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It is interesting to consider how the materials we provide children call forth thinking.

For example, in the photo above – is the child called to think beyond the farm’s predetermined form?

The plastic farm offers a child the idea of “farm.” It does not give room for the child to create their own theories of what a horse or cow may need. It has a very specific function with a very clear point of view.

The thinking has been done for the child.

I like to call these kinds of materials “closed materials.” There is a predetermined function and purpose. These kinds of materials nurture “fixed” play. The thinking has been done. There is a predetermined result in how the child will typically think as they play.

The best materials focus on what the child can create – not what the materials can do!

“We should have busy children, not busy toys!” Magna Gerber, RIE Approach


Let’s look at the farm above – was the child called to think beyond the concept of farm? Clearly, the experience of constructing a farm – the child expanded his ideas and new ideas emerged.

Here’s the thing. Loose parts are not defined or fixed. They can become anything! Loose parts require children to create the function, purpose, and role of the loose parts. It asks children to use their imagination. It gives permission to run free with their ideas. In the example above – the child had the freedom to abandon the idea of farm and expand into something new.


I call loose parts “open-ended materials.”

What are open-ended materials?

First, they have no set rules or directions. They are not age-specific. Closed materials can only be used for one purpose. Open-ended have endless possibilities. This asks the child to use their creativity, critical thinking and problem solving as they build and explore their ideas.

Open-ended materials take children into authentic higher order thinking.

Slide1Knowledge: Child knows the idea of farm.
Comprehension: Child brings their understanding and experience of farm.
Application: Applies that knowledge to building a farm.
Analyzing: Reflecting on the built farm.
Synthesis: Child expands farm into new ideas and theories.
Evaluation: Looking at the resulting animal structure.

Closed materials stop the child at the level of comprehension.

Knowledge: Child knows the idea of farm.
Comprehension: The plastic farm illustrates the idea of farm

If you're interested in discovering more ways to incorporate open-ended materials into academic play, check out our post: 23 Ways to Use Loose Parts Play for Academic Learning.

When we apply Bloom’s Taxonomy – we can see that the plastic farm has taken away the possibility for a child to build their own idea of what a farm is, or to expand the idea of animal structures into something new and original.

When you look around at your materials or activities, I challenge you to ask yourself this one simple question, “Who is doing the thinking?”

If you want to learn more about Loose Parts, click here to download a Free eBook by our founder, Sally Haughey called Loose Parts: A Start Up Guide.  Simply click here to get it for free!