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.


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.


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

  1. I love seeing how students interact with loose parts – how they bring in elements of literacy and math, or dramatic play and problem solving. My favourite loose parts (and ones that are a constant in our classroom throughout the year) are coloured gems. Students are always coming up with new ways to incorporate them into their play!


  2. Natural objects are great for loose parts, the children love filling their pockets with small rocks, sticks, and even snowballs when are playing outside.

    Lately in class they have been building with pieces of styrofoam insulation left over from a construction project on our school’s roof. They are also enjoying building with Popsicle sticks, glue and 1/2 inch wooden cubes from Dollarama. Pieces of flexible wire are also great for bending, holding together other loose parts or just creating.

    Plastic beer cups, of all things, have been popular lately too. They have been making goggles, taping on handles to make tea cups and cutting out the bottoms to make basketball hoops. There is no end to children’s creativity!


  3. At our Nature PlaySpace, I love adding unexpected treasures to be found by children as they explore looking for loose parts. A gathering of interesting rocks in a moss lined basket, sticks gnawed by beavers arranged in a line by the stream, pine cones chewed by squirrels along with some interesting flying squirrel nuts. Not only do I delight in watching there creative minds think of ways to incorporate their findings, it provides me with opportunities to introduce them to the world around them with some cool facts about things living in their community.


  4. My favourite loose parts are buttons and shells which can be collected anywhere! My students have also enjoyed pvc pipes and tubes collected from a plumber. A group of boys used them as drum sticks and created a band and their song was “the 5 little pipes.” i was blown away by the imagination and creativtty from loose parts


  5. Recently we’ve used our hammer and peg board with elastics for loose parts exploration. My 2 year old like to stretch hair elastics over the pegs. Amazing to watch her focus and precision develop.


  6. My favourite loose parts are things found in nature. I love collecting stones, beach glass and drift wood from Lake Huron. I collect acorns, chestnuts and pine cones from my neighbourhood.


  7. This was an informative, thought provoking post. I enjoy reading all the comments as well as they inspire new ideas! We see a lot of children enjoying metal loose parts such as cans, nuts&bolts, old springs and wires, taken-apart electronics, wheels, etc. sometimes they are used for building, sometimes for art and when we add heavy duty magnets, the possibilities are endless!


  8. I have so many favourite loose parts. Tree cookies, wooden spools and coloured gems would have to be at the top of my list… infinite possibilities and combinations!!


  9. I just love corks as loose parts. They are so versatile. There are slightly different shapes and sizes, and most “retired” corks have images, letters and numbers that can be used for sorting (and might even provide the spark for who knows what!) During dramatic play corks quickly become food, tickets or cars, and might be lined up to create a road or path. (One year, students continually used them in their ‘year round’ ice cream shop as sprinkles and various toppings.) They might become trees or facial features in representational artwork. Corks are superb for exploring the concepts of sinking and floating, and are perfect for building boats that can carry heavy or light objects. They roll, and with great concentration can be stacked or incorporated into structures built with other materials. I could go on forever, but the best is when students surprise me with yet another new way to use those wonderful corks!


  10. Our favourite loose parts are usually reclaimed materials – plastic bottle caps in particular! We’ve been collecting them for a while and have sorted them by colour in glass jars.


  11. Love the post! Thank you for always inspiring and motivating!! Our favourite loose parts are rocks, marker lids, shells and buttons. Our children use them all the time. Sometimes these loose parts are food items and sometimes they are part of an art work. Lots of possibilities! You can find them in beach, dollar stores, ask parents for donations or from thrift stores.



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