By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. As 2016 comes to a close I am reflecting back on the many workshops that I facilitated and the keynotes that I presented. It has been an incredibly busy but reassuring year to realize that early childhood educators are serious about professional learning and committed to changing practices. Moving away from close-ended materials, educators are recognizing the value of open-ended loose parts. For me the year has been filled with resources, storing and sharing loose parts with others. One particular experience that I and my colleague Cindy Green have been sharing, we have been calling the “visualization exercise”. Sometimes we have educators in groups engage with the materials silently to encourage quiet reflection and other times, we encourage dialogic learning. The loose parts were chosen to symbolize the four foundations of learning in Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years – How Does Learning Happen? The tree flakes connect to well-being, the mosaic tiles to belonging, the glass gems to expression and the buttons to engagement. The pebbles represent children, families and educators who are at the core of the foundations.
We provide each group with a mat to reflect the theoretical foundation on which our practices are based – constructivism as well as the theorists such as Montessori, Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Malaguzzi, some of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. We provide a mirror to symbolize reflection and the importance of our values being reflected in the learning environment. Each group creates unique and meaningful transient representations that demonstrate the importance of emphasizing creation rather than consumption. Without glue, these loose parts live to play another day.
I hope through the experience the learning can be transferred to the work the educators do with children. I know for many of the groups the experience was meaningful as they took the time to write out their reflections. According to How Does Learning Happen? children benefit significantly from having long periods of time to explore in environments equipped with interesting, open-ended materials that can be used in many ways, inviting investigation and complex play. Open-ended materials stand in contrast to closed-ended materials, which are limited in their use. Consider a puzzle piece—it is closed-ended if it can be used only as a part of a puzzle. The piece fits in one particular way. What happens when a puzzle piece goes missing? Remaining puzzle pieces can become loose parts and have open-ended possibilities as they can be added to the imaginative creations that children construct. When loose parts are offered to children, they provide many opportunities, provocations, and invitations to use, transport, combine, and transform them (Dietze & Kashin, 2016). These wondrous materials can also be propelled, hidden/enveloped, and positioned supporting children’s schema play. Loose parts should be chosen with intentionality. Think carefully about what materials will be offered to children and what possibilities for learning and play might emerge.
In the spirit of giving, in the season of giving I am sharing where I obtained my wondrous materials that can do so much for both children and adults, some were donated, some were found and others bought. I would like to thank Louise Kool and Galt for the generous donation of the mosaic tiles that so beautifully connect with belonging. Spectrum Educational Supply Store donated the tree flakes or as I like to call them tree cookies. The buttons that prove time and time again to engage children and educators came from the dollar store, from our own collection and in part from a donation from Louise Kool and Galt. The glass gems are from my local dollar store which is a source for loose parts but resourcing materials should not stop there. There are so many more places to find loose parts. I love materials that I find in nature. The pebbles that represent children, families and educators I collected on a beach, near my cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.
Where do you find your loose parts? Do you find them in nature? Do you use recycled materials for loose parts? Cindy is my role model for loose parts collecting – she happily goes to the drapery store for fabric samples, the tile store for ceramic tiles from the bargain shelf and collects cardboard tubes otherwise discarded from factories. She stores them in her basement or “loose parts heaven”. I adore all these materials and have used them in workshops in so many ways. What are your favourite loose parts? If I had to pick, right now, mine would tree cookies! They are so versatile! They can be used in transient art creations, math invitations, small worlds and for construction. They can be big, small, thick or thin. I have so many tree cookies! I have even added them to my decor at home.
Share your favourites and where you obtain them! Once again, Louise Kool and Galt have donated a give away to readers of this blog as incentive. We were so pleased with the response to the ABCs of ECE Challenge that we are going to try it again. This time, they have donated a set of dowels and a set of tins. Both fit the bill of what loose parts should do – combine, transport, transform, propel, roll, enclose and more!
Add a comment to this post about what your favourite loose parts are and where others can get them. Make sure to include a current email address in the comments so that we can find you should yours be the lucky entry! The draw will take place in the first week of the new year! All the best for the new year and may it be filled with loads of love, connections and loose parts.