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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Value of Loose Parts Children prefer loose parts. Anyone who has watched children play with toys or playground equipment knows that they quickly tire of things with a sole purpose. Once they’ve mastered the key function of an object— pushing the button to make a figure pop up or climbing a lad- der, for example—they are ready to move on. The intrigue and the challenge are gone. In other words, children make their play choices based on how much variability those materials offer. A stick is a richer choice than a slide because it can become a fish- ing pole, a spoon for stirring a concoction, a magic wand, or a balance beam for snails. Loose parts offer almost numberless variables, prompt- ing children to create their own stories. Loose Parts Promote Active Learning In their study of loose parts on the playground, Jim Dempsey and Eric Strick- land assert that loose parts encourage children to manipulate their environment (1993). According to Dempsey and Strickland, loose parts can be used any way that children choose. Jean Piaget’s developmental theory emphasized the need for children to actively manipulate their environments, to experiment, and to interact with materials in order to learn (Piaget 1952). While Piaget did not address loose parts, he believed that children create their own understandings only when they are actively engaged in working with people and objects. Loose parts help chil- dren actively construct knowledge from their own experiences. When they can manipulate their own environments and take risks, they are less likely to have accidents and get in trouble. Marc Armitage reported a reduction in minor acci- dents and a general decline in unwanted behavior with the introduction of loose parts in the play yard (2009). Additionally, children in the study took on more risk and made their own risk assessment, and adult perception of risk changed in a positive way. Loose Parts Deepen Critical Thinking Critical thinking investigates, analyzes, questions, and contests beliefs, facts, actions, and information of all kinds. Children learn to use it to challenge assumptions and devise solutions, as Micah, William, and Joe did when they dis- covered some wooden cove molding, marbles, and Ping-Pong balls that teachers 6  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL