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The Value of Open-Ended Play and Loose Parts

Loose parts play is a type of play that supports invention, divergent thinking, problem solving and offers a sense of wonder to children. They are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts play is a valuable component of our educational program here at Discover My World ELC!

A Sense of Wonder

Playing with loose parts launches children into a realm of creativity, imagination and wonder. A new type of play, language and learning emerges when children are given autonomy to decide how to use different objects - such as using pebbles for coins while role-playing 'shops' or building a tower using anything but conventional 'building blocks'. Suddenly the towers have texture, height, weight, density, complexity and attraction that regular blocks cannot offer, and the pebbles can quickly shift from being used as money, to being a secret ingredient for a potion or a new musical instrument. The possibilities with loose parts are truly endless, bound by nothing except each child's incredible imagination!

At DMW, we have a Loose Parts Hub at the front of the service which is constantly growing and evolving in line with children's emerging interests. After the weekend, children bring in bags of shells and pinecones from their family walks, old buttons and corks, pieces of scrap material, stones and recycled cartons to add to our Loose Parts Hub. Throughout the day, our educators take small groups of children to collect the loose parts for their play, and the cycle continues! They create magical spaceships using old egg cartons, transform their play-dough creations with pinecones and construct huge princess castles with recycled cardboard boxes.

Examples of Small Loose Parts

Bottle caps
Paddle pop sticks
Flowers and leaves

Examples of Large Loose Parts

Blocks of wood
Old tyres
PVC tube
Milk crates 
Cardboard boxes

Adding Different Elements

At DMW, we experiment with loose parts by adding different elements like natural light, mirrors and light boxes to add another layer of experimentation and play. We explore loose parts that have curves, holes and patterns, that are transparent and that play with shadow. Children can learn to manipulate different materials like cardboard and vinyl, and take turns trying out different hypotheses - will this piece of leather sink or float? What happens when the sun shines through a piece of coloured cellophane? How does the light bounce against mirrors at different angles?

We have added loose parts not only into our construction areas, but also into storytelling, dramatic play and science-based environments. Our classrooms and playgrounds become more complex, with increased opportunities for learning and discovery for children in every age group.

Ideas for Loose Parts Play at Home

The brilliant thing about loose parts play is that you can get started right away, with bits and pieces you can find around your home! Take your child into the backyard, give them a basket, and ask them to collect anything that they find interesting - flowers, pebbles, twigs, clay... the list goes on! Sift through your recycling and see what items can be used - milk cartons, tins, jars and shredded paper are all fantastic masterpieces just waiting to be created!

For large loose parts play, you could plan a trip to Reverse Garbage at Marrickville ( Reverse Garbage is a creative reuse centre making a difference in the world by reducing waste and creating change in the way we look at resources - they have a HUGE inventory of amazing recycled objects that will keep your child busy for hours! You can buy loose parts to take home or go to one of their community events.

Contribute to DMW's Loose Parts Hub

We are so grateful for our DMW community who keeps our Loose Parts Hub alive! Even though we are practising social distancing at the moment, we would still love for you to contribute to our hub and stay connected with the service. If you'd like to bring in some loose parts for our collection, please let one of our educators know upon arriving so that we can disinfect all items and add them to our hub! As always, we are so appreciative of your continued support and involvement in our program. We'd love to see what fantastic creations your children come up with at home, so be sure to send in some photos for us to add to our Loose Parts Hub via Kinderloop!

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