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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET We have often marveled at the long hours children can spend playing with sim- ple materials like boxes, rocks, shells, sand, or water. Our observations have led us to question the conventional wisdom of providing children with sophisticated toys. As you’ve probably noted yourself, children are often more interested in the packaging than in the toys themselves. Children usually prefer play that stimulates their curiosity and gives free rein to their imaginations and creativity. We believe that one of the best ways to enhance their natural curiosity is to introduce a wide variety of materials we call “loose parts” into their play settings. What Are Loose Parts? In early childhood education (ECE) settings, loose parts mean alluring, beauti- ful found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play (Oxfordshire Play Association, accessed 2014). Children can carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart, and put loose parts back together in almost endless ways. The materials come with no specific set of directions, and they can be used alone or combined with other materials (Hewes 2006). Children can turn them into whatever they desire: a stone can become a character in a story; an acorn can become an ingredient in an imaginary soup. These objects invite conversations and interactions, and they encourage collabo- ration and cooperation. Put another way, loose parts promote social competence because they support creativity and innovation. All of these are highly valued skills in adult life today. 3 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL