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)

Parachute Play the Nursery Rhyme Way

Nursery rhymes have been around for centuries and are a wonderful way to promote a variety of literacy skills—oral language development, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. Parachute play provides children with important physical activity and exercise while building gross motor skills, coordination, perceptual motor skills and muscle development. And let’s not forget the social interaction that occurs when using the parachute. It creates an instant circle, allowing everyone to feel a part of the group and encouraging eye contact and interaction between all participants. So let’s combine nursery rhymes with body movements using the parachute. Everybody hold on to the edge of the parachute and start singing and moving.

Parachute Play


The Wheels on the Bus
The wheels on the bus go round and round (hold parachute with one hand and walk around in a circle)
The door on the bus goes open and shut (pull chute forward and backward)
The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep (two feet together jump/bounce in place)
The windows on the bus go open and shut (raise parachute above head and lower parachute by touching toes)
The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish (hold parachute with 2 hands in front of body and move arms from side to side)
The babies on the bus go waa, waa, waa (pretend to wipe eyes with parachute—like a handkerchief)


The Grand Old Duke of York (Tune: “A-Hunting We Will Go)
Oh, the grand old Duke of York, (all hold parachute and march in place)
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of (raise parachute above head)
The hill and he marched
Them down again. (pull parachute down and touch toes)
And when they were up they were up. (raise parachute above head)
And when they were down they were down. (pull parachute down and touch toes)
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.  (everyone half-way up)


Sally Go Round the Sun
(everyone holding parachute with one hand walking around in a circle, singing)
Sally go round the sun.
Sally go round the moon.
Sally go round the chimney tops
Every afternoon.
BOOM!  (all fall down)


London Bridge
(children go underneath the parachute while adults lift and lower it above their heads)
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

(adults move parachute back and forth above the heads of the children underneath)
Take a key and lock her up,
Lock her up, lock her up.
Take a key and lock her up,
My fair lady.



The Itsy-Bitsy Spider
The itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the water spout. (raise parachute above head)
Down came the rain (lower parachute below waist)
And washed the spider out. (with parachute at waist move arms from side to side)
Out came the sun (raise parachute above head)
And dried up all the rain. (with parachute at waist shake it up and down)
And the itsy-bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again. (raise parachute above head)


Ring Around the Rosy
(everyone holding parachute with one hand walking around in a circle, singing)
Ring around the rosy,
A pocket full of posies.
Ashes, ashes!
We all fall down! (all fall down)

(while sitting on ground, holding parachute, singing)
Cows are in the meadow,
Eating buttercups.
Thunder, lightning!
We all jump up! (jump up while sliding voice from low to high and lifting parachute).


Pop Goes The Weasel
(everyone holding parachute with one hand walking around in a circle, singing)
All around the cobbler’s bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought it all in fun,
Pop! goes the weasel. (stop walking, stand in place and pop parachute in the air) 

(everyone holding parachute with one hand walking around in a circle, singing)
A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel. (stop walking, stand in place and pop parachute in the air)


Product Recommendations:
Excellerations® Brawny Tough Rainbow Parachutes – 6’Dia.
Excellerations® Brawny Tough Rainbow Parachutes – 12’Dia.
Excellerations® Brawny Tough Rainbow Parachutes – 20’Dia.
Parachute Play Pack
Nursery Rhyme Wooden Characters – Set of 26
Wheels on the Bus Book & CD Set
The Itsy, Bitsy Spider Book & CD Set

Pair-a-Chute! Friends Playing Together

Celebrate love and friendship during the month of February by introducing the Pair-a-Chute (PAIRUP) to your children. Designed in favorite childhood colors, Pair-a-Chutes invite children of all ages to play. This new active play item is designed for children to play with a partner and at the same time practice such social skills as turn taking, sharing and cooperation.

See-Saw Pull – Ages: 3-5 years old
Two children hold Pair-a-Chute handles with an overhand grip (palms down, fingers grasping the handle) while sitting down. The children pull the chute back and forth in a see-sawing motion. This is a good warm up and helps to strengthen shoulder, arm and hand muscles.

Up & Down – Ages: 3-5 years old
Two children hold Pair-a-Chute handles at waist level with an overhand grip (palms down, fingers grasping the handle). When you say “up,” the children lift their arms above their heads. When you say “down,” the group lower their arms back to waist level. Continue until the children are able to move the Pair-a-Chute up and down smoothly. This is a good introductory game that helps children learn to work as a team.

How Many Times? –  Ages: 3-8 years old
Two children hold Pair-a-Chute handles at waist level. Place one bean bag in the center of the chute. Following your signals, the children raise and lower the chute with the goal of tossing the bean bag in to the air as many times as possible before it flies off the Pair-a-Chute and lands on the ground. Each time the bean bag is tossed into the air, the children call out the number of times it has been tossed up. If the children are able to keep the bean bag up several times, add a second bean bag, then possibly a third.

Target Practice –  Ages: 3-8 years old
The size of the Pair-A-Chutes makes for a BIG target. Lay them on the ground and use them as targets for beanbag tossing (underhand–with hand swung below shoulder level) or hang them on a fence and use them as targets for beanbag throwing (overhand– hand raised above shoulder).

We Can Fly! – Ages: 3-5 years old
One Pair-a-Chute for each child. Instruct them to hold the chute with a hand in each of the handles on one of the short sides of the rectangular chute. Have them raise it above their heads and run into the wind. The chute will billow in the wind behind them like a giant kite.

Popcorn – Ages: 3-5 years old
Two children hold Pair-a-Chute handles at waist level. Place 4 bean bags (popcorn kernels) in center of the chute. Children chant the following as they shake the pair-a-chute–

4 popcorn kernels sizzling in the pan. (shake chute slowly)
The pan got hot and all of them popped! (shake chute vigorously) 

When all the bean bags (popcorn kernels) pop off the chute, children retrieve them and do it again. In fact, they will want to repeat the game over and over again.

Toss & Catch – Ages: 4-8 years old
Two children hold Pair-a-Chute handles at waist level. One person (the tosser) tosses a bean bag toward the Pair-a-Chute. The children holding the chute work together to “catch” or receive the bean bag. The receivers return the bean bag to the tosser as they work together lifting and shaking the Pair-a-Chute.

Partners Toss & Catch – Ages: 4-8 years old
Use both Pair-a-Chutes and 4 children. Two children hold each Pair-a-Chute and stand 5 – 10 feet away from each other. One Pair-a-Chute team tosses a bean bag from their chute to the other Pair-a-Chute team’s chute. The object is for each team to propel the bean bag to the other team’s chute without it falling to the ground or floor. Challenge the teams to increase the distance between the Pair-a-Chutes. This is a great team-building activity as partners need to communicate the tossing and catching of the bean bag

Let’s Go Outside and Play!

Ask a child what their favorite part of the school day is and they will most likely say, OUTSIDE! October 16-22 is “Take It Outside!” week. Open the door and turn your learning environment inside out. Share the wonders of the natural world with young children while increasing moderate to vigorous activity, fostering creativity and imagination, activating all the senses, extending children’s language skills, encouraging loud and unstructured free play. The many health benefits of outdoor play (vitamin D exposure, increased immunity, better sleep, lower stress levels) create happy and healthy children. Here are some ideas of what you can do in your Outdoor Classroom:
• Roll down a grassy hill. No hill? Pull out a tumbling mat and have children roll like a log from one end to the other.

• Pull out the parachute and move it like the wind, gently blowing (slow and soft movements up and down) or create strong gusty gales (fast and quick shaking movements). When the wind blows in the autumn, leaves fall from the trees, twirling and dancing in the wind. Place some real leaves on the parachute and have the children shake the parachute accordingly as you describe how the wind is blowing, either gently or more briskly. After a big, stormy strong wind the leaves have all scattered. Children will have fun as they “rake” up the leaves that have blown (shaken) off of the parachute.

• Pick up a stick, find a rock, climb a tree, look for bugs, smell the flowers, collect leaves, go on a nature hike, dig in the dirt, jump in a puddle, have fun in the mud.

Go on a hike and count tree rings!

• Play “I Spy Outside.” Take turns saying, “I spy something _____” and then together run to that object.

• “Wanna Play Chase?” Children just want to run and it’s always fun to run with or after someone. Tell the children to always ask the person they want to chase, “Wanna play chase? I’ll chase you first and then you can chase me. On your mark, get set, go!”

• Move like the animals — fly like a bird, slither like a snake, scamper like a squirrel, walk like a bear, jump like a frog or a rabbit.

• Set up a Nature Scavenger Hunt. After assessing your playground or yard, make a list of things that the children have to find. The list might include an acorn, a Y-shaped twig, a pinecone, a clover, a pillbug, a gray rock, or whatever else might be in the immediate environment. Naturally, the list will depend on the season and the age of the hunters.

• Make a Sidewalk Chalk Obstacle Course. Using sidewalk chalk create a maze for children to follow using different movement skills. Draw — straight lines, curvy roads, zig-zag paths for children to walk on; lily pads to frog jump onto; shapes to hop into; rivers to cross; and rainbows to jump over.

Make nature and the outdoors a part of your teaching. Lead the way and be the first to say, “Let’s Go Outside & Play!

More Parachute Play!

Never been introduced to the parachute? It’s time you finally used this outstanding “loose material” that you can successfully play with indoors or out. In my blog post of March 11, 2010, I shared some “Parachute Play” ideas with you. Recently, at a Kindergarten conference in California, I brought out the parachute to the delight of the participants. One teacher commented, “This is the first time I’ve played with the parachute…very fun, exciting and educational! Thanks for the experience!”

Here are some more ideas to use with toddlers to kindergartners…

Come Under My Umbrella (Tune: “Did You Ever See a Lassie?”)
Have the children hold the parachute at their waist (belly button), then the teacher says, “Touch toes, ready, lift,” while singing…(and keep touching toes and lifting)

Come under my um-brel-la, um-brel-la, um-brel-la.
Come under my um-brel-la, it’s rain-ing today.

Hold parachute at waist and shake up and down, while singing…

With thunder and lightning,
With thunder and lightning!

Touch toes, ready, lift, repeat – while singing…

Come under my um-brel-la,
It’s rain-ing today!

After a few verses, let the children sit under the parachute and enjoy the visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation with adults shaking the parachute above their heads while continuing to sing…with thunder and lightning, with thunder and lightning…

Have the children hold the parachute at their waist (belly button), then say, “Touch toes, ready, lift.” The parachute is inflated and the children take three steps forward on your command of “Volcano.” They quickly bring the parachute down and kneel on the outside edge (the air that is trapped inside of the parachute makes it look like the shape of a volcano). On the command, “Volcano Erupt,” the children creep on hands and knees or crawl on their bellies to the center of the parachute which deflates the parachute making the “volcano erupt.” The children love this activity which has them working cooperatively as well as using their imaginations. Please…do it again and again!
Motor Boat
Sit one child on top of the mesh hole in the center of the parachute or two children sitting back to back on top of the mesh middle. Everyone else holds the parachute with one hand and steps backward so the parachute is very taut and up off the floor, except for the children sitting in the middle on the floor. All those holding the parachute walk in a circle going left (everyone should be walking forward–looking at the back of the person in front of them). As we walk, we chant–

Motor boat, motor boat go so slow,

Walk faster or jog the next time we go around, chanting–

Motor boat, motor boat go so fast,

The last time around the circle pick up more speed and all run, saying —

Motor boat, motor boat, step on the gas!

Continue playing Motor Boat until everyone who wants a turn gets a ride on top of the parachute.

A parachute (plus lots of other really great equipment to use for physical activity) and a DVD with me actually conducting parachute activities can be found in Sharron’s Play Power Motor Skills Set. You can’t go wrong with this teacher-friendly resource kit to get kids up and moving. Any questions or need more info just contact me at 925-980-8353 or sharronkrull@gmail.com.

Parachute Play!

Open it up, spread it out and the kids will come running! A parachute or play canopy is big, colorful and inviting. In preschool classes and teacher trainings, I’ve been sharing games and activities that promote gross motor skills, physical activity, lots of smiles and tons of fun. Here are some parachute activity ideas you may want to try with your own children or the children in your classroom:

Brave the Waves and Pop the Bubbles
While sitting down around the outside edge of the parachute, have children grasp the parachute and shake the parachute up and down. Select two or three children to crawl (on hands and knees) on top of the parachute and pop the “bubbles” that are created when everyone moves their hands up and down making “waves.”

Hi and Hello
While standing and holding the parachute, ask children to follow your directions with the correct movements: “Touch your toes, ready… lift!” Children lift the parachute up and over their heads. While the parachute is inflated encourage children to greet one another by waving with one hand while saying “Hi or Hello” as the parachute deflates. Repeat the activity, but this time wave with the other hand and to friends on another side of the parachute.

While standing and holding the parachute, ask children to “Touch your toes, ready… lift!” When the parachute has reached its apex, instruct children (while still holding parachute) to quickly walk toward the center of the inflated chute and look up at the mushroom cap above them. As the parachute deflates, direct children to walk backwards to their original positions while still holding onto the parachute.

Dome Camping Tent
While standing and holding the parachute, ask children to “Touch your toes, ready… lift!” Direct children to walk forward one step while pulling the parachute behind them and sitting down on the edge of the parachute. By sitting down inside the parachute they seal as much air as possible while creating a dome tent.

Children stand around the parachute, holding it with an overhand grip. Throw 6 -10 foam balls into the middle of the parachute. Tell the children that it is time to make popcorn. The balls are the kernels of popcorn, and if they shake the parachute hard enough, the corn will start to pop. Designate one child to be the “Popcorn Police” whose job it is to retrieve the kernels (balls) that have flown off the parachute and throw them back onto the parachute. Children keep popping the corn until they are “too pooped to pop.”

High-5 Exchange
Children stand around the parachute, holding it with an overhand grip. Ask two children across from each other to let go of the parachute. These two children will exchange places, walking beneath the inflated parachute, while the group lifts the parachute on the teachers’ command. As they pass each other under the parachute, they can slap palms with a “High 5” as they go to their new place on the other side of the parachute. Continue playing until everyone has had a turn to exchange places.

Young children in your classroom or home love to repeat these activities. Remember that they learn best through repetition and experience–and so do you! The more and more you play with the parachute the more confident you will become in using this outstanding piece of equipment as part of your daily physical education or movement activities.