Tag Archives: Loose parts

Free & Loose

I planned to write a post first thing this morning before the children arrived but somebody desperately needed attention and so I abandoned my computer and paperwork.  Seriously – who could resist?

So now I have to spend my evening at the computer and hope that cat doesn’t show up again. 🙂

I’m an advocate of loose parts but I also need to be organized and sometimes those two things collide.  In the gravel area of the yard there are sticks and pipes, pinecones and pieces of bark, scraps of wood and other miscellaneous things.

Toys and other equipment are stored in bins in the deck box or the shed and brought out when needed.  The loose parts are always out – loose – hence the name.  This ever-changing supply of random items is strewn about the yard and sometimes makes it difficult to walk.

I find myself wandering around making arbitrary piles of unused things to get them out of the way and create walkways. I can’t really ask the children to ‘clean up’ because this stuff doesn’t have a spot where it belongs and besides, the mess is not bothering them.

Then, last weekend, as we were working on various projects outside my husband asks ‘What are you going to do with this?’ Oooh, I had forgotten about ‘that’ – A modular plastic cube thing that we picked up at the last Giveaway Weekend event.  I think it was supposed to be a desk at one time but I just thought the cubes might come in handy for something, sometime.  Until I could of a good use we just put them in the crawlspace and they’ve been there all winter.  Until now when I did this;

I don’t expect the children to keep it all neat and organized like this.  They will be free to move the pieces around the yard as they please.  Build with them. Dig with them. Whatever they need or want them for. But we can also put them somewhere when they are not being used and that will make me happy.  And maybe the children will like it too because the next time they are working on a building project and someone says ‘We need another small pipe’ they’ll know where to look first.

Interestingly though, when the children went out on Monday, the squeal and exclamation “Come. Look what happened – it’s amazing!” didn’t refer to my weekend organization.  It was in reference to the growth of the native plants on the hill.

Yes, Mother Nature is amazing.  That’s why we help her out by recycling. This weekend is another Giveaway Weekend.  I wonder what we might find.

A Taste of Summer

Yesterday none of the school age children had classes so everyone was here for the full day and the weather was amazing.  The weather channel reported a high of 17° C but with the sunshine the thermometer in my back yard registered 22° C – beautiful. We spent all morning outside.

As usual there was a lot of ‘cooking’ going on since collecting items and making concoctions are very popular activities.  It was one of those days that I wish I had brought the video camera out since the ‘action’ is missing from the still photos.  The camera and I both have slow reaction times so what shows up in the pictures isn’t always what I was trying to capture. I spent a considerable amount of time observing the process involved in adding ingredients to this pot.

Fine motor skills were enhanced as pebbles were dropped one by one through the tube and into the pot.  It took more trial and error and a little frustration to discover why the ones placed in the bottom of the tube didn’t come out the top.

I miss the liquid component that we had in the concoctions this spring as the snow melted. I’m working on a plan to relocate one of the rain barrels to the gravel area so we can have a regular water supply.  I just have to move a couple of the big planters first.  Unfortunately I know from experience that the only thing harder than lifting them is sliding them through pea gravel and creating massive ridges. 🙂

While we were out in the yard we cleaned up the garden area a little and picked some weeds.  We found some plants that we couldn’t identify – probably weeds since there shouldn’t be any perennials planted here – but we thought were pretty so we left them to grow more. On the hill the Yarrow and the Giant Hyssop are beginning to sprout.  I am so excited that they seem to be off to a great start.  I’ve managed to kill off many other plants even though I’d been told that they could survive in difficult situations.  Now I’m a believer in the power of native plants. Of course we also engaged in some great gross motor activities outside too.  Running and jumping, ball games, hide and seek and tag.  My son joined us for a while and practiced some more Parkour moves and balance games.  While he tried to balancing on a piece of pipe one of the preschoolers observed and then modified the activity to suit his comfort level. Today it is raining and there is a winter storm warning.  Some of the highways have been closed due to ice and snow.  We will remain optimistic.  We have had a taste of summer and we know it will be here – eventually.

Hide & Seek

We don’t play ‘real’ Hide & Seek in my house – you know, the kind where the children hide and whoever is ‘it’ has to find them etc.  Mostly this is because I consider it to be an outdoor game like tag and in order to play it in my house I’d have a rule list that would be too extensive to remember.  Also, the children don’t think there are any ‘good’ hiding spots – I know of some but I won’t tell them where they are.

However, we do have a popular version of Hide & Seek that we play often.  It originated around Easter many years ago when I added little plastic Easter eggs to one of the loose parts bins and the children used them for Easter egg hunts.  They devised their own rules and the cooperation and imagination they demonstrated was amazing.

They were somewhat disappointed when the eggs went back into storage and something else was brought out.  They were not dissuaded though.  They found other small items to use and modified the game accordingly.  Since then not a week goes by without someone suggesting a game of “Hide the …(insert name of chosen items here)” and everyone participates.

Sometimes they play a shell type game where one child hides a smaller item – like a block – under one of several inverted bowls or cups and then the other children try to find it.

Each Spring I bring out the eggs again – not too early or for too long or the excitement of egg hunting might wear off.  This year I brought them out at the beginning of April and I did something a little different.  Instead of just putting the eggs loose in a bin, I put them in Styrofoam egg cartons – I currently have no infants enrolled so I didn’t need to be concerned about the cartons getting chewed on.

I’m not sure if it was the addition of the egg cartons or the developmental changes that the children have experienced in the past year but the plastic egg play is very different.

Interestingly, some of the children still like to hide the eggs but no one will look for them.  Seriously, I’m getting tired of trying to located missing eggs!  There should be 36 of them.  We know because the children like to sort and arrange them by color in the cartons and if there is one missing it wrecks the pattern.

They also like to cook with the eggs,

And have picnics, or use them as cargo for their crane.

Basically any activity other than hunting for them! I don’t get it, but as long as they are having fun that’s OK.

Spring Break

Today is the last day of Spring Break.  We didn’t manage to get out for a field trip this week but we’ve had plenty of fun and as usual we’ve been spending a lot of time outside.

We have decorated the snow to add some color to the yard.

We learned some new methods to help us decide who was going to be ‘it’ when we played tag.

We found a frozen puddle that we just had to break open.

And then we made soup by adding ‘meat’ (pieces of bark), beans that we found hanging on the trellis, and various dried ‘herbs’ that we found around the yard.

We discovered ‘salt’ and became skilled at mining and processing it so we could add it to our soup.

We dug a hole in the gravel and it magically filled with ‘hot chocolate’ so we had to add some ‘mint leaves’ and ‘marshmallows’ which melted instantly.

And after a long cold winter there is something really special about spending hours outside and feeling the warmth of the sun on a snowy spring day.

We’re disappointed that we’ll back to the school schedule next week.  We wish we had more time together.


Lacing is an activity that the children enjoy and it is great for hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills. I’ve never purchased commercial lacing cards but over the years I’ve made a variety of different ones.  Most cardboard or paper ones don’t last long but they’re cheap and easy to make.

I have some plastic ones that I made from old lids that have lasted for many years and the children don’t seem to mind that they are all yellow circles.  There are some that I made from foam stars and cardboard tubes too.  During my recent sunroom reorganization I found some saved items that I had forgotten about and I decided they might be good for lacing.Intricate detail demonstrates exceptional dexterity even from the youngest child.

But it is more than just developing motor skills – as always there is also some drama

Dancing with the stars
An Electrician doing wiring

Even when they are not particularly interested in lacing they are still engaged – sorting and counting laces and shapes.  Stacking and balancing

an experiment that led to the creation of a wind mill when they discovered that they could blow on the stack and the top piece would spin.

Math and science!

Wonderful initiative that couldn’t have occurred if I had insisted that lacing toys be used ‘correctly’.  So much learning packed into one simple activity.


Twisty Things

A few weeks ago I was browsing at one of my favourite stores – Princess Auto – which carries a unique selection of surplus items.  I don’t go there with anything particular in mind but rather I go to explore – to find interesting items that I can add as loose parts in the play room.

Certainly ‘surplus’ items could be construed as unpopular or ostracized but really it depends on how you look at them.  I tend to peruse the aisles and examine the items that look interesting, unusual, or distinctive.  I try to imagine what the children would do if they found this particular item.  I don’t read the packages until after I have played with the item that way my investigation isn’t influenced by someone else’s interpretation of what the item is intended to be.

On my latest trip to explore I found these ‘twisty things’ – honestly I don’t remember what they were actually called but they were essentially foam wrapped wire meant to be use to gather cords and other loose items on a worksite.  They came in various colors and sizes but I chose the smallest ones because there were four in the package and brown because it’s an earth tone and that’s always my preference.

So, what have the children been doing with these new items?  Well, they’ve been used as drum sticks, magic wands, batons, and of course various weapons which are acceptable as long as they are not used to hurt others.  They’ve been used as leashes, headbands, jewellery and other accessories during dramatic play activities.

I most enjoyed the creativity displayed when the twisty things were used as tools; extended drill bits in both the power and the hand drill, clamps, and interestingly, handles to gather together other loose parts (the manufacturers intended use).

The children have tried to build with them, weaving several of them together to make furniture such as a table, chair or bed – we would need many more twisty things for this to be a successful activity.  Likewise, forming letters has also been popular but there are not enough to complete many words.

As with any loose parts in the hands of children these items are as limitless as their imaginations.


I have far more toys than our play space could contain so I rotate the toys in and out of the room regularly.  I generally don’t tell the children about the changes because the ‘Hey, look what I found’ reactions are one of the highlights of my day.

Certainly it is noticeable when I put away the blocks and put the train set in the basket instead or replace the farm animals with some from the jungle.  However, some of the changes are more subtle – the square I found at the hardware store and placed in the tool belt or the empty container from yesterday’s snack that is now on the shelf in the housekeeping area.

More interesting than the children’s initial reaction is the way the new discovery can change an old game.  Such was the case this week when the children found the new book.  Actually, it is not that new – the weekly planner book was donated by one of the parents and has been sitting on the shelf with the cookbooks and photo album for a couple weeks already but no one had noticed it.

When they did, everything changed.  It is amazing how one small item can have such a major impact on the group.  Cooking and serving food is a popular dramatic play activity here and often involves packing lunches and heading off to school/work – an activity they are all familiar with.

With the addition of the new book there was no “I want it first” or “when is it my turn” like there sometimes is when a new ‘one-of-a-kind’ item is added.  Instead, it was as if the entire group of eight children suddenly had the same idea.  With a ten year difference between the oldest and the youngest this is an amazing occurrence.

The book was the resource that connected all the intricate details of their new restaurant.  Some children quickly donned dress-up clothes and phoned to make dining reservations.  Others began planning the menu and cooking meals.

Along the way there were several imaginary incidents – a broken pipe, a kitchen fire.  A quick change restaurant patron was suddenly a plumber or a firefighter.  They even had an organized escape plan to get everyone out of the restaurant safely!

All I did was add a book and sit back to wait and watch.  The best days are the ones when they don’t really need me at all.