This is a wonderful time of year for collecting diverse materials from nature for play and education. The “loose parts”* that we can find all around us offer many diverse opportunities for sensory play, focused observation and exploration. We concentrate on color, shape, symmetry and other properties, and research into where these items come from, grow and change over time. And when we encourage the open-ended creative and imagination-rich exploration of these materials, children can show us eye-opening and varied ways to use them to realize their ideas.
Most recently the children have been especially interested in using leaves. How many ways can we use a leaf? Can we combine them to make something new? Can we sort them? How are they the same and how are they different? Do we enjoy their textures when they are fresh and when they dry out? Have we watched them falling from the trees or blowing in the wind? What sounds do we hear when we walk through leaves? What else can we notice about our leaves?
By watching the children and listening to their ideas, teachers can get a window into the children’s thinking and motivations, and can extend opportunities.
Books can be sources of inspiration and information. Here are a few that have been in the classrooms recently:
A Leaf Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas
Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
Red Leaf Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert
We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger
Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins
*There is a growing conversation among educators about ways to incorporate “loose parts” – materials that can be used by children in their own unique and open-end ways – in support of play, divergent thinking, problem solving and learning that is child-driven.