A few years back, I attended an amazing professional development conference. Like all opportunities to learn and grow, I found myself among many like minded people. One of the beautiful things about diversifying the training I attend is that I am exposed to a variety of programs and points of view. During this particular session, I found myself questioning my practice and wondering if what the presenters were sharing really fit with my point of view and practice.
Are you familiar with the idea of loose parts? If not, there are plenty of resources out there for you to explore. The basic premise is that children don't need to have toys that have a single purpose. The idea is that you can provide them with a variety of odds and ends where they can be creative and use them for a multitude of different uses.
You'll find some practitioners who promote the loose parts theory who can give you a recipe... or a plan for exactly what to use and add. They may tell you to make sure that you store them in baskets and that everything needs to be "aesthetically pleasing". I urge you to question that... I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this. What is aesthetically pleasing to adults may not be as inviting to young children. And, for us, sometimes baskets are just not practical. I use some baskets in our program, but seriously, they are not always practical. Do you know how quickly baskets can be destroyed... and not because children are being especially destructive, but because most baskets are not made to withstand the use that young children put them through.
A couple of statements from that workshop run through my mind daily. They told us to go home and throw out the yogurt cups. It's a good thing that I'm not very good at being a blind follower. In fact, I urge you to collect some yogurt cups. The plastic yogurt cups are used daily in our program. Not only are they a favorite loose part for many of the children, they make sense in our program. They are economically a sound investment. They are also being reused as opposed to being recycled or thrown away. Did I mention that the children love them? They fill them, they dump them, they pretend they are cups. They stack them, they knock them down. They send them flying with the catapult... They are used in so many different ways.
I also want to you to consider this... It is a thought that has continually been running through my mind. I don't think loose parts really have to do with the actual parts. Think about it, I mean yes you can be given a list of things to put into your classroom to use and you can come up with some of your own things... but is it really about the stuff?? or is the idea really more about a mindset? Are there only certain things that can be considered loose parts???
Here is my take. I think the theory of loose parts is a mindset. I think that anything can be a loose part when the classroom culture supports it. If children are given the freedom to use equipment and are trusted to explore how they see fit, I don't think the "stuff" really matters. I have seen children use toy cars as money. I have also seen children use just about anything they can find to build structures and piles with. Once, while I was visiting and consulting at a program I was puzzled as to why they had a parking structure/ramp/garage for the children in almost every classroom. It seemed to take up a lot of space and not have much in terms of play value. However, the program supported children and the culture allowed for that piece of equipment to be used in so many different ways! Had I not spent time observing the children there, I may have recommended getting rid of the structure. If given the freedom and the option to imagine, children will turn anything into that which they need.
Do you use loose parts in your classroom?
What are your favorite loose parts?
Do you think it is a set of materials or a mindset?
I'd love to hear your take on loose parts in the classroom!