Play is an innate desire for children. Play is how children make sense of their world, create new theories and build upon their knowledge. Play is the essential tool we as Educators use to guide children through their development to become independent, creative and higher level thinkers who have the confidence and skills to problem solve, and learn from their mistakes. Children learn through hands on experiences and I am going to discuss how we can create engaging play experiences for children. This is a special project as I am combining Pre-K Printable Fun activities with Loose Parts from my personal collection.
why set up an invitation to play?
I love to set up inviting and beautiful invitations to play for children that are filled with wonder and curiosity. An invitation to play is simply that, an invite, a welcoming to explore the curiosities, questions, and wonderings the children or yourself may have with the items set out. There is no set directions to follow, but the materials specifically chosen with meaning and intention, provoke the children where to look but not what to do. This invitation to play using the Crow Color Cards and the Color Leaf and Tree Matching printables are combined with a variety of unique and interesting resources that provoke colors, matching, sorting, and identifying but also many opportunities to simply play with the items.
what materials do we choose?
This is such an important aspect, because the resources and materials we provide children not only add to the wonder and curiosities of the children, but also the potentialities of learning. Loose Parts are an integral part of any invitation to play I create. They are a must have! But, What are loose parts? According to Daly & Beloglovsky (2015) authors of Loose Parts, Inspiring Play in Young Children, “loose parts mean alluring, beautiful found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play” (page 3). This is a very broad definition because loose parts can be ANYTHING! Adding wood cookies, colored stones, real leaves and peg people to this Literacy and Letter Invitation to Play provides limitless opportunities for play and learning.
loose parts & sensory systems
Utilizing Loose Parts in play is wonderful because of the different textures, weights, sounds, movements, tastes, and visual stimulation they provide. We are all sensory and need sensory input, and children are developing their sensory systems. Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out of Sync Child, said, “Sensory is developmental, not learned.” Carefully choosing items that provide a variety of sensory stimulation and combining that with open-ended opportunities for play is essential for any child’s development. Loose Parts such as real leaves, sticks, wood cookies, grass, pine cones, and rocks are a wonderful way to bring the outside in and connect children with nature which is a very naturally calming sensory experience in itself.
Why make the invitation aesthetically pleasing?
Think about yourself walking into a kitchen or clothing store, or a new restaurant. How does it make you feel or react when you see a beautiful display or cozy pillows and comfy chairs with soft lights hanging from above. Our curiosity is provoked from a well thought out display of baking bowls or wine glasses that makes us have to touch and explore the item. Or in a cozy restaurant we don’t notice the time, want to stay, feel relaxed and connected with the person we are socially interacting with. Aesthetically pleasing environments that have been designed with meaning and intention are thought provoking, resulting in high engagement. This is what we want for children, and they deserve it. Children are remarkably creative, and given the right environment they will flourish and shower us with their ingenious ideas and creativity. Some of the elements I add that can make the invitation to play more visually appealing are mirrors, greenery, lights, and fabrics.
Invitation to Play with Numbers using the Counting Tree Rings from the Leaves and Trees Activity Pack combined with Loose Parts and Mirrors as the base. Adding mirrors to any invitation to play provides opportunities for self-identity, reflection, and symmetry.
where do i start & how do i collect loose parts?
These are two very common questions among Educators, and my advice is to START SIMPLE! Introduce new items slowly and through invitations to play. The children will show you the endless possibilities and you don’t have the need to go out and collect a hundred new items! If you notice in the images, I used many of the same items over to show the versatility and I also used items that were either free or relatively inexpensive. I always find a simple way to start with an invitation to play is through play dough. Children love to poke, squish, and hide all sorts of items in play dough and introducing loose parts this way is simple and easy!
To begin your collection of loose parts, find out if your city has a local reuse centre or an art junk store. These locations you typically pay a very small fee for a certain amount of weight. For example, my local reuse center I paid $5 for 10lbs of items. I created a whole loose parts shelf with all sorts of unique items for $5!! Other ways are to ask your families or community to donate items. Sometimes providing a list of specific things you are looking for can help, so you don’t receive too many unwanted items. Lastly, NATURE is filled with wonderful loose parts. Go on a nature walk and collect sticks, rocks, pine cones, bark, and other beautiful found objects outside!
Here is a list of some of my favorite loose parts:
I hope you are inspired and feel confident in creating beautiful meaningful and engaging invitations to play for the children in your program! Thank you to Melissa Solomon from Pre-K Printable Fun for asking me to write this blog post!
I am an Early Childhood Educator and very passionate about supporting and inspiring my fellow Educators. I will share my reflections and experiences about implementing my philosophy, views, and ideas into my practice.