By Heidi Duren, owner and preschool teacher in Spring Green, WI
Parents know about loose parts and how entertaining they are for children. Just ask the mom who puts the Tupperware containers in the bottom drawer to be a source of endless play for her toddler, or the parent who knows when all else fails get out the pan lids and some wooden spoons, or the chairs and blankets for fort-building. What they may not know is all the ways their child is learning when engaging with loose parts.
So we have to show them – through our stories, photographs, and the children’s own documentation – how loose parts support:
Language development. While at play with loose parts, children have to share their ideas, the uses and purposes of each part and how it works in their play scenario. They have to build the play script part by part as new materials are collected and introduced into the play.
Mathematical concepts. As children gather a variety of loose parts, they are having real life experiences with “stuff.” This naturally supports sorting, counting, classifying by characteristics such as size, color, shape or purpose. Children embed mathematical ideas and data gathered from the hands-on experience with these materials.
Scientific concepts. Large loose parts require creative ways of transporting and putting things together. This often beckons scientific thinking, simple machine creation, testing ideas and theories, learning concepts such as gravity, balance, weight vs. strength, textures, and more.
Physical development. Loose parts play includes running, digging, lugging, balancing, manipulating, arranging, pinching, pounding… objects large and small. Children are active in their play.
Social and emotional development. When children play with loose parts they are met with the task of sharing their ideas, contributing to the narrative, and accepting the points of view and contributions of others. They have to compromise and negotiate. They experience pride in their creations and build confidence in their abilities.
Creativity and Imagination. Loose parts provide endless possibilities. Children play symbolically as blocks become telephones and boxes serve as spaceships. Loose parts come alive when met with the imagination of a child.