What are Loose Parts & Open-Ended Resources
The term ‘Loose parts’ in Early Childhood is like a collection of bits and pieces that children can use to create something. We see them as things such as gems, stones, pebbles, nuts, bolts, bobbins, buttons, bottle caps and little trinkets and treasures. I would say they are a type of ‘Open-ended’ resources that we educators use to allow children to express themselves with. One of those ‘100 Languages‘.
Open-ended resources, when referred to in Early Childhood education, are resources that have multiple uses for children. They have no ‘rules’, fewer limitations and give children the freedom to create whatever they want out of them.
When children play with open-ended materials they are exposed to decision-making and problem-solving skills. When exploring the materials children can become innovators, designers, planners, explorers, artists and collaborators as they build, sort, design, manipulate, arrange and stack in a variety of different ways.
It seems to me that lots of things can be categorised as ‘loose parts’ or ‘open-ended’, but the more they look like ‘something’ of single-use or have emphasis put on their use, the harder it is for a child to use their imagination on it…
For example maybe a pencil vs a stick? a pencil is looked at as more of a drawing or writing tool. Perhaps because it is often used in a certain way and/or adults have placed limitations on its use. In the eyes of a child, a stick may not have had the same limitations place on it and is more open to their interpretation.
Open-ended resources allow children to create and express themselves based on their own interests. This often results in role-playing scenarios with peers and practising social and communication skills. This intern is teaching children how to resource and extend their own learning. This also means that they have control over their play and can fully engage in what they are doing.
I have always felt a strong pull towards the creative side of environments both in an early childhood setting and at home. I went through phases of wanting to be an interior designer or landscaper when I was young (never got there for some reason) and am still dreaming of renovating houses and gardens for a living. It’s automatic in my brain, I walk into a house, centre, car etc. and I’m redecorating it in my head, most of the time I don’t even realise I’m doing it. Anyway…. my point is that it is something I am consistently reassessing and thinking about it in my practice too. I guess I am passionate about this side of things. A few years ago I began to look deeper into the environment as the 3rd teacher practices.
About mid last year, I began looking at open-ended resources in particular and work out how I can really incorporate some of these ideas into the room and engage the 11x 4-5-year-olds I had in my class. I began by adding some glass gems, leaves, sticks and wooden branches and very quickly watched as the level of engagement in the room increase. I watched as the children were using the resources to create shapes, letters and pictures on trays and also incorporate them into their play in the home corner as food or money.
I then added sand trays, the light box and logs blocks. I observe an inspiring amount of creation happen before my eyes. I could see exactly what people mean when they say that it allows freedom and expression.
This year I am working with another passionate teacher (Nicola) and we are adding more and more to the environment as we go along. So watch this space for updates and photos.
By the way, this is all stuff I DID learn earlier in my teaching practice, but I hadn’t really been in the right frame of mind to reflect so deeply about it or focused enough on it to take it all in and extend on it. I was focused on improving other parts of my practice.
Ideas for Resources
- material cutoffs and large blanket size pieces
- coloured gems
- glass pebbles – Bunnings
- natural stones/pebbles
At the moment we have:
- Vines and leaves (Fake) (children use as trees, animal food)
- material cutoffs and big velvety pieces (capes, clothing, to make hidey holes, green velvet for grass, blue for water, rainbow glittery pieces.)
- Tuscan Path 20kg 30-50mm Budget Black Decorative Pebble Mix Tuscan Path 1kg 38 – 40mm Blue Translucent Aztec Pebbles (children use these in the home corner as food or money, also to decorate creations/sculpture word)
- Log blocks
- Shells and coral
- different sized natural containers