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Educator Experiences: Look At This Stuff, Isn’t It Neat? (Loose Parts)

March 28th, 2024Umbrella News

Look At This Stuff, Isn’t It Neat? (Loose Parts)
By: Sophia Windett

One of my favourite Disney Classics is “The Little Mermaid”. There is one scene where Ariel finds hidden treasures under the sea. We, the audience can put a name and function to these items, but Ariel, who is unfamiliar with things from “the surface”, has no idea of what they are called or their purpose. She makes her way to the surface, where an equally naïve seagull names a fork a “dinglehopper” and a pipe a “banded bulbous snartblatt”!

What if we were to provide children with an assortment of items, and just observe what they do with them? Such is the concept of loose parts play.

Loose parts are described as, “Any collection of open-ended natural or manmade objects that children can move, combine, transform, take apart, redesign, and line up, in ways that support, extend, and further, their ideas while playing”. (

Wrapping your head around the concept of Loose Part Play vs Traditional toy play can seem daunting at times. Here is an example of how we integrated it with the youngest learner groups; the infants and toddlers .

We created a bin of loose part items with the focus on objects that are round and that varied in textures.  This included hair curlers, paint spool, applesauce cups, rings, jar lids and more. The educator set up a table where each item was visible and then took a step back and observed.

This child came over to the table, seemingly intrigued by the items. One by one he picked them up. He looked at the educator and she gently encouraged him to keep exploring. In no time, He immersed himself into play! He began to stack the items, trying a plethora of variations. He appeared so happy with himself as he was able to successfully complete the task at hand.

It was interesting to watch his mind at work. It apparent that he recognized some items while others were foreign to him. But the main point of understanding came from him realizing that each of these items could be incorporated into the functions of play he was already familiar with; cause and effect and sorting and classifying.

Child Z, took it a step further. His level of concentration was intense as he displayed his knowledge of the purpose of two items ( a cup and a lid) and worked tirelessly to put the two together.

Even the littlest ones got in on the action. Their play mostly evolved around their senses. They integrated a lot of auditory play (tapping items on floor, banging them together) and oral exploration, as this is the age just about everything goes into the mouth.

But that’s the joy of loose parts! There are so many opportunities for various types of play! In the three scenarios above we saw the children engage in cause and effect play, trial and error exploration and sensory play.

Loose parts can open a world of possibility for our learners in addition to many opportunities for obtaining vocabulary and knowledge.  This form of play encourages the children to use their imagination to utilize each item beyond what we as adults think is useful play.

How can you integrate loose part play into your classrooms? Easy! Just do it one bin at a time. If you are finding you children are into block play, replace traditional blocks with household/ classroom items such as; cans, boxes, sponges, and any other stackable items.

Here are a few examples of loose part bins.

Lean into your families for donations.  Spring and summer are approaching which means garage sale season is on its way (an ECE’s dream season) Creating loose part bins can be just as cost effective as procuring traditional toys.

So, educators, feel inspired!  Put out your dinglehoppers and your whatchamacallits and see what fantastic learning opportunities arise!

Until next time fellow educators, happy educating!

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