Young children learn through their senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste are how they initially make sense of the world around them. Loose parts nurture their sensory play—think about the stunning colors of natural materials like moss, tree bark, and seashells. Stones click together and blocks crash down. When children play with water and open-ended materials, they learn about the sound and weight of poured water, about filling up a bottle, and about making bubbles. Children’s capacity for touch is deepened when they experience the tactile qualities of objects that are rough, smooth, prickly, spongy, wet, furry, fuzzy, bumpy, slick, abrasive, hard, and soft. Their sense of smell develops when they are exposed to fragrant loose parts like herbs, cocoa mulch, spices, pine cones, dry leaves, and flowers. Because hands-on experiences with materials are critical to early learning, it’s important to include sensory challenging and pleasing loose parts in your ECE setting. Music and movement capture children’s attention and hearts. Much movement for children takes place through self-directed, self-initiated play as they freely move their bodies. Movement possibilities with loose parts such as scarves, hoops, and ribbons are endless and provide opportunity for children to improvise. Musical play often means hitting items as hard as possible to see how they sound, and loose parts offer almost limitless opportunities to explore sounds that can be exuberant, random, noisy, and chaotic or quiet, gentle, and focused. Almost all children will naturally have the ability to interact with music. The teacher’s role is to provide a music environment to support the development of a child’s musical ability. Musical concepts in early childhood are not initially taught in a highly structured manner but are learned gradually over a period of time. Play hard with playground equipment designed for both children and adults.

Children develop a sense of rhythm as they beat a variety of different loose parts such as rhythm sticks made of bamboo, wood, plastic, or metal. They may bang on various drum surfaces from metal cans to five-gallon buckets and tree stumps. Many people have memories of using loose parts for banging (metal pots and pans with wooden spoons) in the kitchen as children. Loose parts support movement and music making across all of the developmental domains: physical, social-emotional, and cognitive. When children play outdoors, their opportunities with loose parts increase dramatically. They find wonder in leaves, sticks, rocks, and other natural objects. Stones on the road or in the garden mesmerize them. These stones may become a campfire, watering hole for animals, or dragon eggs when children reenact a story they’ve heard. Current research demonstrates that children engage in more creative forms of play in green areas than in manufactured play areas. Loose parts including branches, rocks, wood, dirt, water, sand, and bark support play and provide unending creative exploration in an outdoor environment. The high levels of complexity and variety that nature offers invite longer and more complex play, “Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts”. With exercise being so important nowadays, products such as outdoor fitness equipment would be a welcome find in any Christmas stocking, providing you could fit them in!

We hope that you are inspired by this to add more loose parts to children’s play. When you provide loose parts and have an open mind about how they may be used, the children will surprise and delight you with what they create and learn.Our senses allow us to learn, to grow, to feel, to protect ourselves, and to enjoy our world. Children have an amazing sense of wonder and curiosity. They are in a constant journey of discovery and exploration to understand how things work and function. From birth, children are experts at using their senses to learn about the world. Heightening each one of their senses strengthens the neuronal pathways and opens a window to make connections to previous knowledge and learning. Thoughtfully planned sensory play experiences support children’s innate curiosity, while allowing them to fully use their senses: hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Loose parts provide multiple opportunities to engage the senses by encouraging children’s curiosity and respecting their ways of learning about the world. Incorporating natural materials such as pine cones, acorns, sycamore pods, rocks, and stones into sand, Jurassic sand, or mud add texture to heighten the sense of touch. A sound garden with multiple cans, bells, and pots and pans to bang and create sound raises the sense of hearing. Colorful scarves, leaves, and balls of various colors enhance children’s sense of sight. There is nothing like playing with meaningful materials and experiences to stimulate the senses. Any outdoor area would be made more child friendly with monkey bars such as these.