Let's talk loose parts! When I was in the classroom, loose parts were one of my favorite elements of the Reggio Inspired approach to implement! My hope is after reading this post, you will need no explanation as to why that was.
What are loose parts?
Loose parts are materials that can be moved all around the room and used in endless ways. There are essentially no limits to what can be used, but I have created a Loose Parts Guide that you can download here loose-parts-guide-1 if you wish to have a list to get you started.
Why Loose Parts?
The versatility of these materials provides children with virtually endless ways to create. Access to a variety of transient materials during play and exploration aids in the following:
- Problem Solving
- Hand-eye coordination
- Fine motor development
- Gross motor development
- Language and vocabulary building
- Mathematical thinking
- Scientific thinking
- Social/emotional development
- The list goes on and on…
Gathering Loose Parts
You may be thinking, “Well that sounds great, but I don't have the funds to gather all of these materials.” That's the beauty of loose parts, they don't have to be purchased at the store! Most items you already have lying around your house. If you don't, someone in your family does or your students' families! Also, most of the local hardware stores are willing to donate materials such as pvc pipe they have cut but can't use or old wire spools. Don't be afraid to ask!
Managing Loose Parts
One of the biggest challenges I hear most teachers face or worry about is managing loose parts. My tips for this are simple:
- Start small – offer limited materials to begin with and slowly add throughout the year
- Modeling – show and practice how to get the materials out and how to put them away
- Labeling – take a pic of the material in the basket it belongs in and tape the picture where ever it is you want that basket to stay (Don't forget to take a new pic if you change materials out)
How Will the Children Use Loose Parts?
This is where the magic happens! You will find in your observations that each child will use the same material in a different way. A stick to one child might be a flag pole added onto their construction site, but to another it might be used to stir a pot. The beauty lies in allowing the children the freedom to explore the materials, use them as they wish (as long as they are being safe), and take them to any area of the classroom they feel the need to.
What is the Teacher's Role?
During the time the children are exploring loose parts, the teacher's role is to serve as observer and researcher as well as to provide language. Loose parts play is a wonderful time to observe and assess what the children are playing with and how they are playing. I kept a stack of post-it notes with me and would jot down important observations during this time. Later, I could go back and record on the Student's Observation Checklist. You can download yours here student-observation-checklist-1
I have added a short video clip of a 3-4 year old class deeply engaged in loose parts play with clay. You can watch it here.
After watching, comment with what you noticed about the learning taking place!