Digger Deeper into Loose Parts Part 1

WOW- what an amazing conference! I am at the ILASCD PreK/K Conference and have so far met people from 6 different states. The news is definitely spreading that this is an absolutely fabulous conference and teachers fly in to attend it!!Thank you so much to all of the participants in my morning session on Loose Parts who provided me with such positive, specific feedback. A huge shout out to an awesome teacher on our PreK team who presented with me.As I promised in my last post, we will dig deeper into multiple ways to use loose parts.First idea: Build the Identity of Students using Loose Parts

Children create an image of themselves using loose parts. This process should take at least a week or two. It is an in-depth process of looking at themselves in a mirror and looking at each other. They are making many decisions about what is unique and special about themselves and how they can use the loose parts to reflect that uniqueness. Students can draw multiple images of their faces prior to choosing the loose parts and can set them aside prior to gluing to the pieces to reflect if those pieces truly reflect what they want to portray. The identity faces are hung in one location with a conversation about how the unique qualities of each student add to our classroom community and we are displayed together since we are a classroom family. A photo of the student and their name should be proudly displayed next to their portrait.

Loose Parts Update 2023

So excited to be a part of the ILASCD (Illinois Association of Supervision, Curriculum and Development) annual PreK/K Conference in March of 2023. This is an AMAZING conference!

This year, one of the topics in which I will be speaking, is that of Loose Parts.

The key points being shared include…

Using loose parts for…

Building student’s sense of identity

Promoting collaboration and communication

Encouraging children to wonder, test, and explore their ideas

Providing provocations to guide student’s wonderings

Allowing for free, creative expression

Ideas for storage, clean up, and resources will be shared as well. More posts with specifics on each way to use loose parts will be coming soon.

Learning at Home: Expanding Children’s Dramatic Play with Props

In the April 1 post, we discussed all of the amazing benefits of dramatic play. Dramatic play is SO critical to young children’s growth and development that I am going to recap one of the key benefits here:

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Our goal is to help our children deepen their play experiences to engage in more complex play:

  • Plans elaborate themes
  • Play more than one role in the play scenario
  • Uses props symbolically (a block becomes a telephone, a pool noodle becomes a fire hose, a tree branch cut into 1/2 inch rounds become pancakes or cookie)
  • The play scenario takes play over multiple days
  • Incorporates the vocabulary of the scenario and incorporates ideas from books that have been read to him/her

When your child begins a play scenario and plays it over a couple of days (cooking in the kitchen, baking, grocery store, restaurant, vet, doctor, firefighter, traveling to space, taking care of babies, auto shop, hairdresser, school), begin to deepen the experience for him/her with additional props to help him/her delve into more complex play. Provide suggestions as you become a partner in the play but do not take over- let your child guide and lead you through the scenario.


Deepening Children’s Play by Adding Props
ScenarioIdeas for additional props to add to expand the play
Orthopedic Doctor
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Encourage the child to take on the role of the engineer who designs the equipment for rehabilitation (crutches, walker, sling, cast) Provide the child with stuff from a recycle bin (boxes, oatmeal containers, cardboard tubes, lids) and allow him/her to design OR encourage the child to take on the role of the physical therapist or occupational therapist and add in props such as icepacks, heat pads, exercise ball, weights, step stool
Auto Shop
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Encourage the child to begin to take calls from drivers that are stranded on the road- that cannot get into the shop for repairs and add props such as a big box to make a tow truck, empty, clean gas can, play tools, appointment sheet for phone numbers, play cell phone
Home Living
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If the child likes to engage in a lot of pretend cooking expand the utensils available by adding chopsticks, tongs, materials for cake decorating, wok, pie pan: then observe and notice- what direction is the child taking the play, if he/she starts decorating cakes, then you can begin weaving in play about decorating for weddings or birthdays, taking orders and selling the cakes, etc. OR Remove all plastic play food and add vase gems, dice, plastic or foam alphabet letters, building blocks, wood cookies (tree branches cut into round disks), and have fun observing the child’s creativity as the items become all kinds of different food. (remember to add items that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level so that they do not become a choking hazard.)
journeyintoearlychildhood.com Expanding Children’s Play with Additional Props

Learning at Home: Fine Motor FUN

YES, helping your child develop his/her fine motor skills can be fun!! Avoid the temptation to succumb to the lure of brightly colored, cute picture worksheets.

Especially when it comes to fine motor development, pushing a child too early to complete paper/pencil tasks is not better. Parents can help provide a strong foundation for later writing by having lots of fine motor fun now.

Quick, easy ideas that use household items:

  1. Cut a small hole in the lid of an empty coffee can or oatmeal container. Decorate the container to be a monster or an animal. Cut yarn or straws into small pieces and then “feed” the monster/animal. OR cut a slit in an old tennis ball, squeeze it open and “feed” it.
  2. Using tongs, move small items such as cotton balls, tissue, pom-poms, noodles from one container to another. OR by looking at the group of items, estimate how many each bowl will have if you share them. Place one at a time in a set amount of bowls and count how many are in each bowl.

    Fine Motor Fun with Toilet Paper Tubes and Straws
  1. Build a tower with cardboard toilet paper tubes, a hole punch, and straws or pipe cleaners. Make holes in the toilet paper tube and connect them with the straw.




Fine Motor Fun with Old Tennis Racquets and String/Yarn/Ribbon

5. Weave ribbon in and out of an old bike wheel, old tennis racquet, etc.



Fine Motor Fun with Nuts and Bolts

  1. Match nuts and bolts and screw them together.



6. Cut letters and numbers from empty food containers. Sort them in lots of different ways. (Learning at Home: Sorting Letters and Numbers Free Download at journeyintoearlychildhood.com)learning at home sorting letters journeyintoearlychildhood.com

To read more about why worksheets are not the best learning tool for young learners, read my blog posts:

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part I

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part II

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part III


Learning at Home Fine Motor Fun journeyintoearlychildhood

Download a Printable Version…


Intentionally Designed Construction Center: Items to Add to Block Center Based for Specific Objectives

Intentionally Designed Block/Construction Center:intentionally designed thumbnail

Block play can be used to challenge, scaffold, and

extend children’s learning through the intentional

placement of additional accessories.

An intentionally designed block center encourages students to construct meaning of their world, to encounter problems and discover multiple solutions, to interact and share with others, to extend their creativity and to reflect on their discoveries.                                                                                                                    -D. Honegger

Examples to intentionally design the block/construction center to incorporate academic standards: (this is just a sample…)

Intentionally Designed Block Play for Life Sciences journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Life science:

artificial plants, plastic animals, felt and/or material, and accessories to build habitats for the animals

Intentionally Designed Block Play for Geography journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Geography in Block Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Geography Provocations in Construction Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com




Geography: maps, road signs or the materials to make road signs, shower curtain laid out with grids, small wooden buildings or even individual cleaned out milk cartons to become buildings, Familiar signs, such as “One Way,” “School Crossing,” “Bus Stop”, “STOP”, tongue depressors for making fences, door and dresser knobs, small vehicles

natural elements
Intentionally Designed Block Play with Natural Elements journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Earth and environment: natural materials such as acorns, shells, rocks, pinecones, wood cookies, stumps, and twigs. Stumps are great for encouraging vertical building.

Provocations and FARMS Bundle STEAM and Dramatic Play (contains additional pieces including Farmer’s Market documents besides the provocations linked above)

Intentionally Designed Block Play Incorporating Visual Arts journeyintoearlychildhood.com


Visual Arts: clipboard with markers, colored pencils to add designs to the structures and/or to make a “blueprint” or map of the structure.geometry






Geometry: 3D shapes (which rolls the best on a ramp- a cube, a sphere, a cone, a cylinder, etc.), tin cans, flat pieces such as a ceiling fan blade, long sticks (discuss parallel, perpendicular, diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines), tile or linoleum samples, PCV pipes. canning jar lids

Intentionally Designed Block Center Physical Science journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Physical science: ramps, balance scales, pulleys, mirrors and pipes, buckets, magnets

Engineering: long flat pieces such as ceiling fan blades or pieces of plywood for building bridges, wooden spools, tin cans, hard cardboard toilet paper tubes, small cubes, knobs, candlestick holders

Provocations and STEAM Challenges: BRIDGES

Intentionally Designed Block Play Wide Range of Cognitive Skills journeyintoearlychildhood.com





Wide Range of Cognitive and Developmental Skills: hard hats, food containers, dollhouse people, steering wheel and any other materials that will encourage dramatic play within blocks to move students building, design, and play to a more complex level

Four and five-year-old children are very capable and independent. If manila and colored construction paper, a few crayons, scissors, masking tape, and string are always available in or near the block corner, the children will begin to make their own signs and draw trees, people, and other things they need, thereby using their imagination in a constructive, purposeful way.

  • Note: The above lists are simply suggestions. Obviously, no teacher will ever put out all these accessories at once. However, the larger your supply of odds and ends, the better you will be able to help the children in the block corner when they begin to need accessories for specific purposes.

intentionally designed block play

Natural Elements in Play

How do you add natural elements in the classroom? Share your ideas and pictures:

What are your additional thoughts about why it is critical that we add natural elements into the classroom?

“Not only do natural materials create a more visually appealing space, but they serve the purpose of fostering a connection to the natural world, which is especially important in more urban schools where exposure to nature is often quite limited. So not only do you want to switch out your plastics, but also offer actual items from nature as play materials, like pine cones, leaves, dried flower, tree slices, etc. for creative play and exploration. The more time children spend around these materials, the more comfortable they are with them and come to prefer them over the unsustainable, non-environmentally-friendly plastics.
natural elements
Basic values are being built and shaped here, however subtle they might be. We need our next generation of students to have a deeper connection to and appreciation for the natural world so that they will help preserve it rather than continue to destroy it the way past and present generations (often unintentionally) have.”