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Loose Part Play: How & Why

Remember back to a time when you were a kid and you created an awesome scene that let your imagination run wild. An empty box became a racecar, a sheet and a few chairs became your tent in the wild outdoors, and a dollhouse maybe was the set for a superhero to save the day. Anything could transform into what you needed at that moment. Loose part play is a big part of our curriculum in the classroom as well as out.

Imagination and creativity is exactly what we strive to create at Wellspring. However, you might have some questions about how we do that. What is loose play? What are our guidelines? Do we use any playsets? Do we only use natural materials or is plastic ok? Let’s dive in and answer some questions and maybe spark some imagination within yourself.

Why do we believe in loose part play?

We believe in loose part play because it is one of the best ways for children to engage in open ended play. Imagination, creative play, agenda setting, pattern recognition, creating own games and narratives, enabling language rich opportunities are all natural benefits of open ended play.

Isn’t it messy?

Yup. It definitely can be. Creativity is not for the faint of heart and can definitely be overwhelming to those who are expecting prescribed play. However, with simple organizational bins and patience (as projects may last longer than the allotted amount of time), it is well worth the mess.

Do we only use natural materials?

While we strive to focus on natural materials, open ended play comes from many different types of materials. Sticks, stones, leaves, and rocks can work well together with large playsets, straws, jars, and the standard toys of action figures, cars, and doll houses.

What is considered loose part play?

Loose part play is open ended toys that children can adapt, move, design, and transform in many different ways. We like to use all sorts of loose parts at Wellspring. Inside the classroom you can expect to see everything from pvc pipes, buttons, rocks, sticks, string, yarn, blocks, playing cards, toys, corks, bottles, caps, fabric, spoons, forks, pots and pans, and more!

What about playing outside?

Nature provides a lot of materials for loose play. Sticks, stones, pebbles, twigs, acorns, and leaves all lend themselves to play. Those loose parts combined with other materials such as pots, pans, baskets, buckets, fabric, wood blocks, and our larger set up of mud kitchens, slides, rocks, trikes, bridges, and art easels set the stage for imagination and creativity to be the focus of play outdoors.

How will the children play with the parts?

That’s the magic of loose part play. It’s up to the child what they will do with the materials. One child may take a stick to make a flag on a fort, while another will use a stick to stir a pot of soup. The magic happens when the play is child-led and they are able to explore each material the way that they wish and bring them freely around the classroom.

What is the role of the teacher?

While the children are playing, the teacher can observe the social interaction, provide language scaffolding, encourage different motor skill sets, and integrate academic lessons. The teacher will move around the classroom both being a part of the play as well as monitoring skills during play.

How can I implement loose play at home?

The best part about loose play is that it’s simple to do at home. It may help to think of gathering loose parts in different categories and what is age appropriate. When your gathering, consider these different elements:

  • Building: Scrap wood, blocks, tape, rubber bands, glue, paper, and age appropriate tools. (hammers/nails/screws for older kids)

  • Texture: Fabric that is light and heavy, see through or opaque, string, yarn, ribbon, napkins, towels, and hand cloths.

  • Kitchen Elements: Pans, pots, lids, cutlery, aprons, cupcake tins, cutting boards, bowls, plates, strainers, organizers, and child safe knives are a few of the fun kitchen loose elements.

  • Office: Paper, notepads, clipboards, all the writing utensils, paperclips, staples (for older children), rulers, old checkbooks and receipt books.

  • Large/Small toys: Action figures, animals, dolls, dinosaurs, large magnets, playhouses, castles, and little figurines.

  • Sensory Elements: Water, sand, bubbles, ice, food, dry noodles, sound tubes, calming bottles, different swatches of fabric and sandpaper.

  • Natural Elements: Sticks, stones, pebbles, large rocks, log cookies, leaves, dirt, moss, grass, stumps, and log beams.

By bringing in these elements into your home, you can foster creativity, imagination, and problem solving in everyday moments in your home and at school. Try out these ideas at home and let us know what you think!

Loose part play is such an important part of child development and we are happy to provide these elements at Wellspring. Click here if you are interested in learning more about our curriculum and join us on our waitlist here!

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