• Look how long it is
• This is starting to look like the letter A!
• Water can go through these pipes…this hole here is where the water goes in
• This is an egg factory
Chickens and people are inside
If the egg hatches it becomes a chick
• These are lighthouses
• Let’s put all this small stuff in the box…we’ll fill the box
• It makes music when it’s full
• A drum
• A boat
• A volcano
• A rainbow parking garage
We hope you’ll enjoy the photos here of children creating. And remember in this holiday season that the best gifts you can give are open-ended like these loose parts – in fact, packaging and boxes may offer some of the best opportunities for play and learning!
Links to more information on loose parts in early childhood education: