Loose Parts and Open Ended Toys - A Liberating Experience

I seem to think a lot about toys for our children in the infant room.  I thought about it a lot in the toddler room last year too.  Maybe at my ripe old age it just takes me longer to figure things out. In the last few years the whole center, particularly the toddler room and the 3-5 rooms, embraced a Reggio philosophy and so conscious decisions were being made to exchange plastic for natural. This can take a while as most daycares do not have lots of extra money.  But now we have pretty much eliminated the plastic toys and have replaced them with items that are made of wood, wool, metal, cardboard, or fabric etc.

 In the infant room we have agreed that we prefer just a few loose part toys because it can be overwhelming for children and staff.  I have to say we are minimalists when it comes to how much we have out at any one time.  Here's how it works.

We have a nice size room that is usually the sleep room.  However if no one is sleeping we go and play in there with a basket of balls.  Large balls, small balls, nobbly balls, wool balls.  The children can use their large muscles and be quite active.

We have our project area where we are exploring and wondering about light.

We share a small space in the toddler room that we use when they are not.

We are committed to going outside everyday and starting at about 9:30 or 10:00
we take groups of 3-4 children at a time for stroller rides, play on our covered patio or play in the outside yard.

And then we have the main play area where we have the loose part toys, a few dolls, and some books.  We also have a foam climbing structure and a wooden climbing bridge in this area.  We do spontaneous singing and dancing times here as well.  And eating, lots of eating!

It works.  What I like about loose parts the most is that apart from the obvious safety rules, the children are free to use the toys however they want to. They can take them anywhere in the room that they want to. There are no rules attached. When it is time to clean up are various points in the day the staff can set up beautiful toy invitations in different ways and in different areas.

Here is an example or what we have out and how an invitation might look.

Set up this way or that way.  

These felted jingle balls are about three years old.

I am fascinated with how the children play with these toys and receive information and meaning as they use their senses to explore.

I would love to hear about your thoughts on loose parts and how you incorporate them into your room.  Leave a comment!

Stay tuned as the next post will show these toys in action!  Fun stuff!  

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