Loose Parts: These are a Few of my Favourite Things!

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.

the-four-foundations-of-learning

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.

childreneducatorsfamiliesheart

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.

reflectionvisualization

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.

rocks-on-the-beach

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.

treecookiedecor

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!

tins

dowels

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.

loosepartslove

79 thoughts on “Loose Parts: These are a Few of my Favourite Things!

  1. I have only recently begun to understand the benefits of loose parts. My students are never very interested, so I think it must reflect a problem with the way I am presenting them and what I am presenting. I’m eager to try new ideas and recently moved the light table to the floor so students could sit across from each other to play — that was a big hit! We don’t have many things I would consider loose parts in our classroom, but I think my favourites are tree blocks and buttons. Students also love Jenga blocks and use them in many different ways.

    I really enjoy your blog — your posts make me think!

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  2. Our favorite loose parts differ by age. Our 4s love caps of different shapes and sizes – from bottles, drinkable yogurts, juices, fruit/vegetable pouches. These are great for practicing math, language/literacy and science. Our 2s and 3s love natural elements from outside – pine cones, twigs, stones and pebbles, anything they can bring inside from our school’s backyard.

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  3. One of my best Loose Parts scores was when I inherited my dads left over wood working pieces. Little dowels, finials, a wealth of variety and sizes. Check with local carpenters, wood craftsmen, and lumber yards for materials they are discarding.

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  4. Hi Diane! My favourite loose parts are buttons and sea glass. I love the versatility of buttons with size, shape and colour. Sea glass is awesome too for its size and its opaqueness. Thanks for the post!

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  5. I have found that stringed beads (like the kind that necklaces are made out of or the kind that some people might hang on a tree during the holidays) can be very inspiring in children’s play. I usually cut them up to about 5-8 inch pieces and have found them successful with both toddlers and preschoolers. I have had great luck finding these at thrift stores, dollar store or any store that sells holiday decorations.

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  6. Wonderfully written and your expressions of joy concerning the manipulation of loose parts mirror my own! At the moment my favorite loose part is a collection of shells I happened upon during my trek to the bus stop on recycling day. The shells are various shapes and sizes and some are even tinged with smoky dark earth colors.
    I was able to collect them all, bring them to the childcare and they now have a home in our Intermediate classroom. Another staff (from a different location) admired them as she commented on her own loose part collections, and I encouraged her to take some (caring is sharing!)
    I am very thankful for the opportunities I have had this season but Iam looking forward to the year ahead; partnering with the professionals in my field and meeting others through PD workshops, that share and ignite the passion for loose parts and their place in our curriculum.
    hmholly@me.com

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  7. I have some small, rectangular glass tiles that are frequently used. They are similar to what you are calling mosaic tiles. I love them because no two are the same. They are shades of blue,green,and brown. In places,they are almost translucent. I got them at Michael’s. I frequently see them used on the light table, but recently they’ve been making their way into other spaces.

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  8. They’re so simple but the favourites in our classroom are the glass gems. They appeal to all the senses with their weight, transparency and variety of colours, smooth texture and the sound they make when they click together. They can be used in sand, rice, water, in role play, construction or playdough, they can be part of transient or permanent art and when one split in half one day we spent ages wondering how the two parts fit together, what had broken it and whether it could ever be fixed. So much wonder and inspiration from these little treasures!

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  9. One of my favourite places to search for loose parts is Value Village. All through the store there are bags of little things sometimes related to each other sometimes not. Depending on the department you can find bags of jewelry, small toys, cups, kitchen materials, sewing materials…Recently I found a bag of bangles for $2. I never counted but there were lots metallic, plastic, different colours with all sorts of possibilities. It also brought in the multicultural component and a friend told me it was a great buy.

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  10. Beautiful post as always, Diane.
    Because we travel to the shores of San Francisco Bay each and every Friday, to a sanctuary that only allows us to take away sea glass, I think that is most likely my favorite loose part. We have used the glass to talk about the work of the tides, to represent our favorite parts of our weekly excursion, for self portraits, food, money, decorations, math explorations, …
    happy fall!

    💗Pam

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  11. I like using jewels and wooden spools. I call it the jewels and spools area. You can get both at Dollar Stores.

    Natural items found outside are inviting also.

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  12. I have been using loose parts in our classroom for the past two years. We have found it gives the children a freedom to create that normal art activities don’t. They change and perfect their work until they are completely satisfied and then we take a picture of it. We use these photos to encourage story writing which extends this activity just a little bit more. Even the youngest students love to share their stories.

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  13. Your blog and your collaboration with Cindy Green is ever inspiring. I have had the pleasure of attending one of Cindy’s loose parts workshops and it was as amazing as I had anticipated it to be. Thank you for continually sharing your insights and reflections.

    My favourite place to collect loose parts is in nature. The beach, forest, parks, my own backyard.

    I also like to include the children in collecting loose parts by going for walks in the community or by inviting families to send in loose parts from home. With the children we have collected rocks, sticks, pine cones, leaves, buttons, pieces of yarn and ribbon, recycled materials etc.

    Shannon Andrews
    http://www.inspiringbeautifulbeginnings.com

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    • As I am learning more about loose parts and watching my class have experiences with them, I am also involving my daughter who is almost 9 in the loose parts experience. She has created many beautiful pieces. She loves finding and collecting loose part materials for our home collections. With her, I find it isn’t the actual materials themselves but the memories associated with them. Finding the shells at the cottage, pine cones on our walk at the park or the rocks we found on the beach visiting her grandmother in Cobourg. Her creations seem to reflect upon these memories and she adds details using other various loose parts.

      I am seeing the wonders of loose parts and look forward to experiencing and observing more incredible ideas from the children I work with and from my daughter.

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  14. My favourite loose parts are tree cookies and smaller log pieces (2 summers ago I cut some mini logs on my own). I also love rocks. I’m lucky to live near the lake. There’s a particular cobble stone beach (old terra cotta clay pipes that have become rocks of all shapes, colours & sizes) near me where I’ve found so many unique rocks for loose parts.

    Love your blog! You’ve helped inspire me to take a leadership role this year in my board. Just last week I co-facilitated an outdoor workshop on “loose parts in nature”. Have a great weekend!

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  15. My loose parts collection has grown to include found, store bought and repurposed items. I love the possibilities for open-ended play that fosters opportunities for diverse learning experiences. My favourite loose parts are those that I can connect to a memory. The birch tree cookies that were created from a broken branch discovery during a nature walk or the buttons handed down from my Grandmother.

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  16. Artsjunktion run by the TDSB has been helpful – picture frames, cone shaped stackable thread spools, lids that nest, cool fabric and paper and so much more. Kensington Market/Chinatown has also provided some interesting containers, scoops and “jewels”

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  17. Favorite things: started with some small painted and unpainted wooden cups. Discovered some wood game pieces that looked like chunky discs then added tiny wicker baskets that were not going to be part of someone’s craft plans, anymore. Was able to add some large and small wood eggs-both painted and unpainted. Today I found one more egg that will be the smallest in the set-its so nice to sit and hear what the children come up with as they choose what they like.
    When we cut down a lilac tree, a couple of years ago I made sure the logs were cut into small pieces for the children to build with.

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  18. I enjoy finding loose parts on my nature walks. Sometimes I can identify them, sometimes not. Interesting nests, seed pods, acorns, leaves, rocks, feathers, branches. All are sure to spark curiosity and great questions.

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  19. The Art of Restore (a second hand craft store nearby me) has wonderful finds and you never know what you can find there. Also have a button jar, a legacy from my grandmother. Parents are always on the lookout for things to use too.
    phorstnofziger@gmail.com

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  20. My students ALWAYS love our glass bead collection…they almost seem magical. My favorite,however, is a gigantic collection of shells that I inherited a few years ago from my dear friends grandma. Each year when I introduce the collection, I explain to my students how Grandma Kay used to enjoy traveling all over the world when she was younger. Each place she would visit, she would collect a few shells. Now, Grandma Kay is 92 years old and it’s difficult for her to travel and she was worried about not finding anymore shells. That’s when my friend Brian thought of me as a preschool teacher and just knew I would use them in the right was to make his gram happy. Each year, I take pictures of my preschoolers shell creations and text them to Brian to show his grandmother. I also love that my students call them “Grandma Kay’s Shells” when creating with them.

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  21. I, too LOVE loose parts and your posts! I love to collect all things that attach/fasten – clips, variety of clothespins, hooks, wire, twist ties, twine, yarn, rolls of tear away tickets., strips of fabric, long straws, sticks etc…put them out with “large” wire baskets( white closet organizer type) anything that can attach, weave, stick through, balance etc… great for fine motor too

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  22. I love the loose parts I too collect at the cottage. Pieces of river glass and old pottery and china bits that wash up onto the beach. The glass and china bits that I find on the island path and in the creek that I find after each rain. I make my own tree cookies and tree ‘blocks’ from the fallen trees in the middle of the island.I have keys,nuts and bolts and washers that my Dad used to build with and fix things with. All my loose pieces are a part of my life and I love to share them with our class.

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  23. Hi Diane, Thank you for your posts they have to light my way in this journey. My favourite loose parts. Glass beads (children seem to love anything shinny) smooth beach stones.small wooden cubes are great in the dramatic play..they become the veggies in soups or meatballs in spaghetti even tea rattling in the kettle, yarn and wood cookies.

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  24. Great post, I just came across this blog while reading about workshops on the MCCA website and it was a very engaging read. I love loose parts, it’s great how supposedly useless items, such as a puzzle or a game missing a piece can suddenly take on a new life. It’s fascinating to see how children will interpret the loose parts and create the most fascinating play. I have to say I love the extra things left over from holidays, like Christmas wrapping paper, ribbons, old cards, bows and empty boxes.

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  25. I always enjoy reading your posts and sharing them with my colleagues. You inspire us in so many ways that make us reflect on what we do and how we can make our classrooms better. A few items our class enjoy are the glass beads and marbles. They can be transported, sorted and used for a variety of purposes. I have seen children use them as food, placed in the back of mini trucks for transportation, experimented with how fast they roll down wooden blocks and structures. We also bring in loose parts and treasures from our weekly Woods Wednesday walks to the nearby park! Keep up the great work you do 🙂

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  26. My favourite loose parts at home while on maternity leave are buttons for my 3 year old (a loose bag from Michaels- I wish that we had a great collection with rich stories of the past like you have written about, but that isn’t the situation of our family, so we have started with a big bulk bag and we add to it as we can) and a bag of scarves for my 9 month old (collected mainly from my Mom’s closet and scrap fabric box, but I also made a set of sheer coloured scarves for him). When I am in the classroom with my Kindergarten students, their favourites are jewels- the glass stones that we all love from craft stores or dollar stores, but also a set of plastic jewel shaped translucent ones from Learning Resources. They are turned into money and food in dramatic play, decorations and building pieces at the light table and block area, and as manipulatives during our more focused math work. When we are outside, we use rocks, sticks, and pine cones, but we don’t bring them inside for long, as I like to practice “leave only footprints”. Our natural area is a park, so we respect the practices encouraged by the municipality there. We will bring in leaves and rocks from the school yard which are likely my favourite, and then we return them at the end of the day!

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  27. ask friends and family to save keys–everyone has a key or two that no one remembers what its for…corks from wine bottles (harder to find these days with all the screw off caps!) and also beer bottle caps. These are all great for counting, stacking, weighing, sorting by size, shape, colour, floating (or sinking) in the water table, hiding in the sand, gluing into collages, pretending with in dramatic play…

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  28. There are so many loose parts materials I love it’s hard to pick a short list of favourites. Anything from nature is a must,plumbing fixtures (pvc and copper pipes, etc), rocks, and the recycling bin. I love putting the recycling bin right next to the creative area or with the the blocks to see what their imaginations turn things in to.

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  29. Like you, I have a collection of buttons handed down to me from my mother that contains buttons from old outfits of mine, hers, my grandmother and even my great grandmother. Each button has a story of its own as well as becoming part of a new narrative when used by children.

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  30. I have the honour of teaching first semester ECE students and introducing them to loose parts. It’s amazing to see the transformation of the materials, and how the students engage with materials. At first they have no idea what to do, then as time goes on it is almost impossible to get them to clean up! I agree, there are no favourites. It all depends on my mood, my students mood on what loose parts we engage with, although I am all about texture.

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  31. What I love about loose parts is the ability to connect with other people and my community…there is a relational aspect to the finding and collecting that draw others into the ideas that surround this pedagogy for early childhood. My mother-in-law, who is house bound, receives great joy in collecting lids of many kinds for me, her contribution to children’s learning. As she asks me what happens to them, I am able to articulate the learning and she becomes so engaged in her own memories of “that is what we used to have to play with…”.

    I also see my sons with their ability to “see” things as I have talked about looking for things for me, I now have many silver discs (hard drives) in my loose parts collection and gears and metal circles all from old computers. It changes a person’s way of seeing what is around us and what we consider “garbage”.

    I also feel it’s about place and connections in a community. A campground I go to, has a pile of wood triangles donated by a local roofer that we can use for campfire kindling, somehow mine didn’t make it onto the fire but in the back of my truck, I now see the ad for that roofer in my local paper and think of them with fondness. The hunt is so satisfying when a new treasure is found, a new acquaintance I have had the chance to explain this idea to, and a ongoing resource gets connected to someone besides me…I like to share! But my most recent acquisition is….recently I had attended a masked ball, and all of the decorations of masks, feathers, fabric etc from the centre pieces were being thrown out by the hotel, after I explained to the event planner what I would like them for, they packed them up at the end of the party and delivered them to my husband’s office. So all these memories come to life for me in my studio as a interact and use them with other educators and children. I am still hunting for my new favourite…

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  32. I love how my students use transparent and colourful napkin rings on mirrors and the light panel. We also use small lights to add to our building the lights are from Ikea and the dollar store.

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  33. The children absolutely love the dollar store gems (especially the autumn and Hallowe’en versions). Me personally I have a thing for rocks and fossils. My co-workers and I are “old school” so jumping on the loose parts band wagon is a big change. Thank goodness for technology that makes this new direction somewhat less painful..lol Thanks for all you do and Merry Christmas.

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  34. I will keep my response simple just like the simplicity of the endless possibilities of loose parts.

    We love wooden spools, jewels, and buttons.

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  35. Love reading about all of this fun stuff for the classroom! Thanks for the inspiration as always!
    Our class loves the glass gems, random pieces of foam, wood pieces, rocks and shells and more!

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  36. Thank you for this post. I am new to loose parts and found this very helpful. I love using items from nature as loose parts, such as sticks, acorns, pebbles, flowers and leaves .

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  37. My favorite loose parts are items I find in nature (pinecones, rocks, shells) and other small items like gems and buttons (from the dollar store). I find that my students use these materials in a variety of ways and they can also incorporate them into their play at home without having to spend a lot of money.

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  38. I love searching for new used loose parts at our local thrift stores. Some of the most versatile loose parts I have collected recently are metal thimbles and metal spools along with clear plastic shower curtail rings that have an intricate design and have transformed into so many different applications. Some of my favourites are the things found in nature, like cool seed pods. Visiting Thinkined always helps to stretch my lense on different loose parts to add to my classroom.

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  39. My classes current favourite are acrylic gems, snowflakes, squirrel and leaf shapes. I managed to get a ton of these at Micheal’s when they were on sale. We also really love our rocks and tree cookies. The children have made some pretty amazing things using empty wooden picture frames in addition to those other parts.

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  40. I am passionate about ALL loose parts!! I love anything from nature (stones, beach glass, wood) especially the treasures the children find. The materials become even more stunning when explored on mirrors with a variety of light sources…

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  41. Diane as always you inspire! Doriana and I use loose parts for all activities in our classroom. I raided my dad’s workshop that had loose parts that were older than me to share with the boys and girls to use with the Hawkins scale that a friend made for us, based on Laurel Fynes recommendations. We used those loose parts for self-portraits in our art studio. We used natural loose parts…wooden cookies for number sense and the alphabet and used rocks to make story stones! The students are so creative with all of the loose part materials. The students are engaged and it amazes me the ideas and creations that they come up with! Thank you for all the wonderful workshops and ideas. I feel so privileged to have been able to attend them and have learned so much from you and Cindy, and Rose.

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  42. Thank you for your insightful and inspiring blog!
    Some of my favorite loose parts are wooden cookies, spools and buttons, crochet pieces and sea glass.

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  43. Always love your posts-the thought, reflection and practical examples are always inspiring.
    I have been using a lot more loose parts in the PD I facilitate and advocate for teachers to increasingly offer them to their students.
    Lately my favourite loose parts are buttons, rocks and glass gems

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  44. Our class children love collecting loose parts from Nature as we go for explore walks into the City park woods. We have collected , drift wood , sticks , stones and pinecones and leaves through out the year. Children have used the Nature loose parts to make nature faces, mandalas , making sounds with sticks , color sorting , counting , making Towers and houses , mud cakes and watching reflection on the mirror while following lines of pattrens My favorite are tree cookies and pieces of fabric. It inspired me to see how children tell stories using these loose parts.

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