School is back in session. Even despite our uncertain post-Covid world, some things stay the same. Summer’s change to autumn is in the air, and we feel fall’s promise of new beginnings and discoveries. It was in a preschool that I discovered play with loose parts, the early education practice of giving children authentic, open-ended, loose objects without a predetermined play purpose. When I implemented that practice at home, I saw how my daughter’s creativity and independence blossomed when she, and not the toy, decided what something would be. I learned to pay attention to her unique behavior for exploring the world—her schema—and provided her with loose parts that complemented how she naturally learns through play.
Now that she is school-aged, she is learning such subjects as mathematics and science and language and music. Some teachers use loose parts to illustrate concepts, like piles of sticks to demonstrate addition, or dirt to show changing properties. Other teachers use videos and presentations. By nature, virtual learning relies on the impalpable over the tactile. In either situation, we use play with loose parts at home to reinforce what our daughter learns in class. Loose parts provide something that can be felt and moved, and kids learn better when their senses and bodies are involved in the learning. Additionally, because loose parts can be manipulated so freely by the children, they are fun. They naturally hold a child’s interest.
Here are three examples of how we use loose parts in the home to reinforce learned concepts.
Mathematics: “What is 6 + 6 + 6?” “If I’m a hundred, how old will you be?” These are examples of questions I get from my daughter. To answer such questions I frequently use loose parts like rocks, beads, and even sugar packets if we are in a restaurant. In using diverse, every-day objects, I also show that numbers impact everything in our world; they are not mere figures on a page.
Music theory: Five lines and four dots on a piece of paper are not particularly interesting. Five lines and four actual cookies: much more interesting. To teach my child how to read music I use objects she can taste, touch, see, and smell, in addition to the notes that she can hear. When she is using real objects to make a staff, like ribbons or magnets, she is much more involved in the learning and requests to play these “games” again and again.
Language: My daughter is learning Chinese, but she doesn’t yet have the hand coordination to write the characters. Instead, we work on recognizing the characters by building them with loose parts. When possible, we use loose parts that represent the character. Since building is fun, she is also motivated to do it again and again, thereby providing the repetition she needs to absorb the language.
I hope these examples inspire other ideas for how you can use loose parts with your child. In a time when much learning has gone online or digital, loose parts can provide sensory stimulation and appeal to how children naturally learn. And ultimately, play with loose parts is enjoyable, and children learn when they play.