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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Sand & Water Fun for Infants and Toddlers

As an Early Care and Education Consultant and Trainer, I am asked to conduct workshops on a variety of topics for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  My main goal in presenting at conferences and trainings (and also in writing this blog) is to share ideas and activities to use with the children in your care.  I have been asked to present my workshop, “NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE! Extending the Curriculum Outdoors” for Infant and Toddler Teachers.  The program coordinator specifically asked me to focus on the sand and water table and the sensory materials that can be included for this age group.

Is your sand and water table buzzing with activity or is it stagnant like the water you always seem to have in it?  Perhaps your sand and water table is closed because you think it creates a mess.  Whether you need to rekindle interest in your sand and water table or remind yourself about the value of sensory play…read on to discover the sensory learning opportunities found in the sand and water table.

The sand and water table can be equipped with two basins or tubs side by side or it can be one large table.  Whatever the configuration, most of these tables can be used inside or outdoors. Sensory play, sometimes known as “messy play,” happens in the sand and water table.  It is a center for exploring with your senses, experimenting, scooping, and pouring, squeezing and smushing (building fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination for handwriting), sharing and turn taking.  Children can watch chemical reactions, mix colors, repeat observed phenomenon, and try new things.  Sensory play promotes spatial awareness, mathematical thinking, and scientific exploration and discovery.  It also is simply a great way for children to relieve their stress.  Sensory play can be very soothing and relaxing to a young child.

Ideally, the items in the sand and water table should be switched out every week, though there are some materials (i.e., water) that need to be emptied daily. What you can and cannot include in your sand and water table depends on the children and the different policies of your program about the use of food during play and explorations, as well as concerns about children’s food allergies and sanitation.  Some of the items listed may be problematic for toddlers and those children who insist on putting everything in their mouth, ears or nose.  Provide close supervision and use only larger items for the very young.

Materials, Ideas & Activities for the Sand & Water Table:

Depending on the contents of the sand and water table, add small shovels, rakes, sand and water mills, small watering cans, squeeze bottles, sifters, sand molds, buckets, plastic or rubber animals, small people, boats, vehicles, kitchen utensils (wire whisks, slotted spoons, scoops, tongs, tweezers, funnels, mixing cups, basters, ladles, muffin tins, plastic cookie cutters, ice cube trays, sieves) and a variety of containers to foster complex sensory play.

I think it’s important to have two sand and water tables—one for inside and one for outside.  That way, depending on the weather and your setup, some kind of sensory activity can be available for the children to explore.  Infants and toddlers rely on sensory input to learn about their environment. Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.  It supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.  Sensory experiences are like food for the brain.  With a little bit of planning, sensory play in the sand and water table can happen everyday!

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table and Lid (SWTAB, SWTABL)
Neptune Sand and Water Table with Lid (NEPTUNE)
Sand & Water Buckets (BUCKSET)
32 Ounce Bubble Solution (BUB32)
Bubble Wands (BUBWNDS)
Small Shovels (SMSHOV24)
Watering Can (WCAN)
Colorations® Easy-Grip Dough Cutters (EGCUTTER)
Sand & Water Mills (MILLSET3)
Pour and Measure Play Set (POURPACK)
Funnels (FUNNELS)
Excellerations® Fun Foam Fishing Set (REELFUN)
Sailboats (SAILS)
Sturdy Scoops (FUNSCOOP)
Super Classroom Sand Set (SDSET)
Sandtastik® White Play Sand (PLAYSAND)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Sea Creatures (BABYSEA)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Wild Animals (BABYZOO)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Farm Animals (BABYFARM)
Soft Multicultural Career Figures (HELPER)
Small Multicultural Career Figures (PEOPLE)
Bathing Dolls (BATHSET)
Primary Toddler Dish Set (DISHSET)
Magic Nuudles™ (ALLNU)
Kinetic Sand ™ (KINSAND)
Colored Play Sand (CSANDALL)
Sparkling Sculpture Sand (BLINGSET)
Shape it!™ Sand (MOONSNST)
Small Gotcha Nets (NETS)
Gator Grabber Tweezers (GATGRABS)
Medium Insects & Spiders (INSECTS)
Foam Wooden Blocks (WDFMBLK)
Foam Tabletop Unit Blocks (FOBL)
Tree Blocks with Bark (TRBLK)
Tree Blocks without Bark (TRBLKNB)
Chubby Land, Sea & Air Vehicles (CHUBBY)
Fun Dough Scissors (DSCISSOR)
Colorations® Tissue Paper Grass (TGRASS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Colorations®
Liquid Watercolor Classic Colors (13LW)
Colorations® No-Drip Foam Paint (BFP)
Colored Macaroni (SMAC)
Colored Rice (RRIC)
Colorations® Washable Finger Paint (CWFPS)
Colorations® Sensory Sand Finger Paint (SANSET)
Fabric Squares (FAB)
Jumbo 2” Pom-Poms (LGPOMS)
Craft Fluffs (FLUFFPK)
Wood Craft Rounds (WOOD50)

Keep Cool! Ice Play In the Water Table

IceSculpture1

Materials Needed:
Ice—cubes, blocks, etc.
Table salt
Rock salt
Kosher salt (optional)
Eye droppers or pipettes
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ or food coloring (red, yellow, blue)
Sensory tub or water/sand table
Small containers/cups to hold the salt and coloring

Procedure:

  1. Freeze water in a variety of sizes and shapes of empty containers—plastic bowls, jello molds, cardboard milk containers, ice cube trays, etc.
  2. Empty the ice shapes and ice cubes into the sensory tub or water table,
  3. Place small cups of salt and rock salt in the tub.
  4. Place small cups of Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ in tub.  Add a pipette or eye dropper to each cup.
  5. Have children sprinkle salt and rock salt on the ice shapes. Encourage them to add ice cubes to the larger ice shapes.  As the salt melts the ice, the ice cubes and ice pieces will stick to each other creating a unique “sculpture.”
  6. Children then use the pipettes to drop the Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ into the cracks and holes created by the rock salt and salt.
  7. Remember to take a photo of the ice sculpture before it melts away!

IceSculpture2

Learning Outcomes/Desired Results

  1. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect–as you discuss the chemical reaction that ice has when salt is sprinkled on it.  Salt lowers the freezing point of ice, causing it to melt.
  2. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect—solids transforming into liquids.
  3. Cognitive Development—Science—Cause and Effect—mixing primary colors  (red, yellow, blue) you make the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple).
  4. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—using small muscles (pincher grasp) in fingers to squeeze the bulb of the pipette or eye dropper and to pick up grains of salt and chunks of rock salt.
  5. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—hand-eye coordination—hands and eyes working together to accomplish a task—using fingers to manipulate pipette with color and squirting colors into salt crevices.
  6. Cognitive Development—Problem Solving and Critical Thinking—some children will have difficulty in figuring out how to get the color into the pipette and then onto the ice.  Handling the eye dropper will be a challenge, so they should be shown how to use it and encouraged to keep trying until they succeed.
  7. Language Development–Speaking–as children talk excitedly about what they see happening.
  8. Encourages creativity and persistence.
  9. Social/Emotional Development–is fostered as this is an open-ended activity with no right or wrong way to do this activity.  It promotes children’s self-esteem.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ – set of 18 8 0z bottles (LW18)
Six Paint Cups in a Base (PNTCPS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Plastic Eyedroppers – set of 12 (EYEDROP1)
Medium Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table (LWTAB)
Sand & Water Activity Tubs – set of 4 (TUBS)