A project encouraging the use of loose parts in children’s play has led to practitioners at Townhouse Private Day Nursery in Stoke-on-Trent changing the way they resource the nursery and interact with the children.
Practitioner Laura Coleman read about loose parts and was so inspired by the infinite play opportunities gained from providing children with a range of open-ended objects and materials that she encouraged manager Alison Fisher to undertake training with her.
They cascaded their knowledge to the rest of the team and set a challenge to:
- find out more about loose parts play in the early years
- enhance their environment with open-ended resources
- organise a workshop for parents
- evaluate the impact of loose parts play on children’s development
- feed back their findings and next steps to the team.
‘The response from the staff team was incredible,’ says Ms Fisher. ‘We delivered team training through video clips of children engaging with loose parts and interactive tasks, including challenging staff to create something in five minutes to demonstrate how open-ended the resources are.’
Staff from the baby, toddler and pre-school rooms were then given a £30 budget and challenged to use their imaginations to source a variety of open-ended resources.
They scoured charity shops, local Facebook pages, engaged parents and visited a scrapstore, with some fantastic results.
Baby Room (0-22 months)
Ms Fisher feels it took staff some time to see how the new resources could be used with the youngest children, but they introduced treasure baskets and sensory trays. Thought was given to objects that would entice the babies and be safe for them to touch, ‘mouth’ and explore, including a range of tactile objects from large curtain rings and wooden mug stands to sponges, brush heads and boxes.
The aim of these resources was to encourage the children to explore the different textures, to give them a range of sensory experiences. The play also encouraged the babies’ fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. Staff gave thought to providing loose parts that enabled the babies to discover the properties of materials, such as the bendy bristles on the brush heads or the cool, smooth surface of the metal curtain rings.
‘Staff then noticed how the young babies liked to reach for and grasp the objects, hold and explore the different textures or listen to the sounds they made when they were banged together,’ Ms Fisher says.
The babies were given the freedom to use their play with the objects wherever they chose, and staff would explore alongside them, such as modelling hanging the curtain rings on the mug stand or banging metal objects together to make a clanging sound, compared with the duller sound of wooden objects.
Toddler Room (22 months to 3 years old)
Natural materials such as pine cones and pebbles were provided along with ribbons and lengths of fabric. Staff also provided boxes, tubs and baskets to fill and carry.
Staff were able to let the toddlers be in control of their enquiries. Children were interested in the cause and effect of the objects, such as what would happen if they put sponges in water, with trial and error being used as they experimented.
Simply enhancing the environment with stones and a length of blue material motivated three older boys to make a river. ‘They were heavily engaged in their play for around 20 minutes, pretending there was a shark and trying to capture it with a net they made out of a box,’ recalls Ms Fisher.
‘The whole dynamic in the room changed. Children became much more engaged because of the open-ended variety of the materials. They were more settled and staff could easily observe children using many of the characteristics of effective learning, such as problem-solving and perseverance.’
Pre-school Room (3 to 5 years old)
Expressive art and design was a particular area of focus with this cohort so staff provided lots of picture frames and small loose parts to create transient art. Staff introduced the abstract work of Wassily Kandinsky and provided a range of circular parts, from cork coasters and wooden curtain rings to metal nuts and plastic buttons.
‘The children used the loose parts to create artwork inspired by Kandinsky or follow their own creative paths,’ says Ms Fisher. Staff then introduced the ChatterPix app, which enabled them to record their voices and bring their art to life.
‘We could see the introduction of loose parts also encouraged children in various areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),’ Ms Fisher says. The investigations encouraged children’s higher-order thinking as they started to predict, question, reason and analyse.
The home corner was enhanced with sponges, brushes and wooden shapes, which children used to represent food. ‘We noticed that the home corner was utilised more, especially by boys, as they used the objects to recall their experiences from home,’ says Ms Fisher. ‘This encouraged them to talk more because it was personal to them.’
Staff collected larger items for the children to explore in the outdoor area including big cable reels, long lengths of guttering, sheets of material and tyres, which they found encouraged different and more focused exploratory play.
‘The range of large loose parts is good for construction and sand and water play,’ Ms Fisher says. ‘They help to encourage the children to engage in risky play too, enabling them to challenge themselves.’ Planks and tyres were used to make bridges and for balancing on and jumping off.
Staff observed children co-operating to position big objects, problem-solve and persevere – such as when they created a river with tin foil and cable reels, or explored how much water is needed to push an object along the guttering.
Children enjoyed using the big sheets of materials and the crates they are stored in to make dens and campsites and engage in imaginary play. ‘One child had recently flown on an aeroplane and began to talk about her experiences and use the loose parts to create a large model of a plane,’ says Ms Fisher. ‘Children joined in and recalled their own experiences of being on an aeroplane as they played going on a journey with a pilot and air stewards.’
‘There has been a real buzz around the nursery as a result of the project, it’s stretched us all,’ says Ms Fisher. ‘We feel even though we promote open-ended resources, it still took some children time to get used to loose parts. It’s also been a big learning curve for staff as they’ve learnt to step back a little more.
‘They are eager and passionate and want to be involved in the thick of the play, but they’ve learnt to see the value in being an observer and follow the direction of the children.’
It is now over a year since the initial explorations. Staff continue to change and extend the resources and have built up a good relationship with their local scrap store.
Children are more confident to access loose parts and use them as they wish. One child may use a box as a space rocket, while for another it is a container for transporting stones. ‘What one child does with a set of loose parts is completely different from another, which is the beauty of it and why we’re so passionate about it,’ says Ms Fisher.
The ChatterPix app is at https://bit.ly/2SDZ72T
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