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 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.

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two children making mud pies on a table structure built of outlast blocks and planks

Celebrating mud

Children seem to be magnetically drawn to water and dirt. From their perspective, the activities that result in the messiest clothes are the activities which are the most fun!

“It’s okay for children to get dirty,” writes Michelle Rupiper. “In fact, when you look at the benefits children gain from mud play, it’s not just okay, it’s important.” Science now shows that certain bacteria present in soil are very beneficial to children and can aid in mental health and the prevention of allergies. In addition, the open-ended, malleable properties of mud make it an excellent learning material – encouraging the development of both cognitive and social skills. Read more

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P.S. International Mud Day is 29 June!

children playing in the mud

Put the pencil down
and go outside

All children need nature. Pedagogical pioneers have proven it time and again. Observe a young baby in his pram under a tree; he loves to watch the leaves waving in the wind. Watch any toddler collect pebbles, sticks or pinecones. Children with special needs are no exception.
In her article, Kathryn Solly explains how much children benefit from being outdoors. "The emotional nurturing ‘aah’ and ‘ugh’ experiences may not all be pleasant but link better to indoor learning being based upon concrete experience, which later become the children’s own narrative stories."
Read the article and consider signing up for Kathryn Solly's two-day training course for EY leaders/managers in November.

Wood chips: an under-appreciated resource

Wood chips are a great versatile resource. You can spread them over a corner of your garden for children to experience a different tactile surface for walking and jumping. You can make an outdoor sensory area of wood chips bordered by logs, with heaps of seashells and pieces of old brick or rocks, where children can pursue their imagination in peace.

If your chip pile is deep, you will see total large-motor involvement and role play. Some children will be digging and transporting, others will be cooking and stirring... They will happily return to this activity day after day, and it will only deepen and intensify over time. Meanwhile, there's that tangy scent and connection with nature. 

Best of all you shouldn't have to buy them. If you don't have a tree-surgeon friend, you can always contact the road-works people. What a fabulous resource for free!

Unhurried time

Unhurried time

If I could re-live my years with children, I would slow way down. I’d allow more unstructured time in the garden to experience the breeze, feel the rough bark of a tree or the smooth roundness of a pebble, to ponder little insects in the grass, to notice the birds or to tread in squelchy mud.

I’d allow ample time when coming indoors to practice those crucial skills of taking off Wellington boots, pulling a zip up and down or learning to wash hands. Such learning takes repetition and when unrushed, it is fun and deeply satisfying.

The essence of working with children is experiencing life through their eyes. So much to feel, see, hear, try to understand – and so many life lessons to grasp! And perhaps we learn more from them than they learn from us.

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