Loose Parts for Active Play & Learning

The theory of loose parts was first put forward by Simon Nicholson in the 1970s, and states that the creative potential of an environment increased with the number and variety of flexible materials within it. Loose parts are defined as materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic and manufactured. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can include a variety of simple equipment pieces. Think balls, hoops, ropes, cones, parachutes, scarves, bean bags. You can enrich your existing play environment with the addition of mobile and low cost active play equipment.

We traditionally use simple equipment to play structured games with rules, but I want you to think about letting the children use these open-ended materials for unstructured play, creating and designing their own challenges and games. What if you put out some balls, hoops, scarves, bean bags

Loose Parts For Active Play and Learning - Sharron Krull

The children may become curious about what the materials are and how to use them.  They will then begin to explore the materials in different ways using their imaginations and strengthening their problem-solving skills. This leads to discovering that the materials can do many things. Discovery results in pleasure.  Pleasure results in repetition. This process of curiosity, exploration, and discovery is the cycle of learning.

Now, I could give you an awesome list of what the children came up with, but I’m not going to do that. I want to suggest that you observe and acknowledge their creations, celebrating their discoveries and experiments. Perhaps the next day add another loose part (i.e., a rope). The ideas of loose parts you can use is only limited by your and the children’s imaginations.

Benefits of Loose Parts:

  • Enables children to manipulate their environment, to experiment, and to interact with materials
  • Helps children actively construct knowledge from their own experiences.
  • Encourages interaction among children and cooperative play
  • Increases risk-taking, conflict resolution, and communication
  • Deepens critical thinking and problem solving
  • Promotes divergent and creative thinking
  • More symbolic and imaginative play
  • Supports gross and fine motor skills
  • Developmentally inclusive

Give children the time, space, and an ample variety of loose parts to discover and create with.

Loose parts are all about active play and learning!

Product Recommendations:

High-Bounce Play Balls Set of 6 (BOUNCE)

Excellerations Brawny Tough Rainbow Parachutes (P6)

Brawny Tough Activity Hoops (HOOPSET)

Zebra Hoops Set of 6 (HULA)

Nylon Jump Ropes (RPST)

Rainbow Movement Scarf Classroom Pack (SCARFSET)

Excellerations Super Sensory Beanbags Set of 12 (COOLBEAN)

Colored Beanbags Set of 12 (CBB)

Colored Cones Set of 10 (SETC)

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Pet Pinecones

sharron pet pinecone 4

Yes, there are such things and the grandchildren loved making and playing with them.  Making them is easy…just find a favorite pinecone, a stick, and some string or twine and, last but not least, an able and willing Daddy to make them.  I had never heard of such make-believe pets, until Daddy Dave shared a favorite activity invented by his dad…

When I was 10 we were on a family backpacking trip with a group that included two other boys around my age.  During the hike out we were constantly throwing pinecones at each other and generally being destructive as boys of that age are wont to do.  My Dad talked us into tying pinecones to a piece of string and seeing how long a string we could keep them on while still controlling them.  He kept score of who was able to keep their pinecones from hitting the most large rocks in the trail and it kept us under control. All in all it was just a good way to channel our 10 year old boy energy into something other than hurting each other.

sharron pet pinecone 2

This is how traditions start and this is our second year of making Pet Pinecones…and it won’t be our last! Perhaps, you might want to try this with your children or the children in your care.  Get outside, explore, create, and let your imaginations run wild!

Materials:

Stick

Pinecone

Twine or string

sharron pet pinecone 1

Directions:

  1. Find a favorite stick
  2. Find a large pinecone
  3. Tie the pinecone to the stick with twine or string
  4. Name your pet pinecone– “Piney,” “Brownie,” “Mr Cone”
  5. Go for a walk or a run with your pet pinecone
  6. Have fun!

sharron pet pinecone 3

Did you know that the stick was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2008?

Stay tuned…the BEST is yet to come…sharing more stick fun in my next post!

It’s Screen-Free Week! Let’s Play Outside!

April 29 – May 5, 2013 is Screen-Free Week, an annual national celebration coordinated by the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a national advocacy organization devoted to reducing the impact of commercialism on children.  Children, families, schools, and communities spend seven days TURNING OFF entertainment SCREEN media (TV, video games, computers, iPads, smartphones) and “TURN ON LIFE.”

Did you know that–

  1. Preschool children spend “an astonishing average of 32 hours a week” in front of screens—and it’s more for older children. CCFC writes, “Excessive screen time is harmful for children—it’s linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention problems, and the erosion of creative play (the foundation of learning) constructive problem solving, and creativity.”
  2. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 should watch NO TV and children age 2 and over should watch less that 2 hours per day.  But, on any given day, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes.  Twenty-three percent have a  television in their bedroom.
  3. TV watching “rewires” a child’s brain, leading to attentional issues by the age of 7.  The “pace of TV is sped up” leading the young infant to believe that the “quick scene shifts of video images” is normal.  TV watching may over stimulate the child’s brain, “causing permanent changes to developing neural pathways.”  As a child is staring at the TV, these hugely important neural pathways are not being developed.
  4. Developers of children’s apps for phones and tablets restrict screen time for their own children.  More than one of these developers said, “We have a rule of no screen time during the week, unless it’s clearly educational. On the weekends, they can play.  I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.”
  5. Some toddlers are becoming so addicted to iPads and smartphones that they require psychological treatment.  “They can’t cope and become addicted, reacting with tantrums and uncontrollable behavior when they are taken away.”  Young technology addicts (some as young as 4 years old) experience the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts and are enrolled in a “digital detox” program that weans children off computer games and mobile phones.

sharron kid watching tv

This information is disconcerting, to say the least, and needs to be taken seriously.  I worry about our children’s social emotional development, ability to interact with others, language development, and their communication skills.  Research shows that children learn one-on-one from people, not from videos and television!

“The skills children will always need to thrive–deep thinking, the ability to differentiate fact from hype, creativity, self-regulation, empathy and self-reflection–aren’t learned in front of any screen. They are learned through face-to-face communication, hands-on exploration of the world, opportunities for silence and time to dream.”~Dr. Susan Linn, Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

sharron kids climbing trees

Screen-Free Week reminds us to go outside and play.  How about committing to 30-60 minutes of active play each day.  Disconnect from all things electronic and do one of the following–

sharron kids running

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:

Decorate a Kite, kit for 12 (KIDSKITE)

Colorations® Washable Sidewalk Chalk, 50 pieces (SIDEWALK)

Shapes Walking Rope (WALKROPE)

Kickball Kit (KICKBALL)

Flying Discs (FLYD) and Soft Flying Discs (SFDISC)

14′ ClassicRider® Trike (REDRDR14)

Excellerations™ Junior Hoop Ball Goal (HOOP3)

Obstacle Course Activity Set (OCSET)

Rainbow Dancing Wrist Bands (RNBW)

This Rope’s Not Just for Jumping!

The jump rope is one of the most inexpensive and versatile pieces of equipment your child or school can own. The jump rope has been neglected, made available primarily for girls, and has been used for a single purpose: jumping. The rope should be 7-8 feet in length and be flexible and pliable. With a little imagination and creativity, look at the rope and think of all the things you can do with it besides jumping.

Snakes: Two people hold each end of the rope and wiggle it by the feet of the children like it’s a snake. The object is that the kids have to jump over the “snake.”

Walking the Snake: Place a 16’ jump rope on the ground in a zigzag pattern. Invite the children to walk on the rope as if it were a tightrope. This simple activity builds a surprising number of skills! Eye-foot coordination…balance…taking turns…and more.

High Water – Low Water: Two people hold each end of the rope. Children take turns leaping over the rope. Increase the height after everyone has had a turn. Provide a mat for safe landings.

Wind the Clock: One person spins around while holding one end of the rope. The rope is swung around in a circle along the ground. Children jump over the rope as it nears their feet. The children usually chant a nursery rhyme like “Hickory Dickory Dock” or some other rhyme to make it more fun.

Jump the Brook: Two ropes placed on the ground in the shape of a “V” become the “brook.” The ropes touch at one end and are angled so that each jump across the brook is longer and becomes a bigger jump.

Rope Obstacle Course: Thread a rope between the slots or notches in the top of two cones for jumping over or crawling under. Make three circles with three ropes. Jump from one circle to the next. Lay a rope in a straight line that is to be followed or straddled. Place two ropes parallel to each other and one foot apart. This can be a path for walking, jogging, jumping or hopping.

All Aboard: Young children don’t really have the coordination to jump rope, but they can hang onto the rope with a bunch of their friends and pretend to be a train. Make your very own Wooden Train Whistle and with a “Choo! Choo!” children can move from place to place while having fun!

Make A Shape: Ask children to place their rope on the ground and make a circle. Call out directions for children to, “Jump into the circle. Turn around inside the circle. Jump out of the circle. Walk around the circle. Put your foot in the circle. Put your whole body over the circle.” After children know the game, move on to other shapes such as a triangle or square.

Remember, most of these activities can be accomplished using your homemade Bread Bag Jump Rope or even a thick piece of yarn.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Nylon Jump Ropes (RPST or JMPRP16)
Angeles® Tumbling Mat (TMAT)
Obstacle Course Activity Set (OCSET)
Wooden Train Whistles (CHOO)
Jumbo Roving Yarn (ROVING)

An Egg-cellent Game!

I must share with you a new “find” that I just LOVE! It encourages movement and provides a multitude of other benefits too — balance, coordination, cooperation, and fine motor skills. The item, Egg and Spoon Race (AP25028J) gives a new twist to the old classic Egg and Spoon Pass. This new version is definitely appropriate for the toddler and preschoolers but school-agers love it too. Parents and teachers will also “crack-up” when they see what happens when the egg drops from the spoon. Instead of chocolate bunnies and Easter candy, I’m planning on adding Egg and Spoon Race to all five of my grandchildren’s baskets! What fun we’ll have as we play the following game.

Egg and Spoon Race
Materials:
Egg and Spoon Race (4 plastic spoons, 4 egg bean bags, 4 re-breakable eggshells) – AP25028J
Colored Cones – SETC
Hop Around StepsHOPPA
Available indoor or outdoor space

Set Up:
1. Place cones 10-20 feet across from each other to designate “start” and “finish” lines.

2. Place Hop Around Steps two feet apart from each other between the start and finish lines.

Let’s Get Started:1. Divide the children into four groups (teams or squads) of equal numbers. Children in each team stand in a straight line or row, one person behind the other.

2. Provide the first child on each team with a spoon and egg.

3. The first child places the egg in the bowl of the spoon.

4. On the command, “Ready, Set, GO!” the race begins as the child walks in and around the Hop Around Steps to the “finish” cone on the opposite side, circles around it, and walks back to his team.

5. He gives the egg and spoon to the second member of his team who then walks holding the egg and spoon and weaving in and out of the Hop Around Steps and back to the start where he passes the egg to next member on his team.

6. The game is over when every child has had a turn carrying the egg in the spoon and the child who started the relay returns to the head of the line.

7. If the egg drops out of the spoon, the child must stop, pick up the egg bean bag and eggshell, put it back together, place it on his spoon and then continue.

Furthermore: 
 • With younger children have them just walk from the start to the finish and drop the egg into a bucket.

• With older children challenge them to travel in a different way, i.e., run, jump, walk backwards, skip.

• Toddlers can toss the egg and watch them break. The eggs actually sound like real eggs breaking when they hit the floor.

• Set out a Balance Beam (248) and have the children hold the egg and spoon as they walk across the beam.

Put Your Best Foot Forward in 2012

A study just published this month in “Pediatrics,” the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that kids spend about 70% to 83% of their time in child care being sedentary, not counting the time spent eating and napping. Only 2% to 3% of the time is spent in vigorous activities. Educators know vigorous activity is important to children. But they cited several barriers, including concerns about injuries, focus on academics and limited outdoor space and playground equipment. Research shows that children are more likely to be active if they are given time, space, freedom, and simple equipment (balls, hoops, and jump ropes). “Put your best foot forward” means to embark on a journey or task with purpose and gusto. Make a good start this year by planning and including physical activity outdoors and inside…while also meeting curriculum standards Be a great role model. Encourage and participate with children in physical activity. Adults demonstrate the importance of health and fitness through their actions as well as their words. Let’s get ‘em moving! Here’s how…

1. Go outside and play Shadow Tag: Instead of tagging bodies, the children step on each others’ shadows in this run and chase game.

2. Shadow Freeze: Play lively music and have children move in the open space. When the music stops, children must “freeze” their shadows. How long can they hold their shadows still? When the music starts again the children resume moving.

3. Shadow Dancing: Imitate each other’s movements. “Shadow Dancing Song” by Greg and Steve on “Kids in Motion” CD.

4. Shape Parade: Take your rhythm instruments outdoors and have a parade. Use appropriate marching music. Draw large shapes (circle, triangle, square, rectangle) with chalk on your outdoor surface. Have children march with instruments around each shape.

5. Create a unique movement path by placing Riverstones (AP6226J) or Activity Hoops on the ground. Pretend they are rocks in a river. Get from one side to the other without stepping in the river.

6. Go for a Wacky Walk: Place Movement Spots (arrows, shapes, hands and feet spots) on the ground outside. Make paths for children to go in straight lines, then zig-zag lines, then curvy lines, and then try walking backwards. Place the hands and feet spots in such a way to encourage children to walk like dogs or bears.

7. I Spy: Go outside and take turns saying, “I spy something ______” and then have the children run to that object

8. Include motor skill challenges during transition times. For example, “Let’s jump like frogs to circle time,” or “Please hop on one foot back to your seat.”
9. Snakes: Give each child a Nylon Jump Rope (RPST) and instruct them to place their rope on the ground in the shape of a “snake.” The snakes should all look different. When you say, “walk,” the children are to walk around without stepping on any of the rope snakes. Now add a variety of other locomotor movements as ways to travel around the snakes–tiptoe, run, jump, hop, gallop, skip, walk backwards.

10. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: Take children outside and have them line up (shoulder to shoulder) facing you. Instruct children to clap and jump on the numbers in the rhyme and then act out the words. Do it in unison.

                        One, two…Buckle my shoe.
                        Three, four…Shut the door.
                        Five, six…Pick up sticks.
                        Seven, eight…Lay them straight.
                        Nine, ten…A big fat hen.

On the word “hen” let children run in a circle counting from one to ten. On ten, they must be back in place to start the rhyme again.

Alligator in the Swamp

Toddlers to preschoolers will enjoy letting their imaginations “run wild” as they take a trip over a bridge (carrying a baby doll, animal or other object) crossing a swamp where a hungry alligator lives. Children are to walk the beam and put the object they are holding into a basket at the other end of the beam. When crossing the “swamp” children chant, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.” Explain that the alligator who lives in the swamp will not bother the children as long as they stay on the beam and don’t drop anything that they are carrying. If they do drop something or step off the beam, the alligator (you) will chase them until they deposit everything they are carrying in the basket. This is play with a purpose — promoting physical, cognitive and social emotional development. What fun…and learning!

Materials and Set Up:
1. Low Balance Beam (248) – a bridge over a swamp (floor) where a hungry alligator lives.
2. Variety of safe objects to carry—soft babies, plastic animals, beanbags, blocks, etc.
3. Basket or bucket placed at far end of balance beam.
4. Adult to role play alligator moving around in open space (swamp).

Lets Get Started:
1. Give child one object.
2. Ask child to walk (heel-toe) across the balance beam slowly carrying the soft object, chanting, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.”
3. When child reaches end of the beam they are to toss or drop the object into the basket.
4. Explain to children that they should not step off the beam or drop anything into the swamp (floor) because the hungry alligator (adult with extended arms moving up and down like alligator’s jaws) will chase them until they put what they are carrying into the basket.

Furthermore:
1. Give children more things to carry each time they attempt to walk across the alligator swamp.
2. Ask children to carry beanbags balanced on their heads and shoulders.
3. Have children move across the balance beam using other modes of travel. Continue by interjecting other movements such as: “I’m swimming, I’m swimming, I’m swimming across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.” Can also do tip toeing, jumping etc.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes:
1. Gross motor coordination—using the trunk and large muscles and limbs of the body—to walk with legs and hold and toss items with arms and hands. Gross motor movement is the predecessor to fine motor skills that are required for formal school work.
2. Dynamic Balance—being able to hold the position of the body when the body is moving—walking across the balance beam. Self-control is important for learning.
3. Eye hand coordination—eyes and hands working together to toss the beanbag into the basket. Eyes and hands need to work together in order to write.
4. Imagery—formation of mental images by memory, imagination or fancy—pretending to cross a bridge over a swamp inhabited by an alligator. Imagination is the precursor to intellectual development.
5. Self-confidence—faith in oneself and one’s own abilities—children can cross balance beam and deliver the object without dropping it.

Product Recommendations:
Balance Beam (248)
Step-A-Logs (STEPLOG)
Beanbags (MEGABEAN and CBB)
Plastic Animals (BABYFARM and BABYZOO)
Multicultural Velour Soft Babies (ALL4BY)
Soft Velour Blocks (VLRBLK)
Willow Baskets (WILLOW)