Thursday, December 1, 2016

Learning with Loose Parts

We had the opportunity to play and showcase some new materials from Louise Kool at our last workshop. It provided us, as well as other educators, an opportunity to explore and play hands on. This sparked great discussions and provided us with new ideas of how loose parts could be used with children.  

This experience lead us to more reflective conversations as a team about loose parts and how they are used in our classroom and thought that we would share some of our thinking. 

We are so grateful that Louise Kool is providing educators with many opportunities to see and experience their materials in different ways to enhance our learning and thinking as educators. 

Sound Matching Game

So many possibilities: graphing, data collection, patterning, child created games

To learn more about Louise Kool and the products that they are offering please click on any of the following links:

Collection of Materials from Louise Kool and Galt

Setting the Stage: How many is too many?
Often when introducing and fostering play with loose parts in the classroom educators put out a large variety of materials. We have found in our experience that offering a small selection and building on it slowly supports students in understanding how to engage with the materials.

Children's play deepens when they understand how they can use and manipulate materials, over time gradually adding more can then foster the complexity of their play and use of their imagination.

We believe in the "less is more" philosophy with loose parts too. It supports the organization and thinking about your space and how the children will be able to use them in purposeful ways without worrying about clutter.

Often when the selection of materials is too large, we have found that children have a hard time finding a starting point (even as adults we may become overwhelmed with what to do). Essentially, start slow and build as children become aware of how to incorporate and use loose parts in their play.

Some Loose Parts Become "Staples" in the Room

As we observe children in their play, we reflect on which materials and loose parts they gravitate towards. There are some loose parts that we see incorporated and used meaningfully in many different contexts of play (e.g., fabric - becomes a table cloth, cape, bedding).

Where are loose parts stored in the classroom?
When deciding where and how to store loose parts, it is important to be reflective about where they are being used and accessed the most in play. We noticed that loose parts were being incorporated often into our building and dramatic play area. We created a space for the storage of our loose parts that is easily accessible to both areas (but they often travel to other spaces in the room too!)

We often will have loose parts as a part of provocations too. Sometimes we simply add them to a table, other times we will present them in a storage container or tray (which  makes it quicker and easier to clear off the tables for our Nutrition Break!)

Importance and Value of Modelling
We often hear of "just setting out the materials" and watching or allowing the children to explore. Though we completely support this and understand the value in this theory, we also see a lot of value in modelling and playing alongside children to support this development.

It's not about telling them what to do, but rather about playing alongside them to expose them to various ways to engage with the materials, to spark their interest, to develop an understanding that these materials don't have just one purpose.

Often times, playing with and exploring the materials helps us as educators as well to see the possibilities and to engage our own minds in play later on. It is so important and valuable as educators to engage in play with loose parts to see their potential and explore their opportunities.

Children come to use with a variety of experiences in their lives, some have engaged with materials in many creative ways and others haven't had those rich opportunities to pretend or imagine. Books can be another great resource to support their understanding that materials can be used in multiple ways.
Why Loose Parts?
We have found that incorporating loose parts into play elicits a different type of play. It becomes very open ended since the materials are multipurpose and can be moved, combined and manipulated in so many different ways. 

  • Loose parts can be use in anyway children choose.
  • Loose parts can be adapted and manipulated in many ways.
  • Loose parts encourage creativity and imagination. 
  • Loose parts develop more skill and competence than most modern plastic toys.
  • Loose parts can be manipulated in many ways.
  • Loose parts can be used in combination with other materials while playing imaginatively.
  • Loose parts encourages open ended learning.

Balancing the Development of Speech and Language:
After incorporating loose parts in our dramatic play area, we had a really important conversation with a speech language pathologist who supports the children in our room and our learning. She challenged us to think about children who may not be able to use abstract objects to represent their thinking based on their development.

At the time, we only had loose parts available in our dramatic play area and we had a rich conversation about adding "play food" too. Play food supports language development in a more concrete way, especially for children who have difficulty representing objects with loose parts. A perfect example of this are students who are new to Canada and developing their language. They of course can use loose parts to pretend that it is "food", but if our intention in their play is to develop language and vocabulary then having concrete objects is so important.

Collect "Beautiful Stuff"
Teaching can be very expensive! We often get excited about new ideas and materials, purchasing things that can sometimes be found or collected. 

Be resourceful in collecting materials that can be used as loose parts. That way, you can purchase higher quality materials to enhance learning with the budget that you have.

Throughout the year, we invite families to donate recycled materials and beautiful stuff that they no longer need at home. We provide examples of things that we could use in our classroom using different communication tools (e.g., SeeSaw, Twitter).

We also collect materials with the children that can be used in their play or while creating in the art studio (e.g., disposable lids from different things in their lunches).

Final Thoughts
Start slow, build your collection, and play yourself! Those would be our biggest reflections and take aways! Loose parts are an incredible addition to the learning environment when fostered, understood, and supported by the educators.

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