Loose Parts - What?

Albert Einstein

Our daycare is located on a University campus.  We have a lot of children of students and/or faculty attending.  Consequently in the summer months the enrolment usually goes down a bit, enabling staff to take much needed vacation breaks.  It also enables staff to get some much needed off the floor tasks done.  Organizing, cleaning and sorting that is much more difficult to do when we are at maximum capacity.  

My co-worker had the idea that we needed to infuse some new "loose parts" into our infant/ toddler rooms and so we were granted $60.00.  She then thought that is might be fun to give each staff member $10 so we could go to the thrift store together and shop for "loose parts" making this a staff building event but also allowing everyone to gain more awareness about what we put out for the children to play with.

It is possible to buy a lot of loose parts for $60.

I already do this regularly and love it!  It's one of my favorite  things to do in fact.  So I agreed with her, of course, and hope that all who participate have as much fun.

What are "loose parts" anyway and what "loose parts" would you buy if given the opportunity? 

Loose parts are by definition materials that have no defined use, that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or in combination with other materials.

I believe that children exercise their imaginations the best when given these sorts of materials.  I have also come to realize that although there can be a lot of items on the floor, clean-up time is easier.  It's easier because you can just put the items back on the shelf or table closest to where they land.  You can display them again, intentionally, in different combinations making the toys/materials new and interesting again.  Remember there is no defined use and they can be used in various combinations.

As we will be shopping for items for infants and toddlers thinking about safety issues is important.  Remembering that infants and some toddlers mouth almost everything they play with, we will keep in mind choking hazards, sharp edges, breakable bits, lead paint etc. 

What are some examples of loose parts?

fabric - large as sheets, or small squares of all textures, scarves, doilies, containers with lids, buckets, baskets, crates, boxes, wooden blocks large and small, planks long and short, tree cookies large and small, wooden rings, napkin ring holders, mug trees, kitchen items such as bowls, colanders, measuring cups and spoons, tin cans of all sizes, tiles, cardboard tubes, corks, wooden pegs, lids of all shapes and sizes, shoe laces or lengths of yarn or string,  large gems, old Cd's, keys on a ring, seashells, pine cones, artificial flowers.

The list can go on and on.  It takes an open mind to start thinking about stocking your room with loose parts.  Most of us are used to having bright colored plastic items that have a singular or defined purpose.   It can also take some trial and error as we figure out what works safely in the room.  

 I would like to challenge you to try this out, even if it is only in one corner. 

I will leave you with a few photos of loose parts that my grand-daughter has played with extensively.  These items are not necessarily suited for infants and toddlers although she was able to use small parts at a very young age safely.

Mardi gras necklaces and a muffin tin

A milkshake for me....mardi gras necklaces, large gems on a ping pong paddle

Working with necklaces

Necklaces and wooden coasters

Wooden coasters and gems

Wooden coasters and felted cookies

Playing with fabric

More fabric and a doilie

Felt shapes

Large and small gems

A giraffe - small tiles

Tree blocks

A picnic for the fairies

Classic loose parts - sticks and stones

A combination of open-ended toys and loose parts

An invitation to play - wooden napkin rings, wooden coasters, wooden cups, and necklaces

Another invitation - container with a mirror and drawers, necklaces, paper flowers, and a doilie.

I hope you will accept this invitation to welcome loose parts play into your home or classroom.  

It will definitely revolutionize your child's play experience. 

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