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“The beauty of playing and constructing with “loose parts” is in its ability to ignite imagination and creativity in children, whilst offering experiences that hone spatial awareness, tactile sensitivity, social constructs and lay out neural pathways through self-directed experiences that simply cannot be garnered from a “one-outcome only” expensive electronic toy.
Head of School at Blue House Nursery & International Preschool, Sarah Woon, explains to us the value behind loose parts play in the early years’.
To the untrained eye, “loose parts” might be mistaken for simply throwing together objects of no discernible purpose, such as a plastic crate and tubes, wooden twigs and acorns of varying sizes or metal chains and magnets that clink around noisily in a metal pot. To a child, these items are an invitation to carry, move, take apart or combine materials in ways that see a child create symbolic representation of what their story is, their expression and voice in the world. A crate becomes a house for a puppy (that happens to be a ball of wool) and a plastic tube becomes a tool of experimentation for testing how fast a ball can slide out the other end compared to a wooden ball.
When children use objects in representational ways, their imagination is exercised as children visualise or relate a shape or form to what they try to represent with these loose parts. Experimentation of how objects can be combined, to create vertical or horizontal three dimensional constructions, help children test balance points, observe gravity, weight and surface mass. Engaging with loose parts also offers young children tactile input on the various materials around them. Instead of the store bought plastic toy that only does one thing, a basket of wooden twigs, metal washers, rocks, elastic bands and colourful ribbon offers opportunities to experience flexibility, knots, twirling and wrapping one thing around another.
With ample supply of loose parts provided ahead of time within the play area, these items do not restrict children’s desires to share social experiences whilst manipulating these objects. The sharing of exploration and adding to each other’s theories and ideas, makes way for communication, negotiation, planning, execution of ideas and to create a shared project of play that offers learning from playmates.
When guided with skillful intervention by an observant Educator, ‘loose parts play’ paves the way for independent discovery and inspires curiosity. Through introduction of materials that might be unusual in the home, or normally out of reach, we can extend children’s excitement of these “new toys” and marvel at the inventiveness and revelation that is the essence of childhood.