PARTS DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET INSPIRING PLAY in YOUNG CHILDREN LISA DALY MIRIAM BELOGLOVSKY COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY by JENNA DALY DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Loose Parts COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Loose Parts Inspiring Play in Young Children Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky  ■   Photography by Jenna Daly COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117 © 2015 by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Jim Handrigan Cover and interior photographs by Jenna Daly Interior design by Erin Kirk New Typeset in Berkeley Oldstyle and Trade Gothic Printed in the United States of America 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14  1 2 3 4   5 6 7 8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Daly, Lisa. Loose parts : inspiring play in young children / Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky ; with photography by Jenna Daly. pages cm Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-1-60554-274-4 (pbk. : alk. Paper) ISBN 978-1-60554-275-1 (ebook) 1. Play. 2. Early childhood education--Activity programs. 3. Creative activities and seat work. I. Beloglovsky, Miriam. II. Title. LB1139.35.P55D35 2015 371.21—dc23 2014017198 Printed on acid-free paper COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET To all who value play To all who tinkered as children To all who cherish creativity To all who advocate for preserving childhood color  v COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents vi  loose parts COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments  ix Part 1 Introduction to Loose Parts  x Chapter 1 Loose Parts  2 Part 2 Senses  20 Chapter 2 Color  22 Chapter 3 Texture  38 Chapter 4 Sound  50 Part 3 Creativity  64 Chapter 5 Art  66 Chapter 6 Design  84 Chapter 7 Symbolic Play  100 Part 4 Action  112 Chapter 8 Movement  114 Chapter 9 Transporting  130 Chapter 10 Connecting/Disconnecting  144 Part 5 Inquiry 160 Chapter 11 Construction  162 Chapter 12 Investigation  180 Chapter 13 Correlation  198 References 217 color  vii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments We want to extend our deepest appreciation to all of our college students, family mem- bers, and friends who share our excitement for loose parts and who continually contrib- ute new ideas and wonderful loose part treasures, many of which are seen in this book. Thank you to Bev Bos and Michael Leeman for their mentoring, friendship, and invalu- able inspiration, wisdom, and insight, which sustain our love and passion for providing rich environments for children. This book was enriched by the graphic design expertise of Alexis Baran; the photography, time, and energy of Jenna Daly; the patience, unselfish support, technical skills, and assistance of Dan Daly; and the editing talent of Kyra Ostendorf to make sure the manuscript was just right. And finally, we are grateful to the educators at Folsom Lake College and Solano Community College Children’s Program who graciously allowed us to photograph loose parts in their inspirational learning environments. ix COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Part 1 Introduction to Loose Parts When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of “what if” that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play. x COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET We hope that Loose Parts will awaken your creativity and enhance your ability to develop exciting play opportunities for children. Why so many photographs? They’re meant to stimulate your imagination and increase your joy in finding loose parts for use in play-based learning. The before and after photos throughout the book demonstrate loose parts in use throughout early childhood education settings (for example, dramatic play, block/ construction, art, language and literacy, math, science, outdoors, sensory, music, and movement). Besides providing challenges, pleasures, and learning opportunities for chil- dren, loose parts can also awaken your own creativity. You’ll be delighted by finding the perfect loose parts to introduce to children. As educators, we’ve certainly taken enormous pleasure in unearthing loose parts for our programs. Over the years, we’ve stumbled upon an almost limitless variety of trea- sures. In the aisles of a hardware store, we’ve found perforated pipes and vinyl gutters perfect for enhancing outdoor play. At a garage sale, we came across a box of old wooden spools that later found a place in our art and block areas. One of our favorite unexpected finds was the set of cow bones we found along a back road. Back at the center, we buried them in the sand of the play yard, where children screamed with excitement while they discovered what they called “dinosaur bones.” What’s the source of the joy we experience as we search for these items, think about incorporating our finds into children’s play areas, and imagine what the children will do with them? Perhaps we’re taken back to our own childhood. We’re certain of this: our excitement is contagious, and it’s transmitted to the children. Provisioning your setting with loose parts, even though they are humble, can be momentous. Safety Notes PVC pipe PVC pipe is a useful, inexpensive material to add to your inventory of loose parts. Make sure that the children in your care do not inhale the dust produced by cutting the pipe or lick/ mouth the pipe itself. Choking hazards for small children Children under the age of three years are likely to explore your collection of loose parts by putting them in their mouths. Please supervise young children closely to prevent choking. 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Chapter 1 Loose Parts 2 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 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 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Loose Parts Are Captivating Loose parts are magnets to children, who are naturally curious and gravitate toward novel objects like stones, pinecones, and driftwood. For example, Dylan watched irresistible loose parts spiral from the trees in helicopter fashion. He gathered up the brittle, winged maple seeds and watched them swirl downward when he dropped them from the top of a climbing structure. Later that afternoon, he stuck the seeds straight up like candles in his sand cake. Then he proclaimed them “senshal” (essential) ingredients in dragon brew. Loose Parts Are Open-Ended Loose parts possess infinite play possibilities. They offer multiple rather than single outcomes: no specific set of directions accompanies them; no single result is inevitable. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces are meant to be fitted together in a specific way to make a single picture, loose parts can be joined in many ways. A scarf, for example, can become a blanket to swaddle a baby, a platform for a picnic, a fishing pond, a cover for a fort, or a veil covering the face of a bride. Loose parts can be taken apart and put back together, com- bined with other materials, morphed into whatever a child imag- ines. Blocks can become a tower, then taken apart and made into an enclosure. Stones can be added to the enclosure to serve as food for the farm animals in the block pasture. Next, that block can represent a car or a fish in a pond. Loose Parts Are Mobile Loose parts can be easily moved by children while they’re play- ing. For example, Aaron moved driftwood and logs across the play yard to make a fort. Meredith carried acorns from the nature area to the dramatic play area to serve as food for her imaginary puppy. 4  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Origin of Loose Parts For generations, children have used found materials in their play, from rocks and sticks to tin cans and wire. In his article “How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts,” the British architect Simon Nicholson coined the term loose parts to describe open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways (1971). Nicholson saw people of every age as potentially creative. Environments, he believed, offer many ways for children to interact with vari- ables such as gravity, sounds, chemical reactions, concepts, words, and people. For Nicholson, the richness of an environment depended on the opportunities it provided for making connections: “In any environment,” he wrote, “both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it” (30). Take, for example, a beach: it is filled with loose parts—rocks, shells, beach glass, plants, feathers. When children play in such a setting, they can move around, making use of any or all of the found objects, devising spaces and struc- tures that can entertain them for hours. This is not only fun but also instrumental in helping them develop higher levels of critical thinking and creativity. When an environment is rich in loose parts, children are likely to discover multiple ways to manipulate them and new ways of thinking or processing the knowledge learned by playing with the materials. Children can use flat tree cookies to serve as a sturdy base for a tall tower, stepping stones to lead them safely across an imaginary river filled with hungry alligators, a steering wheel for their race car, or a lily pad to shelter frogs. They become more creative and flexible in their thinking while satisfying their ever- growing curiosity and love for learning. loose parts  5 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 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 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET had introduced into the block area as provocations. After figuring out what to do with the materials and trying out their ideas to see what would happen, the boys used the cove molding and some blocks to create inclines and ramps. They experimented with making the marbles roll faster, travel up a ramp, go into con- tainers, and turn corners. The loose parts encouraged the boys to problem solve, make connections, and form relationships. Loose parts introduce novelty to settings and support cognitively high levels of play (Dodge and Frost 1986). They stimulate children to consider a range of possible uses and meanings for the parts. Once children have exhausted the pos- sibilities in one arrangement, they can rearrange the materials for another game or purpose. By continually rearranging the loose parts, they create settings that match their own skills. When they have plenty of loose parts to manipulate, chil- dren seldom become bored. Their problem-solving skills and imaginations are increased by multipurpose loose parts. They build knowledge through exploring the objects in the world around them (Kamii and DeVries 1993). Loose Parts Promote Divergent and Creative Thinking In a keynote speech on September 20, 2012, Paul Collard observed that young children today will work in careers that haven’t been invented yet. Similarly, Karl Fisch in a “Did You Know?” presentation stated, “We are currently preparing stu- dents for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet” (Fisch and loose parts  7 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET McLeod 2012). This may be difficult for any of us to grasp, but think of the cur- rent technologies that didn’t exist fifteen years ago: iPods, smartphones, tablet computers, MP3s, nanotechnology. To meet the challenges and opportunities of the future, today’s children must become critical and cre- ative thinkers, intelligent problem solvers, and good com- municators. These skills develop when they tinker with loose parts. Consider children’s play as they engage with commercially made materials found in a child development center such as a vehicle in a block area or plastic food in a dramatic play area. An ambulance or plastic peas remain the same items as intended by the toy manufacturer; no imagination is required. If, however, a child is given drift- wood, he can transform the wood into any vehicle or food he desires: a race car or an airplane, a fire or garbage truck, sushi or spaghetti. In fact, he can use his imagination and critical thinking to have the wood represent anything he wishes. Children’s creativity and problem solving lead to the deeper critical thinking skills they’ll need to succeed as adults (Asbury and Rich 2008). “The divergent thinking of creative children is fluent, flexible, original, and elaborate” (Fox and Schirrmacher 2012, 23). Loose parts encourage diverse thinking, thanks to their open-endedness. (For a wonderful example of childlike creativity, read Antoinette Portis’s Not a Box, whose rabbit hero discovers that a cardboard box can become a rocket ship, a race car, a boat, a robot, and a hot air balloon, among other things.) Loose Parts Support Developmental Domains Developmental literature on the role of play is explicit: play stimulates physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development in children’s early years (Brown 2009; Johnson, Christie, and Wardle 2005; Shonkoff and Phillips 2000; Sluss 2005). Developmental theory emphasizes the need for children to manipulate their environments in order to learn (Piaget 1952; Vygotsky 1967; Dewey 1990). Children build on their existing knowledge, and to do so, they must interact with their environments. Loose parts provide them with many opportunities to handle, build, rebuild, and re-create their ideas and experiences and to grow across all of the developmental domains. 8  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Physical Development Between three and six years, children rapidly acquire new gross- and fine-motor skills. Activities using loose parts help them develop confidence in their abil- ity to use their bodies for their own purposes. For example, children gain self- assurance as they climb, step, jump, and balance from tree stump to tree stump. During this phase, children become aware of their bodies’ positions in space, including how to move cautiously when constructing a fort or climbing on large wooden spools to attach ropes to a tree branch. Small loose parts like shells, stones, corks, and craft sticks help them develop their small muscles and hand- eye coordination. Children need ample opportunities to manipulate a range of materials to develop their fine-motor skills (Copple and Bredekamp 2009). Social-Emotional Development Loose parts also support children’s sense of belonging, their inclusiveness, their willingness to take risks, and their passion—all critical elements in social- emotional development. While these characteristics may be evident as a result of children’s engagement in different school experiences, activities and materials that are diverse, open-ended, and unstructured best nurture children’s social- emotional growth. Marc Armitage assessed the effectiveness of a pilot study in the United Kingdom involving the introduction of loose parts into primary school play yards during lunchtime. The study revealed that providing loose parts significantly enhanced inclusion for all children and helped improve children’s relationships and self-confidence. Additionally, play with loose parts increased children’s collaboration, negotiation skills, risk taking, con- flict resolution, communication, and problem solving. Adults reported that children engaged with loose parts were more occupied, had fewer disputes, and had less bad behavior than with the school’s traditional play yard equipment. Interest- ingly, the study also found that the adults had a better experience with their school day (Armitage 2009). Our experience observing different types of early learning environments also illustrates the influence and impact of loose parts on children’s social compe- tency. One center type consists of typical play equipment: climbing structure, play house, tricycles, balls, and lots of room to run; all appropriate equipment for a center. These environments, however, are mainly dominated by children’s loose parts  9 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET loud arguments, physical aggression, and inappropriate language. The teachers constantly assist with behavior challenges. Many children just run around and do not get involved in any activity, but if they do, they stay for only a brief time. Another center type has outdoor play areas filled with natural loose parts. The children’s quality of play is strikingly different. Children collaborate on using palm fronds for building forts, logs and eucalyptus bark to make enclosures, and tree cookies and rocks in dramatic play. The environment is filled with children’s laughter, invitations to join, shared purpose, and investigation. Teachers spend time in meaningful conversations with children and supporting children’s play. Our conclusion is that loose parts enhance social-emotional growth through deeper play while close-ended materials designed to be used in uniform or pre- scribed ways limit play potential. Learning to take risks is crucial to young children’s social-emotional develop- ment. Julia took a risk when she dragged a wooden plank over to the sandbox and angled it from the sandbox’s edge to the grass. Then she grasped the plank’s edges and pulled herself cautiously up her ramp in a bear walk. She shouted to Stephen, “Hey, don’t come over here, or you’ll be in lava!” Children benefit from taking risks in play; being overprotected can inhibit their development (Gleave 2008). When working with open-ended materials like loose parts, children take risks in moving their bodies and learning to challenge their own strength and ability. Passion, another element in social-emotional development, fuels children’s intense liking for or interest in activities, objects, or concepts. Lizzy and Tanner were passionate about potions. Each day, they darted out to the play yard, following the crushed granite path to the back corner. There, their mixing began. They filled empty kitchen pots and pans with overflowing scoops of dirt and gravel, dumped water in the dirt, turned it to mud, and then sprinkled handfuls of dried grass on top. Their play continued for several weeks while they experimented with different ingredients and made endless mud pies. Lizzy and Tanner were doing what interested, engaged, and motivated them. Open- ended materials sparked their passion. Loose parts fed their fervor for reencountering and transforming familiar materials. Zeal like theirs leads to commitment and can be shared with others. Everyone learns better when driven by passion. 10  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Nothing gives children a greater sense of power than being in control of the materials they’re using. Because loose parts are open-ended, children can make choices and decisions about how to use them—and learning to choose well is part of social-emotional development. On a chilly November morning, we watched a group of children gather around a heaped pile of dirt in the play yard left behind by contrac- tors building a new patio. Our first inclination was to remove the dirt, but as we watched the children, we realized the play potential of that mound. The dirt hill was a loose part. The children added their own materials of sticks to dig, acorns to bury, and card- board for sliding. It still beckons children today to play King of the Hill, unearth their own buried trea- sures, dig to China, and slide down the hill on their bottoms and cardboard—all play activities that bestow power. Children feel productive when they accomplish something, when their work is valued, and when they do not feel a sense of failure. When they’re engaged in a project, time doesn’t matter. Working with loose parts teaches them that their work has merit. Jasmine and Gracie stumbled across fairy dust outside the art room door one day, and that’s when their quest to build a fairy house began. Convinced that the glitter in the sand had been left by frolicking fairies, the girls decided to create a magical dwelling for them. They spent days enthusiastically discussing what fairies needed in a home. They drew up plans, collected materi- als, sawed wood, and constructed the house. They painted wallpaper with a light, lacy design, added walnut shell beds, and left ribbons so the fairies could dance. And each evening, the fairies sprinkled the house with fairy dust as proof of their pleasure in their new home. The teachers supported Jasmine and Gracie’s work by giving the girls space, time, and materials to pursue their endeavor. The teach- ers’ actions showed that they valued the girls’ work. Cognitive Development This concerns how children learn rather than what they learn. It includes critical thinking, language, concept of number, classification, spatial relationships, rep- resentations of experiences and ideas, and solving problems. According to Jean Piaget, children construct their own knowledge out of their direct experiences (Piaget 1973). loose parts  11 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Children use loose parts to acquire, organize, and apply learning. By physi- cally manipulating loose parts, they learn about the objects and the relationships between them while developing problem-solving skills. Beginning levels of criti- cal thinking, like remembering and understanding, are enhanced when children recall when and where they have seen sand, discover what can be done with it, and understand that dry and wet sand have different properties. When children add to their knowledge of sand by pouring water on it to make it more mold- able, they advance to a higher level of critical thinking involving abstraction. As they describe sand and their experiences with it, their language skills develop. When they can understand more and less sand and can count shells in the sand, the concept of number becomes real to them. Classification starts to become meaningful when children organize shells into like groups. Spatial relationships are supported when children sit or stand while digging in and moving around mounds of sand. Representations of ideas become embodied when they make a sand castle and surround it with a moat. Problem-solving skills come into play whenever children experiment with loose parts. Sunana, Patrick, and Maddie picked up a six-foot-long wooden plank. Sunana and Patrick lifted from one side and Maddie from the other. They shuffled along a concrete path bordered by a foot-high retaining wall until they came to a halt where the path bent to the left; they were unable to maneuver the turn with their long plank. They reversed their steps and tried again and again. Sunana suggested that they grasp the board from below and hold it up high. This strategy wasn’t successful. At last, Maddie moved to the same side of the board as the other two children. Whether her move was intended to solve the problem or not, it worked. The children could now navigate the turn. A loose part had led them to solve a complex spatial problem. 12  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Loose Parts Are Developmentally Inclusive Children of all ages, abilities, skill levels, and genders can use loose parts suc- cessfully. Because there’s no right or wrong way to work with them, all children can achieve competence, build on existing strengths, and feel successful and independent. Because loose parts are so open-ended, they can support play for children of every cultural background, class, ability, and gender—but only if you choose them wisely. As a teacher, you’re responsible for selecting materials that do not promote stereotypes. Here’s an example: when we were writing this book, we carefully considered every loose part we hoped to include in it. We did not include boxes with commercial advertising on them because introducing a Cheerios box to the dramatic play area might be hard on a child whose family could not afford to buy brand-name cereal. We also wanted to be thoughtful about not using items in possibly disrespectful ways with symbolic meaning in specific cultures. For example, we discussed using chopsticks as building materials but decided not to because we wanted to respect chopsticks’ role as valued eating tools in some Asian cultures. As an ECE teacher, you want to celebrate diversity and promote equality in your classroom. One way to do that is to choose loose parts that reflect and honor diversity and that don’t stereotype. Loose Parts Promote a Wide Range of Play Early childhood education teachers know that children learn through self- directed play. This kind of play is complex, pleasurable, self-motivated, imagi- native, spontaneous, creative, and happily free of adult-imposed goals and out- comes. Children determine and control the content of this play, following their own instincts, ideas, and interests (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group 2005). Loose parts engage children in play involving their entire selves. Sara Smilansky proposed that functional, constructive, and dramatic play categories represent a continuum of children’s increasing cognitive abilities; how children use play materials can be used to assess their development (1968). loose parts  13 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Functional Play Functional play explores what objects are like and what can be done with them. For example, Javon spent an entire week exploring colored glass stones. He ran his fingers through them, poured them from container to container, and lined them up in straight rows. He eventually sorted and classified them, first by color and then by mixing similar colors. He created pat- terns: green, blue, green, blue. His combinations could be repetitive or random, and he commented on what colors looked best together. One Monday when he arrived at school, he went directly to the library. He selected a book with the work of the painter Piet Mondrian. Using sticks and his colored glass stones, Javon re-created Mondrian’s color blocks inside a picture frame. His activity now had a new purpose. His creations were constructive play. The combinations he selected were intentional; we could tell that he had been practicing with a specific plan in mind. Constructive Play Children engage in constructive play when they create something new using existing play objects. Diego, who was skilled at building complex structures with blocks and Legos, encountered a new set of loose plastic connectors. He started arranging them by shape and testing the many possibilities they offered. He constructed what appeared to be a large, towerlike structure. As it grew taller, he added other parts that he identified as the arms and legs of his robot. Eventu- ally, he figured out a way to make the arms move. He played with this robot for a long time, along with other children. Building robots went on for weeks, and more loose parts became used in different parts of the setting. Dramatic and Symbolic Play Dramatic play is particularly important for social-emotional and cognitive devel- opment (Vygotsky 1967; Pepler and Rubin 1982; Rubin 1982). Donna M. Bagley and Patricia H. Klass also support the importance of symbolic play and suggest that the quality of play objects can affect dramatic and symbolic play. In many cases, the more open-ended and ambiguous those objects are, the better they function (1997). For example, Alejandro had recently been hospitalized with asthma. When he returned to school, he spent a lot of time re-creating his hospi- tal experience through symbolic play. He built his hospital with blocks and tree cookies, making it bigger and bigger. Charlotte and David joined him in 14  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET building it and took on the roles of doctor and nurse. They playacted the experi- ences Alejandro had endured in the hospital. Rocks became pretend medication, plastic tubing attached to a shoe box became a breathing machine, and a plastic connector became Alejandro’s inhaler. This play went on for weeks. Eventually the children gravitated to other areas of play after Alejandro had relived his trau- matic experience in a gentle way. Loose Parts Are Sustainable and Economically Feasible With so many materials available for ECE classrooms, you need to make choices that maximize children’s development and make sense financially. Today teachers are often expected to provide classroom materials out of their own pockets. Happily, loose parts can often be had for free, and they offer a bonus: they encourage you, and the children’s parents, to reuse, renew, and recycle. Write a note to the children’s families asking them to collect potentially rich materials around their homes to add to the classroom. Provide a list of suggested items (small boxes, jar lids, buttons, fabric). Also, post it in the classroom or distribute it at school events. Loose Parts Support the Curriculum Loose parts offer many possibilities for open-ended learning. Especially in ECE programs where standards and ditto sheets are threatening to take over, advocate for loose parts as supports for the acquisition of skills that children are required to demonstrate when they enter kindergarten. loose parts  15 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Math Children acquire their first math skills and understanding of numerical concepts when they manipulate small loose parts, like blocks and bottle caps, by sorting and classifying and combining and separating them. They learn one-to-one correspondence when they make connections among loose parts. Once they begin integrating loose parts into their games, you commonly hear them start to count and see them arranging the parts in specific sequences, patterns, and categories by color, type, number, and class. Loose parts lend themselves to classification. The concept of measurement becomes clear when children play with tools like cups, sticks, funnels, and sifters. Measurement, equivalency, balance, spatial awareness, conserva- tion, and logical classification are precursors to higher mathematical skills that loose parts readily support. Physical Science Loose parts help children investigate and actively construct ideas and explana- tions about physical properties of the nonliving world. Children gain deeper knowledge of how things work when they can experiment with stacking boxes, tubes, and bottles. They can also test multiple hypotheses involving gravity, force, weight, distance, and height with these materials. Children learn that things move in many various ways (motion) through playing with loose parts that can be pulled and pushed to start, stop, or change their movement. Wooden boards, gutters, and balls help them investigate inclines and gravity. Prisms and open- ended materials that are transparent, translucent, or opaque on a light table or overhead projector help children experiment with color, shadows, and reflected or refracted light. Magnetic and nonmagnetic loose parts made of wood, metal, paper, or plastic help children learn that magnets attract some objects but repel others. Sound (pitch and volume) is explored as items of various shapes, sizes, and materials are played with in water, air, and sand. Metal cans, coconut shells, bamboo sticks, cardboard tubes, and stones are good examples. Using loose parts to explore bubbles assists children in learning about air. A variety of objects such as strawberry baskets, sifters, Mason jar lid rings, and funnels make interesting bubbles. 16  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Dramatic and Symbolic Play Loose parts encourage dramatic and symbolic play, indoors and out. These materials offer children the chance to embody the worlds of their imaginations and to create complex stories and scripts assisted by props. Stones become roads and homes for pets and pretend families. Tree branches serve as supports for imaginary campfires and roasting marshmallows. Loose parts offer children opportunities to understand their past experiences and to engage in realistic, complex representations of their daily lives. Such objects keep them in the present, test multiple ideas and pos- sibilities for future use, and stimulate children to plan and commu- nicate their plans to other children and adults (Bretherton 1998; Singer, Golinkoff, and Hirsh-Pasek 2006). Language and Literacy Stan Kuczaj’s research stresses the relationship between spontaneous play and language and literacy development, arguing that all four aspects of human lan- guage systems (phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic) become incor- porated into young children’s play (Kuczaj 1985). Loose parts promote language development when children use them as props to engage in rich conversations and storytelling with peers and adults. Describing the items they manipulate, children can test new, complex words and engage in productive arguments that increase their critical-thinking skills. They make connections between loose parts, the books they have read, and the stories they have heard. They use loose parts to plan and draw their ideas and interactions (Bohling, Saarela, and Miller 2010). Ample, continuous use of loose parts helps children improve their memo- ries, vocabularies, and literacy. Art Children often express their ideas and feelings through art. An open art studio offers them tools and materials for telling their stories. Adding loose parts to the art area can enhance their creativity and help them extend their ideas and ques- tions. Friedrich Froebel, the father of the kindergarten movement, argued that young children benefit from making their own art and enjoying the art of others. He considered art activities important parts of supporting the “full and all-sided development of children” (Froebel 2005). When loose parts are added to your art loose parts  17 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET center, they offer children invitations to draw, sculpt, collage, explore, and extend their ideas. Such opportunities shouldn’t be confined to the art area, though. Fill your indoor and outdoor settings with open-ended resources to encourage cre- ative expression everywhere. Children’s sense of beauty can be as easily seen in their arrangements of sticks lined up side by side, wooden planks propped sym- metrically against a lodge, rock mosaics laid in sand, and pinecones arranged in spirals. Sensory Exploration Young children learn through their senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste are how they initially make sense of the world around them. Loose parts nur- ture their sensory play—think about the stunning colors of natural materials like moss, tree bark, and seashells. Stones click together and blocks crash down. When children play with water and open-ended materials, they learn about the sound and weight of poured water, about filling up a bottle, and about making bubbles. Children’s capacity for touch is deepened when they experience the tac- tile qualities of objects that are rough, smooth, prickly, spongy, wet, furry, fuzzy, bumpy, slick, abrasive, hard, and soft. Their sense of smell develops when they are exposed to fragrant loose parts like herbs, cocoa mulch, spices, pinecones, dry leaves, and flowers. Because hands-on experiences with materials are criti- cal to early learning, it’s important to include sensorily challenging and pleasing loose parts in your ECE setting. Movement and Music Music and movement capture children’s attention and hearts. Much movement for children takes place through self-directed, self-initiated play as they freely move their bodies (Edwards, Bayless, and Ramsey 2009). Movement possibili- ties with loose parts such as scarves, hoops, and ribbons are endless and provide opportunity for children to improvise. Musical play often means hitting items as hard as possible to see how they sound, and loose parts offer almost limitless opportunities to explore sounds that can be exuberant, random, noisy, and chaotic or quiet, gentle, and focused. Almost all chil- dren will naturally have the ability to interact 18  chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET with music (Miché 2002). The teacher’s role is to provide a music environment to support the development of a child’s musical ability. Musical concepts in early childhood are not initially taught in a highly structured manner but are learned gradually over a period of time (Edwards, Bayless, and Ramsey 2009). Children develop a sense of rhythm as they beat a variety of different loose parts such as rhythm sticks made of bamboo, wood, plastic, or metal. They may bang on vari- ous drum surfaces from metal cans to five-gallon buckets and tree stumps. Many people have memories of using loose parts for banging (metal pots and pans with wooden spoons) in the kitchen as children. Loose parts support movement and music making across all of the developmental domains: physical, social- emotional, and cognitive. Loose Parts in Outdoor Settings When children play outdoors, their opportunities with loose parts increase dra- matically. They find wonder in leaves, sticks, rocks, and other natural objects. Stones on the road or in the garden mesmerize them. These stones may become a campfire, watering hole for animals, or dragon eggs when children reenact a story they’ve heard. Current research demonstrates that children engage in more creative forms of play in green areas than in manufactured play areas (Louv 2008). Loose parts including branches, rocks, wood, dirt, water, sand, and bark support play and provide unending creative exploration in an outdoor environment. The high lev- els of complexity and variety that nature offers invite longer and more complex play (White and Stoecklin 2014). Richard Louv states, “Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts” (2008, 87). We hope that you are inspired by this book to add more loose parts to children’s play. When you provide loose parts and have an open mind about how they may be used, the children will surprise and delight you with what they create and learn. loose parts  19 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION / TEACHING METHODS Use LOOSE PARTS to spark children’s creativity and innovation Loose parts are natural or synthetic found, bought, or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. Alluring and captivating, loose parts capture children’s curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and motivate learning. The hundreds of inspiring photographs in this book showcase an array of loose parts in real early childhood settings. The overviews of concepts children can learn provide the foundation for incorporating loose parts into your teaching to enhance play and empower children. With loose parts, the possibilities are truly endless. “Loose Parts provides an inspiring path to childhood creativity that eschews our current throwaway culture by celebrating the inspiration and fun that comes with using diverse, free, and found objects for multiple outcomes.” —Timothy J. Craig, Owner/Director, Children’s Circle Nursery School “This book clearly demonstrates the connection in using open-ended materials that inspire children to develop creativity and deepen critical thinking and problem solving. I highly recommend this book for teachers, early childhood trainers, and parents!” —Margie Perez-Sesser, MA, Perez-Sesser Early Childhood Consulting LISA DALY, MA, is a professor of early childhood education at Folsom Lake College in Folsom, California. Lisa has thirty years of experience in the early childhood field and is passionate about creative arts. She has directed art programs for thousands of children and has presented on a variety of topics at numerous conferences and workshops. MIRIAM BELOGLOVSKY, MA, is a professor of early childhood education at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California, and has enjoyed advising and guiding students for over twenty-five years. She consults and supports a variety of family, children, and youth programs and is active with a number of early childhood organizations. Photo credit: Jenna Daly ISBN 978-1-60554-274-4 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL $29.95