There is a variety of options for educators on how to approach children’s development. One of them is the use of loose parts, everyday materials which children can use for games, and creative thinking. The key feature of loose parts is that these materials can be of every smell, texture, shape, and purpose. Children may move them around, use in the communication process, and combine them in a variety of ways. The set of materials presented in this essay provide a beneficial learning process for babies and toddlers because their usage is organized around educational principles of belonging, well-being, engagement, and expression.
Description of Loose Parts and Anticipated Use
The loose parts considered here are a spoon, a metal pot, and a cotton handkerchief. The main advantage of this choice is that these objects have different shapes and are made from different materials. The spoon is made of wood and is quite large. The metal pot has a rounded shape and does not have a handle. The handkerchief is yellow and has colorful flower embroidery. Initially, the teacher can lay out these objects in front of the children to let them tactilely familiarize themselves with these parts. It will be better if the parents bring these items from home. The reason is that when children “explore connections between home and the early childhood program,” they feel more secured and confident in their learning (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 25). Next, it is worth verbally presenting objects to the children and allowing them to use creative experimentation to study materials. Another option is to present loose parts to children formed in a small group. This method will inevitably lead to active communication and socialization, which positively affects children’s development.
Children can use these objects in various ways, so the educator should think about possible interaction models in advance. In addition, educators need to consider that babies and toddlers will certainly use objects in different ways. With babies, there is a way to develop memory and connecting experience by asking questions about the objects and answering them (Barbre, 2013a). For example, the educator can sit near a baby and touch the spoon, saying: “Where is the spoon? Oh, here’s your spoon!”. Another way is to hit the pot with a spoon several times. It will help develop baby’s perception of sounds and will help to interest the child in playing with these objects. Lastly, the value of loose parts is that any predetermined rules are not needed. These items are safe enough, so babies can just explore these items by touching and combining them. As for toddlers, the main goal is to influence their social-emotional development positively. By playing with peers and adults, toddlers expand their circle of friends and develop their sense of personal identity (Barbre, 2013b). Therefore, an educator needs to create a situation when loose parts play the role of communicator between children. For example, an adult can create a slightly modified version of the game “Dump and Fill,” as described by Barbre (2013a, p. 340). The educator can fill the pot with water and allow children to pour the water with a spoon, having previously prepared the space for this. Although the game’s rules could sound strange, such an experience will certainly bring positive relationships with peers. Some basic ways of playing when toddlers decide how to play on their own are also possible.
Analysis through Guiding Principles
The child needs to realize that they have social connections and are a full member of society. As Ontario Ministry of Education (2014) indicates, the main expectation is “to create a sense of belonging among and between children, adults, and the world around them” (p. 24). Therefore, the usage of loose parts should create a positive secured environment where children will feel a strong connection with their caregivers. Educator’s aim is to present these items in a good-natured and warm atmosphere of friendliness. Spoon, the pot, and the handkerchief bring a cozy, homely atmosphere, making the child’s communication with peers and adults more intimate and sensual. One way to increase the relevance of loose parts for a child is to ask parents to bring these items from home. Familiar objects will create a more predictable and recognizable atmosphere for the child (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). Creating a playful situation with a baby, an adult can put the pot on a handkerchief and a spoon next to it. This will remind the child of a home meal and allow correlating the atmosphere of communication with the teacher with home communication with parents. Children of older age can form a group and play the role game where some members are chefs, and others are visitors of the restaurant. In such a communication process, children will develop positive social skills.
Psychological trauma and physical dissatisfaction during childhood can have a negative impact on later adulthood. According to statistics of Ontario’s Policy Framework for Child and Youth Mental Health, 15 to 21 percent of children in Ontario suffer from at least one mental disorder (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). There is also a tendency that a sedentary lifestyle during childhood leads to heart problems, obesity, and diabetes. An educator must help to avoid such issues by nurturing the healthy development of children. For example, caregivers can invite children to create a dance using loose parts. The spoon and the pot can be used as musical instruments and the handkerchief as an element of a dance movement. Such a pastime will be helpful for children for their physical development and will also help them have fun with peers. Babies can crawl after these objects, which develops their gross-motor skills. One of the ideas is to find identical items but in bright colors, which will help babies focus their attention and get involved in the process.
Active learning and communication are impossible without interest and engagement from children. Research shows that “children learn best when they are fully engaged in active exploration, play, and inquiry” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 35). Interest in these items can arise with a change in the space where the game takes place. For example, the educator can go with the children to the park and arrange games there. Children can collect tree leaves in a pot to make a herbarium later. One of the essential details here is the adult’s active participation in the process. The educator should pay attention to the actions and words of the children and be immersed in the process. The child will certainly feel the involvement of the adult in the process, which will give confidence and calmness. As for babies, caregivers can present loose parts to them by initiating communication through emotions. The adult can start impromptu play with the materials, smiling as they look at the toddler. This creates an emotional connection that can draw the child into play.
In the education of young children, the concept of “conversation” becomes more than just an expression of words. Children express non-verbal signals, use gestures and facial expressions (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). The critical component of loose parts’ usage is to develop skills of reciprocal communication. One way to do it is to play a game of naming objects that fit into the pot. The adult should participate in this game so that the child learns new words and learns to speak more variedly. Children will use their imagination and memory, which will positively affect their cognitive development. With babies, educator can transmit information about the subject in one-way communication. The main idea is that the adult verbally names these loose parts and tells the baby about them. The baby will soon imitate the speech of an adult, which will help develop communication skills.
The spoon, the pot, and a handkerchief have the right to be fun and useful objects for children to play and communicate. They develop a sense of belonging and well-being, have the aspects which can engage children in learning, and give ideas for fun and calming way to learn to speak and formulate thoughts. The main takeaway from this essay is that any child-safe items that an adult can find in their home can be great tools for development and learning.
Barbre, J. (2013a). Activities for responsive caregiving: Infants, toddlers, and twos. Redleaf Press.
Barbre, J. (2013b). Foundations of responsive caregiving: Infants, toddlers, and twos. Redleaf Press.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.