Nature and discovery

boy engaging in loose parts play with natural materials

The learning in loose parts

“The Lego was fought for, stringing beads spilled in anger, plastic animals broken by grabbing...as a teacher I was at my wits end with this particular group of children. They simply could not play harmoniously together,” relates Martha, an experienced preschool teacher.

 

“On a sudden inspiration I emptied all the tote pans and put the contents in storage. Then we went outside and collected natural objects to fill the pans: small rocks, twigs, acorns, pinecones, and bark. Once inside, we began constructing ‘dream houses’ using Plasticine to hold the sticks together. Soon tables, beds, and little pathways appeared. We kept the houses displayed and worked on them again and again. The old grabbing habits were gone – after all who ‘owns’ the things of nature?”

 

As Martha discovered, the best toys don’t come from a shop. Nature offers a wide assortment of loose parts that are captivatingly simple and empowering. Plus, they’re easy on the budget!

 

Although teachers have always known the great play value in natural materials, current research now validates the tremendous learning potential they offer as well. Read the article.

personal signature

child in stream with Outlast blocks building dam

Outlast block play in the mud

Spring is here and children will start heading outdoors to enjoy the rain and sunshine. What other environment offers such opportunities for creativity – and such freedom to make a mess? With Outlast blocks and a bit of imagination the possibilities are endless! Watch this.

personal signature

little girl removing or returning carry crate to its shelf

Every moment matters

Much of what occurs in a child’s day may seem trivial or monotonous from an adult’s perspective: going out, coming in; jacket on, jacket off; choosing a toy, putting it away… However, because children live intensely “in the moment”, it is precisely within the context of these seemingly ordinary routines that learning happens.

 

As early years educators we need to find ways to capture and celebrate the regular rituals in a child’s day and “turn the ordinary into the extraordinary”. To get started, try these ideas from Dr. Sandra Duncan: The power of everyday moments.

personal signature

three children playing with outlast, kitchen role play

The value of outdoor play

“Not all children attend well-equipped nurseries with exciting and challenging outdoor areas...but all early years settings should be providing outside play opportunities regardless of their facilities,” writes Sue Durant in her book Outdoor Play.

 

“Children should enjoy learning and you can help them to develop that all-important disposition to learn by providing them with an environment which they can explore, modify and use themselves." Read more.

personal signature

seaside

Summer scavenging

I have been enjoying a beautiful book, I Love Forest School by Martin Pace, owner and director of Reflections Nursery. It's full of pictures and detailed observations of children's explorations at Forest School and (a new idea to me) Beach School.

If your children don't have those opportunities, can you bring Forest School to them? Summer offers chances to collect the natural materials, be they seashells or pine cones, that enhance construction, craft or role play areas. Children and staff can help gather these resources, which then provide a springboard for discussion about where they were found, what kind of tree the pine cone grew on, or what kind of animal lived in the shell.

Even without trips to the woods, your setting can develop what Martin Pace calls 'lively connections' between indoors and out.

Hear more from Martin Pace and link to his book here.

Search or browse our learning library

Filter by topic or type