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)



It’s colorful, it’s fun and it’s new from Discount School Supply®! This ocean-themed beanbag toss is perfect for summer activities and ties in swimmingly with the just released Pixar movie, “Finding Dory.” There is definitely high interest in what’s under the sea and especially the animals that live there. On one side of this vinyl-covered tossing wedge board you will find 4 playful sea animal targets—an octopus, a turtle, a crab and a dolphin—designed around large holes lined with mesh netting. The other side features the numbers 1, 2, and 3 next to jumbo mesh netted holes. Two red, yellow, green and blue beanbags are included and match the tossing targets.

The tossing wedge has large holes, making throwing and tossing quite achievable for even the youngest child. When introducing new equipment to children, please allow time for free exploration and practice. Give children opportunities to throw from a variety of distances and to throw in different ways—thus enabling them to experiment and find the best position offering challenge as well as experience success. Encourage children to first toss the beanbag (slow or mid-paced looping throw using just fingers and hand) leading up to eventually throwing the beanbag (more forceful using arms and shoulders to propel the object). Remember that learning a new skill is a process and each skill has its own developmental progression.


Color Match

Challenge the children to throw the colored beanbags into the matching color holes, whether it’s the numbers, 1 (green), 2 (yellow), or 3 (red) or the 4 sea animals on the other side. Turtle=green, Octopus=red, Dolphin=blue, and Crab=yellow.

Feed the Sea Animals

Encourage the children to pretend the beanbags are “food” for the sea creatures. Ask, “What might they eat?” Have them verbalize the “food” they are feeding the turtle, octopus, dolphin, and crab. This activity not only expands the creativity and imagination but also children’s language skills.

Add the Numbers

Children’s beginning math skills will be supported with this game. With the number side up, have children toss any 2 beanbags into a hole or holes. The child would then add up the numbers, i.e., one beanbag is the #1 hole and another beanbag landed in the #2 hole, thus making the total #3 (1+2=3). The game continues with each child taking a turn to toss 2 beanbags and stating the sum. Further challenge the children by having them toss 3 or more beanbags and add the numbers.


Welcome children’s own ideas of how to move like one of the sea animals pictured, but here are some suggestions to get you started. You can make a game of this by asking children to throw a beanbag and whatever hole it lands in determines the animal they have to move like. Further challenge the children by having them balance a beanbag on a body part while they move.

Crab Walk: Sit on floor with hands behind and lift up bottom. The trunk of the body looks like a table with hands and feet holding up the body (table). With feet or head leading, move like a crab. 

Octopus Wiggles: Start in the seated position on the floor. Attempt to lift both legs off the ground at the same time while wiggling legs and arms.

Turtle Crawl: Starting in a kneeling position, curl back over and put elbows on the ground. Keeping bottom on heels, and elbows and hands on the ground, pull body forward in a slow motion.

Dolphin Swim: Lying on stomach, with arms stretched in front and fingertips touching, rock back and forth on hips.


Teaching Suggestions/Product Recommendations

Excellerations® 1-10 Number Beanbags – Set of 20 (NUMTOSS)

Excellerations® Yummy Plush Play Food – 25 Pieces (YUMMY)

Lightweight Plastic Balls – Set of 6 (LITEBALL)


Did I tell you that the vinyl-covered tossing wedge board folds flat for easy storage?


Forever Young at Heart! Playful Adults

One of my favorite ways to get some exercise is to get outdoors and take a walk. And living near the ocean always invites a beach walk. California has finally gotten some much needed rain, bringing with it strong winds and big waves. Driftwood washed up onto the shore and beach literally becomes nature’s playground. Look what my friend and I happened upon on a recent beach walk. Not sure if the driftwood teeter-totter landed that way naturally on the beach or was created by some playful individuals, but we didn’t lose any time taking advantage of climbing on and reliving our childhood memories.


I think George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Just because you’re an adult, don’t let play get left behind and constantly replaced with deadlines, responsibilities, and the everyday demands of a career and family. Research has found that taking a break and having a little fun improves our problem-solving abilities, engages our imagination, and can increase our creativity.

7 Ways to Become More Playful:

Go Outside. Breathe some fresh air; get oxygen into your lungs and brain. Exposure to sunlight produces the Vitamin D your body needs. Stop and smell the roses literally and figuratively—discover nature’s many wonders.

Be Present and Live in the Moment. Capitalize on opportunities as they appear and appreciate fun when it occurs. Put down the smartphone! Do something spontaneous, preferably every day.

Become More Childlike. And I don’t mean childish. They are different. Childlikeness is play-oriented and generous whereas childishness is defined by an inability to take responsibility and to see beyond our needs alone.

Laugh More. Play and laughter go hand-in-hand. It stimulates the thymus gland, which helps to regulate the body’s immune system, encourages the release of “feel good” endorphins while reducing the production of the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenalin), lowers blood pressure, improves circulation and respiratory function while decreasing inflammation and infection.

Spend Time With Children. Observe and learn from them the ingredients to become more playful—spontaneity, curiosity, and joy. Be a co-player and facilitator of play with children, not only of constructive, exploratory and dramatic play, but also of physical play.

Don’t Worry About Appearances. If you stop worrying about what other people think, you can feel more unrestrained and experience the joy that it sometimes seems only children feel. And the other people observing are probably thinking, “That looks like fun! Why didn’t I think of that?”

Connect With Playful People. Intentionally and frequently spend time with playful friends. Being with others will open your mind to new perspectives, ideas, and new ways of thinking, feeling. Being around people and being friendly and comfortable with them will increase the overall playfulness quotient.

~ Remember to balance work and play ~

Rediscover the child within you and let him or her out to play!


Cut a Rug with LET’S MOVE BATONS!


Always on the look out for new loose materials to use for active play, I am totally in love with Discount School Supply’s “Excellerations Let’s Move Batons.”  The six 10” long batons are made of sturdy clear plastic tubes with bright ribbon streamers inside that extend 13” from each end.  They are easy to grip for small hands and user friendly for the toddler and the preschooler.  The minute you see them, you want to pick them up—one for each hand!


Baton Dancing

Start the music and bodies start moving.  With a baton in their hand, encourage the children to dance and move about freely in the open space.  Suggest to the children that they move or shake the baton fast, slow, high, low, side to side, and all around.  Tell them that when the music stops, they are to stop and freeze (stand motionless like a statue).  When the music starts again, children resume dancing.  Ask children to follow along as you move the baton across the front of your body, circle the baton in front of your body like a Ferris wheel or circle it over your head like a helicopter blade.  Try to trick the dancers by starting and stopping the music quickly.  They love the element of surprise!  Use all different types of music: fast, slow, classical, rock, salsa.  When playing a slow song, suggest the children twirl, leap and float to the music.

Crossing the Midline (Cross Lateral Movements)

Put on some music and have children, with a baton in each hand, follow along as you cross left hand to the right side of your body, right hand to the left side of your body.  Continue by crossing over and touching feet, etc.  Now with only one baton, have children follow along as you make figure eights in the air, circle the baton around your body, wave it high, swing it low, and so forth.

Follow the Leader

Each child is given a baton.  Children line up horizontally next to each other with a baton’s distance between them.  One child is chosen as the leader and stands in front of and facing the line.  Play begins with the leader making a movement with the baton and the children imitate the movement with the baton they are holding.  Direct the leader to make each movement slowly giving the group enough time to follow.

The Show-and-Tell Baton

The baton is a great piece of equipment to use at Circle Time for sharing and show-and-tell. The baton is passed from child to child sitting at Circle Time.  A child who has something to share with the group, holds the baton and has the opportunity to speak about something that is important to them or share an item they brought from home and tell the group why it is special.  The other children in the circle listen and can ask questions.  The baton is passed around again and the next person in the circle holding the baton has a turn to share.  A child has the option to pass the baton and not speak. Circle Time sharing and show-and-tell is complete when everyone has had a chance to hold the baton.  In this activity, children build self-confidence and practice turn taking, listening, and speaking.

Drum Major or Majorette of Marching Band

Have children pick a rhythm instrument (tambourine, shakers, maracas, rhythm sticks or claves, cymbals, bells, triangle, drum, etc.) of their choice and line up behind the leader of the band—the drum major or majorette. The drum major or majorette leads the marching band, moving the baton up and down to the beat of the music while the children follow behind playing their instruments.  Everybody loves a parade!

Baton Relay

Split group of children into teams and have them stand in a single-file line behind the starting line. Give the leader of each team a baton. To play, the leader runs with the baton in hand from the starting line to a turnaround point (i.e., cone, etc.) and back again, passing the baton to the next person in line.  The game continues until each person of each team has had a turn to run with the baton.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes:

Playing and using the baton promotes and develops…


  1. Gross motor development—using the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk
  2. Fine motor skill (or dexterity)—coordination of small muscle movements, usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers with the eyes
  3. Hand-eye coordination—eyes and hands working together smoothly to meet a challenge
  4. Spatial awareness—coordinated movement in relationship to other objects in the environment
  5. Directionality—the inner sense and knowledge of where things are in relation to the body
  6. Cross lateral movements—arm and leg movements that cross over from one side of the body to the other
  7. Balance—being able to hold the position of the body through the interaction of muscles working together (maintaining body equilibrium) whether the body is stationary (static balance) or moving (dynamic balance)
  8. Creative movement—a joyful way for children to explore movement through music, develop physical skills, channel energy, stimulate imagination and promote creativity
  9. Cooperation and teamwork—2 or more people working and playing together rather than against one another, just for the fun of it
  10. Fun— playful actions providing amusement and enjoyment
  11. Listening skills—ability to follow verbal directions


Product Recommendations:

Excellerations Let’s Move Batons – Set of 6 (CUTARUG)

Cones (CONES)

Claves (CLAVES)

Rhythm Sticks (RHYTHM)

Plastic Maracas (MARA)

Tambourine (TAMB)

Egg Shakers (CHKSHK)

Brass Cymbals (CYMB)

Excellerations Hand Tom Tom (TOM)

Cluster Bells (CLUS)

Excellerations Jingle Wraps (JBELLS)

All I Want for Christmas is…TWISTER!


Twister® Game

Who remembers this all-time party and family favorite? It’s been around for close to 50 years and just got inducted into the 2015 National Toy Hall of Fame. Anyone can nominate a toy for hall inclusion, But to be inducted, they must have survived the test of time, be widely recognized and foster learning, creativity or discovery through play. I, for one, celebrate toys that do not support children’s wide use of screen play. Twister is a game of physical skill that has the players bending and stretching in challenging ways.

Twister was conceived as a shoe polish ad as a game on a colored mat. The game initially seemed too racy, so Milton Bradley canceled production, but the game was played by The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and actress Eva Gabor on air in 1966 and became an instant hit. The game was radical for its time, but was simple to play, as long as you knew colors and body parts. It was also the first game that transformed players into game pieces.

Twister is played on a large plastic mat that is spread on the floor or ground. The mat has four rows of large colored circles on it with a different color in each row: red, yellow, blue and green. A spinner is attached to a square board and is used to determine where the player has to put their hand or foot. The spinner is divided into four labeled sections: right foot, left foot, right hand and left hand. Each of those four sections is divided into the four colors (red, yellow, blue and green). After spinning, the combination is called (for example: “right hand yellow”) and players must move their matching hand or foot to a circle of the correct color. In a two-player game, no two people can have a hand or foot on the same circle; the rules are different for more players. Due to the scarcity of colored circles, players will often be required to put themselves in unlikely or precarious positions, eventually causing someone to fall. A person is eliminated when they fall or when their elbow or knee touches the mat. There is no limit to how many can play at once, but more than four is a tight fit.  The last player standing is the winner.

Add a twist of fun this holiday season by giving the classic board game that ties you up in knots!


Product Recommendations:

Twister® Game



Fun Physical Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers


This is the title of the workshop that I will be presenting in Orlando, Florida, at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Annual Conference on Thursday, November 19, 2015 from 8:00-9:30 AM. Why not join me, get your heart rate up, and increase the production of those “feel good” endorphins coursing through your body? There is no better way to jump start your full conference day than with some physical activity!


I will be sharing and demonstrating lots of activities that you can do with two-to-five-year-olds in the outdoors or in limited space. In fact, I will be presenting this workshop in a room that holds 350 people set up theater style (i.e., many chairs and not much open space). But, I will have all attendees “up on their feet and out of their seats” as they “Mingle, Mingle, Mingle” around the room meeting other participants, then finding a partner, and playing some simple games (“Back to Back,” “Copy Cat”) using their bodies. Of course, that early in the morning we’ll also have to “Take 5 & Exercise” and then form in groups of three to become an “Exercise Family.” There is no better way to promote physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development than with total engagement of all our senses including the connection with our heart and mind!  This is not just good for the kids in your care but also good for you!

Sharron NAEYC blog post

Why Play Musical Chairs When You Can Play Musical Hoops?

Have you ever watched children play Musical Chairs? When the music stops, the kids push and shove to get to a chair. The first child who doesn’t find a seat sits out of the game, all alone. As the game continues, the kids can get more and more aggressive, stopping at nothing to be the winner. In the meantime, the losers may feel left out, bored or upset. This game is an example of a competitive game. Young children feeling left out is one of the reasons I like to recommend cooperative games for early learning, where every child is a winner.

Competitive games can pit children against each other; during active games children may learn that, if you shove, push, hit or trip, you might gain advantage over the other players and win. Competitive games with just one winner means a whole group of losers. Young children generally play games to have fun and be involved; they don’t want to be quickly eliminated, rejected, left out, hurt physically or emotionally. (Who does?!)

Cooperative games include everyone. Every child is allowed to stay involved, there’s no pressure to win, no fear or anxiety about losing. Musical Hoops is a cooperative game for young children that helps promote self-esteem, sharing, kindness and teamwork as well as develops spatial awareness, gross motor skills and listening.

Musical Hoops

Materials Needed:
One hoop per child
Music/CD player and CD

How to play:
1. Scatter hoops in available space either indoors or outdoors.
2. Each child stands beside a hoop.
3. Start the music and instruct the children to walk around the hoops, making sure not to touch them while the music is playing.
4. When the music stops, each child steps into the nearest hoop. Tell them that it’s fine if more than one child ends up in one hoop. In fact, encourage it!
5. Start the music again and remove a hoop or two. When the music stops, the children step into the nearest hoop.
6. The game continues with you starting and stopping the music, gathering up more hoops and the children scrambling to all fit into the remaining hoops.
7. Musical Hoops ends with one or two hoops on the floor and all of the children working together to make sure everyone finds a place inside a hoop (even if it’s just one foot inside the hoop). It’s crowded but lots of fun!

• Vary the locomotor skill children use to move around the hoop each time you restart the music. Ask the children to jump, gallop, skip, march or walk on tiptoes.
• When the music stops and children stand in the hoops, ask them to count and/or show with their fingers the total number of people in their hoop.

Snickelfritz Partners Switch

September signals new beginnings. School has started and children are meeting each other for the first time or reconnecting with old classmates. This game is a good icebreaker or get-acquainted activity.

Indoor or outdoor space with boundaries.

How to Play:
1. Children find a partner and stand back-to-back.

2. The teacher or game leader calls out a body part and partners react quickly to touch the part mentioned. For example, the teacher might say, “Hands to Hands.” The partners turn around, face each other, and touch hands to hands.

3. When the teacher says another body part, the partners then put those body parts together (releasing the last round’s pairing.)

4. Other body parts the teacher could call out:

Shoulder to Shoulder, Knee to Knee, Hip to Hip, Ankle to Ankle, Elbow to Elbow, Knuckle to Knuckle, Wrist to Wrist, Toes to Toes, Side to Side.

5. Whenever the teacher or game leader says, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” all players must hurry and find a new partner that they haven’t already been paired with in the game. With the new partner, they stand back-to-back again, ready to listen. Play resumes with the teacher calling out different body parts.

6. Giving the command, “Snickelfritz Partners Switch!” frequently gives children a chance to interact with all members in the group as they have to find a different partner every time.

7. There is no right or wrong way to connect body parts to each other. Point out the different ways that partners completed the challenge.

8. The teacher may give the same command twice in a row to keep the players alert.

9. Avoid calls such as Head to Head, or Nose to Nose where kids are forced to share breathing space.

10. A fun way to end the game is to give the command, “Hug to Hug,” as teacher says, “Thanks for playing the game with me.”

11. Challenge older children to each touch different body parts as they are called out. For example, the teacher might say, “Ear to Knee.” One child will place his/her ear to the partner’s knee. Other commands may include:
Shoulder to Shoulder
Knee to Knee
Hip to Hip
Ankle to Ankle
Elbow to Elbow
Knuckle to Knuckle
Wrist to Wrist
Toes to Toes
Side to Side

Learning Outcomes/Goals:
1. Physical activity: Any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
2. Listening skills: Ability to follow verbal directions
3. Tactile stimulation: Body learning from the sense of touch, skin contact and pressure
4. Body awareness: Knowing and understanding the whole body and its parts and function
5. Space awareness: Knowing where the body can and should move in relationship to other people in the play space
6. Shared space: All of the designated play space that can be used by everyone
7. Cooperative play: Games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another

No Less Recess!

A first grade teacher recently called me in a panic. She was very upset because her school board was considering eliminating recess from the school day. She did not want her school to be one of the nearly 40% of U.S. elementary schools to eliminate or are considering eliminating recess (according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.) This policy is being implemented in part because of increased school accountability and student testing procedures, and the belief that time could be better spent on academics. My friend asked me to help her make a case to keep recess for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

The term recess refers to a break during the day to allow children the time for active, free play. During recess learning occurs in ways not possible inside the regular classroom.

Benefits of recess:

· It’s physically important! Physical movement is essential for healthy growth and development. Active play and movement helps prevent weight gain and weight-related diseases. Young children learn about their bodies’ capabilities and how to control their bodies through active movement. Exercising their own choices in the practice of physical skills, such as running, climbing, jumping, chasing, traveling, batting, kicking, catching, balancing, hanging, swinging, stretching, pushing and pulling can happen during active play in a way P.E. classes do not (Council for Physical Education and Children, 2001*.)
· It’s cognitively and academically important! Physical activity fuels more blood to the brain, thus giving it greater oxygen and energy supply and increasing the number of connections between neurons. These connections make the brain better able to process a variety of information, leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts, and subsequently higher academic achievement (Healy, 1998). Students who get a break are much less fidgety in the classroom. (Jarrett et al., 1998*) And, unstructured play gives the child an opportunity to exercise a sense of wonder, which leads to exploration, which leads to creativity.

· It’s emotionally important! Chemicals secreted by the brain during and after exercise enable it to deal better with stress and anxiety. (Healy, 1998).

· It’s socially important! Traditional recess activities encourage children to take turns, negotiate or modify rules, and interact cooperatively. Recess also gives the classroom teacher another opportunity to assess the child’s social skills. And, group play allows children to interact with peers and to watch and learn from other children.
Did you know the U.S. Army requires that soldiers be given a 10-minute break every hour during training sessions in order to maintain productivity? Professors are required to give college students the same. Teachers’ contracts often include a daily 30-minute preparation time that offers them a break from class work plus duty-free lunch. And we know parents would complain if they didn’t get at least one break at work.
How can we expect young children to work all day with few, if any, breaks? I believe children should not only be allowed a longer recess at lunchtime but also a 15-minute recess break in the morning and afternoon.

While there are arguments against recess, I can find no research that clearly supports less recess as beneficial. The available research suggests that recess can play a very important role in the learning, social development, and overall health of children. I support my friend, and any other parents, preschool and elementary school teachers and caregivers of young children making the argument: no less recess!

*As cited by ericdigests.org

Animal Movers

This is a fun activity for preschoolers and is another great way to incorporate movement in what could be a passive lesson. When young children are learning about animals, teachers often encourage the children to describe the animal, make the animal’s sounds, talk about the habitat of the animal, etc. Part of learning about an animal can include understanding how an animal moves and modeling that movement through active play. This is an activity idea from the Preschool TeacherQuickSource:

Animal Movers
Goal: Introduction or enhancement of balance and control during locomotor movements.
Before you start: The teacher may want to prepare several Animal Poster Cards or pictures of animals, and a large room or safe movement area.
Let’s Get Started:
1. Show the children one of the animal pictures.
2. Discuss the movements of that animal.
3. Have the children move around the space pretending to be that animal.
4. Repeat the activity with a different animal.