In my last post, I talked about the challenges teachers can fact when they first start searching for ways to introduce loose parts in their classrooms. Thinking about which materials to use and how to introduce them can be overwhelming. One good starting place is to think about one material, or one classroom area, and how adding loose parts can extend and enrich the children’s play.
Playdough is a material that easily combines with loose parts. Loose parts can be stuck into playdough, playdough can be wrapped around them, or they can be used as tools to cut, stack, and connect.
One of my favorite objects to use with playdough are plastic hair curlers. The first time I used them, I expected children to use them as rolling pins. Which they did, but they also stuck them into playdough, stuffed playdough inside them, and used them as building blocks for sculptures, often with the playdough connecting the pieces.
Craft sticks, candles, pipe cleaners, or anything else that can be poked, stuck, or pushed into playdough sparks children to think about ways to make holes, experiment with balance and height, and of course, pretend to make birthday cakes, popsicles, and all sorts of food.
Small objects like beads, buttons, and counting bears can make impressions, be covered and hidden, or simply arranged in a sturdy playdough base.
Whatever the new objects, they will encourage children to think “What can I do with this?” Which is the purpose of loose parts play – giving children the opportunity to wonder, to experiment, and to approach the activity and materials with no pre-conceived notions or expectations, so that the learning is completely about the child’s ideas, and driven by the child’s process.