Last week, Ellen Veselack and I presented at NAEYC’s national annual conference. Our presentation focused on assisting programs in developing and implementing inquiry-based approaches to support children’s growth and learning by stimulating children’s natural curiosity through the use of everyday materials. While this approach might sound common, many programs rely on purchasing expensive items, which often limit not only variety and quantity but also novelty and creativity. The specialized materials that programs purchase may seem necessary, but children don't need “scripted” materials to help them have fun and extend their knowledge of the world.
At the CEC, we inspire and support children’s curiosity and learning through the use of what can be termed “loose parts”. Essentially, loose parts are items that are intended to be manipulated and transformed by children and teachers in an unlimited number of ways. The most important aspect of a loose part is that it can become almost anything: a plain sock can become a puppet, seed pods can become pretend food, sticks and branches can become the foundations for structures, milk crates can become containers to transport things or link together to make a vehicle or train. Loose parts allow for children to apply their imagination and transform objects to further their learning and play. We find that simple and open-ended materials are not only the most favored ones but also the most beneficial when it comes to supporting imagination, curiosity, and learning.
For ideas of loose parts that you may have in your own home, or are easily acquired, please see the beautiful graphics below, produced by Community Playthings, an organization that not only produces equipment for centers and schools but also advocates for inquiry-based and outdoor learning.