Loose Parts Podcast
This is an awesome podcast about loose parts!!!
‘Loose Parts’ podcast on ‘Thiving Children Podcast’
10 years ago when I started my early childhood career I worked at a small centre in the coastal Tasmanian town I grew up in. We usually had around 12 children each day, it was such an intimate centre filled with so much happiness!
I worked with an educator named Teresa, who was also a family friend. I remember Teresa saying before meal times each day- ‘At meal times however much water you pour in your cup is what you need to drink because any more is wasteful’ After only a few weeks children only 2 years of age were pouring only what they wanted to drink!
I didn’t think much of it then but for some reason, I always come back to this teacher initiated suggestion. How AMAZING! If I am still thinking of this 10 years later the children that were in our care would be too! Water conservation is such an important issue in our society. In our workplace, simple examples like this can open avenues for teaching about sustainability, global warming and all about the world around us and how we can look after it!
As a Mum one of the biggest things I need to feel like my child is in the right hands is for his educators to be personal! Ask me how I am, tell me how you gave my little one the biggest cuddles to reassure him through the day, let me see a glimpse of your personality, have a joke with me, talk about my child’s learning!
Some may not agree. Whether it be because they don’t see this as professional, they feel uncomfortable consoling a visibly distressed 2-year-old or they just don’t feel comfortable having this kind of relationship with clients.
I have a hard time not getting personal. I believe if you have trusted me so wholeheartedly to keep your prized possession safe, to teach them, to encourage them to be themselves sometimes more than you have the opportunity to, then I will be personal! I too am in your position and I have found recently that those who aren’t personal simply are not as enthusiastic about their role.
I can proudly say that I have had coffee and breaky dates with some of my families (in fact I had one this morning, and my son ate the majority of Miss E’s Dad’s bacon!) this is how I establish and maintain the amazing relationships I have made with my families over the years. It is not unlikely for me to have a play date with families from work, a Mums night out or to be messaging back and forth to support them during some of the toughest times of their parenting journey.
Sometimes I doubt myself and my relationships, but today when I was adoring a centre on the Sunshine Coast whose photos and posts I have absolutely fallen in love with I came across a piece of documentation that the owner and educator had written. I was left in tears, not only because the words are so beautiful but also because this gave me reassurance that my style of educating may not be for everyone but it is definitely for me.
I can’t wait to write one of my beautiful children a letter of this depth and even more I can’t wait until my son receives one. Molly took a really sad experience in her life and turned it into a story of Harper’s growth, one that captures the amazing connection she has not only with Harper but her family as well.
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.
It wasn’t until I finished my diploma in early childhood (3 years) , completed almost 2 years of teacher registration and moved across the ditch to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory that I really truly began to understand just how beneficial and necessary reflection really is for your personal development, growth and knowledge and teaching practice.
I feel like I learn something every day about teaching in early childhood. I’ve been in early childhood going on 9 years now and I STILL have ‘holy sh**’ moments every single day! Nicola and I have worked together for 3ish years now, but we are now in the same room and going through some sort of ’24/7 mind explosion reflection craze’ where we are constantly researching, thinking, reflecting, discussing, researching… over and over and over… about our teaching practice. Late night text novels been sent, calls about Eureka moments, articles flying out of the printer and flung backward and forwards between us… We feel like our minds are in overdrive!
I have learned so much through reflection it’s like the connection between gaining knowledge and making sense of it in your mind. When I reflect I ‘SEE’ more than what I originally saw, I ‘HEAR’ more than I originally heard. I feel if you don’t reflect in enough depth about new knowledge its like you only have a superficial understanding of it or sometimes the wrong understanding. I guess reflection encourages you to research more about separate parts of what you have learned and allows you to really break it down. In early childhood we reflect on experiences, our actions, and interactions; we then analyze them and break them down. Through this process, we can see things such as children’s true interests, ways in which we can expand children’s learning and development and it helps us to truely understand why we are doing what we do and why we say what we say.
We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience…” – John Dewey
Self reflection is key, especially in the early childhood sector. I am so lucky, for the past 2.5 years I have been working along side not only a friend but a phenomenal educator who is one of those lucky few that seem to be able to educate in a way that others only dream of. With passion, with the patience of a saint, with the ability to wait and watch and ‘just know’ what experience or question will extend the children’s learning and/or development.
One of the most valuable things I have learnt from working along side Carly is to reflect. Critically reflect on EVERYTHING! Through reflecting it is only now that I am truly understanding my role as an educator.
As an educator and a parent I thought I had a good insight as to how to approach families when as a professional I felt that something may not be quite right in their child’s development or behaviour. I had always made sure that I had researched any advice I gave any family to reinforce that their child’s behaviours are age appropriate to some degree, although in other areas they may need some help from not only us as their family and educators but occasionally from outside professionals.
It never dawned on me how a parent might feel until this year.
1 in 20 children has SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). I believe that 1 of those children may be my son Leo. Leo just turned 3. Since Leo has been around 15months old nearly every time we go to the shop, out for dinner or anywhere else relatively busy we have to leave because he either runs away or becomes absolutely hysterical. Not ‘sad hysterical’ but so hysterical he can’t hear a word we are saying, can’t concentrate and then becomes violent and inconsolable until he is in his car seat where he can self-regulate, sometimes taking up to 15 minutes. Leo has a speech delay that I always put down to the multiple ear infections and grommets he had when he was younger. When Leo eats he spits mainly meat out, it didn’t click until now that it is possible that this is related.
While in Tassie for a 8 week holiday Leo developed separation anxiety, so bad that I couldn’t go to the toilet without him seeking me out. He also refused to wear shoes. I got the old ‘just make him wear them’ and ‘he’ll leave them on once he gets used to them’ from everyone and anyone. After 6 weeks of 30-minute tantrums everytime we left the house all because he couldn’t stand to wear shoes, I gave up.
My husband and I had had enough. I thought there must be something going on…parenting shouldn’t be this hard all the time, and that’s when I started researching. I found the SPD Australia website and it was like I was reading information written about Leo.
And then it dawned on me…Every single time Leo would run away or chuck a ‘tantrum’ I would label him as naughty, I would growl at him and I had even gotten to the point of asking him ‘Why? Why do you ruin every time we go out Leo? Can’t you just be good!?’
I’m not silly and I do know he is a 3-year-old boy and don’t worry Leo is mischievous as they come. But most of his big meltdowns had a pattern, they all occurred when there were differences to the environment. When we were in Tassie his environment was vastly different, every time I wasn’t there he would have a meltdown. In busy areas such as markets, water parks, restaurants, etc. He will have a melt down or run away when his room at childcare is noisy and busy he has a meltdown. When his feet are restricted by shoes he will have a meltdown. It took me a while to notice this pattern and when we returned to Darwin I asked his educators to let me know if they suspected anything. That’s when Leo started biting during meltdowns, mainly on big days when the room was very busy and loud.
Leo’s educators are the best, for me it was amazing that they had taken my concerns so seriously and followed through so promptly, I guess in a way it gave me the nudge to really follow through with this, even though I am an educator I am still a parent so I still had a few reservations; only because like every parent, through my eyes my child is ‘wonderfully perfect.’
What I wasn’t expecting was ‘the guilt.’ The guilt that for the past nearly two years I have labelled my own son as naughty, I have lost my cool with him numerous times, I have cried and cried because I got ‘the naughty kid who doesn’t listen.’ I keep thinking if I had of just looked into this sooner I could have helped him so much already; but still, we have loads of time.
It has taken me a week to write this as I have been mostly hugging my Leo Lion and looking at how ‘wonderfully perfect’ he is to me, I have been crying in guilt that I am a bad Mum for taking so long to recognise the signs and taking any chance I can to describe what SPD is to my husband and reading up on it as much as possible.
This is going to be a massive learning journey for Leo, for me, for my husband and for Leo’s educators, but one I know we can conquer together.
Over the past 2 weeks, this has made me reflect so much not only as a Mum but as an educator. I am a professional and I will continue to research any information I intend on giving any families. But I also now know that I will hug and reassure them that they are good parents when giving them any feedback relating to their child’s development because no doubt they will feel ‘the guilt’ too and if I can help them get through that then we can get through anything because ‘together we can give our children the roots to grow and the wings to fly.’
I have attached the SPD Australia web page link here if you would like to know more about Sensory Processing Disorder.
*Leo was diagnosed with SPM (Sensory Processing Modulation) which is a form of SPD on Tuesday 9th February 2017.
I saw Maria at the Early Childhood Australia Conference in Darwin last October 2016 and really enjoyed and felt inspired by her practice of Marte Meo. (What is MARTE MEO?)
I recently went looking for more information about interactions and thought of Maria’s theory. I found these awesome videos from ‘Mat Time’ by Storypark that explain some of the techniques and how Marte Meo works. It has really made me rethink (again) about how much we can further increase the quality of our everyday interactions with children to help their development and well-being. I really love the way Maria and her sister speak about children and the passion they have for this. It is the most respectful way we could interact.
I feel it is one of those core parts of being a Teacher/Educator.
Let us know your thoughts…