If you have been teaching with the big ideas of Reggio Emilia floating around in your planning, you probably are familiar with the concept of loose parts play. (Don’t worry if you’re not! I wasn’t until a couple of years ago.)
Here’s a quick overview about loose parts and why they are such an integral part in the teaching environment.
Loose parts are materials that can be used alone or combine with other materials in and with the environment. They can be moved around, tinkered with, taken apart, and manipulated in a variety of ways to create more opportunities to engage in learning. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic, recycled, or purchased materials. In a nutshell, they can be pretty much any little jewel or treasure that you can get your hands on! What is greater than that? Not much!
Now, what do you do with this information? You do what every great teacher does, go on Pinterest and make a board dedicated to loose parts! But, to save you from searching like mad, and getting side-tracked into building your dream home, I’ve done the work for you!
First thing is first…you can follow me on Pinterest to see what I’m pinning because I’m serious when I say, I’m on there ALL THE TIME!
Second, I’ve created this post dedicated to 5 Great Things You Can Do With Loose Parts! Okay, here we go!
1. Busy Boxes
Alright, so I’m not too sure if this is really a “thing” or just something my teaching partner made up, but gosh darn it, it’s brilliant! Each morning, as my sweet little Kindergarten children trickle into the classroom, and have registered themselves for the day, they find a seat at a table and bring over a “busy box.” These are just little wooden boxes recycled from Melissa and Doug toys, (they’re so beautiful, we just had to find a use for them!) that are filled with loose parts. This could be popsicle sticks, rocks, and blue gems or wooden letters, sticks, and old pieces of a chandelier. They are essentially an open-ended invitation in a box. The possibilities are truly endless and you can cater them to match what you are currently working on.
The true beauty of the busy box is that at the beginning of each and every single day, the children start their mornings with imaginative play. I love watching them build small towers, try to spell words, create a little house, or stack rocks. And let’s be honest, it’s also a great way to ease into the day and also allows me to take attendance, chat with my educational assistants, or parents. Total bonus!
2. The Light Table
There is something about a light table that is truly mesmerizing. It’s calming, and draws you in, begging you to play. Lately, I’ve been using my light table for loose part play, and the kids really love it. Those little glass gems you can by at Dollarama are perfect, and mixed with a bunch of little twigs, make the perfect invitation to create. Try mixing items that reflect light, become translucent, make shadows, or are see through. The variety of loose parts creates another level of interest and deeper thinking about the way light works.
I love mandalas. There is something so soothing about creating intriquite patterns on a little woven mat. My students have really come to love mandalas and I include them daily. A lot of the loose parts that we use on mandalas are recycled materials: lids from “squishy ‘s” or milk/juice jugs, bingo chips, marbles, rocks, sticks or twigs, pinecones, shells, etc. This is the easy thing about loose parts, practically everything can be a loose part and can be beautiful.
4. Math invitations
I’ve been really working since returning to work, on creating opportunities for manipulation of materials to encourage mathematical thinking. Each day I set up a variety of math invitations that are cantered around using loose parts. My favorite right now is one using wooden buttons along with those little cork boards you can get in a pack of four at Dollarama, wooden numbers, and metal rings (I’m not sure what these are called really, but you can see in the picture what I’m talking about).
We’ve been working on creating groups of up to 5 and now that the children have been successful we are creating two groups of up to 5 and then seeing how many there are all together. Teaching these early addition skills, allows the children to manipulate the materials to add and view concretely what happens when they are combined.
5. Alphabet Chart
This is one of my all time favourite thing to do at the behind of the school year. After we sort through all of our beautiful stuff (you can read more about beautiful stuff here), we make an alphabet chart. They can use any of the items gathered and sorted to create their letter. This encourages fine motor development and helps to strengthen their letter recognition by tying them personally to a classroom creation. I always include a little photo of them working in their letter to put above as well.
So there you have, a short list of getting started with loose parts. There are many more things you can do as well, math charts, sensory tables, and color charts, just to namer a few. I hope that this encourages you to take the plunge and begin to incorporate loose parts into your daily classroom environment.
Share with us how you use loose parts in your classroom!