Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Creativity In Outdoor Classrooms--Research Article

Just my thoughts, notes, and musings on this article linked below

In Playing withNature: Supporting Preschoolers’ Creativity in Natural Outdoor Classrooms, Kiewra and Veselack look at four factors in these space:
  • Predictable spaces
  • Ample and consistent time
  •  Open-ended materials
  • Caring, observant adults who support creative play and learning.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

15+ Ways to Find Inexpensive Loose Parts

One of the beauties of loose parts play is that the materials are often free or low cost. That's a win in my book! While I may invest in a few key seasonal or signature items, for the most part, my loose parts obsession is often very inexpensive. Here are the places I often get/find loose parts:

  • Shop your house! You probably have plenty of loose parts right where you are. Major places to look: craft supplies (fabric, ribbons, pom poms, buttons, etc.),  kitchen (stainless steel bowls, canning jar rings, silicone muffin cups, muffin tins, ice cube trays, etc.), electronics (old electronics that can be taken apart and then parts used as loose parts), containers (baskets, divided trays, old cookie containers, etc.), recyclables (clear plastic containers, lids, egg cartons, plastic packaging, boxes, etc.), garage (balls, tools, rope, nuts and bolts, washers, etc.), decorations (seasonal, potpourri, vase fillers, etc.), landscaping (rocks, mulch, sticks, etc.) 
  • Nature! Nature is a great place for loose parts and it's all locally appropriate. We typically collect fallen leaves (short term use), bark, sticks, tree cookies (cut with chop saw or chain saw), sweet gum balls, conkers or buckeyes, nuts of all kinds (especially like black walnut shells the squirrels have chewed), rocks, etc. We sometimes find something special, like a butterfly wing! Steer clear of toxic natural items, such as poison ivy and other toxic plants. Also, in the United States, most bird feathers and nests are protected so let those be. 
  • Garage Sales/Yard Sales/Boot Sales--I look for things made out of wood, baskets, gardening tools, scoops, books, bowls, arts supplies, scarves, "decor" that has many pieces, blocks, frames, etc. I find that toward the end of the last day, they really want to get things moving. My favorite find? A $5 wooden disc cupcake holder leftover from a wedding. 
  • Thrift Stores--I look for similar things as garage sales. I like to watch their seasonal collections, raid their kitchen stuff for mud kitchen and art items, and look at their games and toys. They often have half off days to make it even cheaper. I just grabbed several sorting trays. 
  • ReStore--I never quite know what to expect when I stop at ReStore. At my local one I can typically find tiles, molding (cut down for ramps or decorative elements), cabinet doors which we use as frames or signs or trays, lots of nuts and bolts and other metal items, a sign painted "Art", letters, fake flowers, and much more! 
  • Creative Reuse Stores--We do not have one of these locally, but use them if you have them near or plan on visiting one when you travel. Here is a list of many. I love what Treasures4Teachers does in Tempe.  I went to one years ago 
  • Dollar Stores--I look for seasonal items, rocks, glass pebbles, felt pieces, containers, tongs, trays, etc. I often check the seasonal section (whatever holiday stuff), the kids toys (bugs?), party supplies (clear colored shot glasses, tongs, containers), and the kitchen area (funnels, mashers, etc.). In other countries, pound or 100yen shops may have similar products. 
  • Craft Stores--Stores such as Michael's and Hobby Lobby will have table scatter, seasonal items, peg people, wooden cutouts, glass pebbles, shells, rocks, etc. I check the clearance and after holiday sales as well as using a coupon to get a large percentage off. I also often buy clay there. They often have a large bag of wooden odds and ends for inexpensive. 
  • Amazon--Amazon sells all kinds of things such as tree cookies, wooden acorns, animals, wooden cut outs, etc. See my post here.  I have Prime which gives free shipping in just a couple of days.
  • Online Wood Stores--There are a few stores that specialize in wooden products, such as Casey's Woods Products or Woodcrafter
  • Swaps--I've really enjoyed doing swaps! I make 5 of something send them in and then get stuff back in return. I liked the Seasonal Classroom: Handwork and Mama-made Materials. You could host your own swap as well!
  • Freecycle/Online Garage Sales--Put out an ISO (In Search Of) with specific details on what you are looking for. 
  • Free Ads in Community Papers--I put an ad in our local community paper for "nature stuff" for kids to play with. I was contacted about buckeyes, pheasant feathers, specialty rocks, furs, and more. What a great way to meet people in the community and collect stuff!
  • Decluttering Friends--Know friends who are decluttering? With as many people going to the minimalist route, be alert to what they are getting rid of. They are typically happy to know they can pass things along to people who can use it. 
  • Resourceful Friends--I have a great friend, Annette, from RAW Sustainable Living who is a great scavenger. She loves keeping things out of the landfill and has gathered baskets and baskets of bits and pieces for loose parts play. I never know what she will bring, but it's always a pleasure to figure it out!
  • Make it! I asked for a chop saw for Christmas one year so I could make tree cookies whenever I wanted. Of course, we use it for other things as well. Investing in some basic tools (even a hand saw will do) can allow us to make some of the loose parts we might desire. Check out what is in the catalogs--can you make it? Find my tutorial on making ramps here
  • Cardboard--Cheap and plentiful! Find my suggestions for cardboard here
  • Grow It--Some loose parts can be grown in your garden. Find my tips for plants in an outdoor classroom here. Think of sunflowers, pumpkins, gourds, flowers, and so much more! 
  • Let people know your vision--they will help! I use my local social media and friend base to ask questions and send me in the right direction. I recently quickly found an overhead projector at a discounted price by letting people know what I was looking for. 
  • ASK! People don't know what you need until you ask. The worst they can say is no, right? 
  • Share specific ideas of what loose parts you would like to collect, but also be open to what others might have available in quantity. Have a box near the entrance for parents to dropped things off.  Or, send home a bag with each child and follow the Beautiful Stuff approach to collecting supplies. 
  • Talk to local service or business groups about what you do. They have different byproducts that may help and another base of people to ask for loose parts. 
  • Plan ahead for seasonal items. How might you use these in future sessions? 
What tips do you have for finding inexpensive loose parts? Looking forward to hearing your tips!  

Like this? Follow my page, Loose Parts Play, on Facebook! Find our international GROUPLoose Parts Play, there as well. Also check out my blog section just on Loose Parts Play.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nature Art Inspiration

We love nature as a part of art. Several great artists, such as Chelsey Bahe, Patrick Dougherty, and Andy Goldsworthy use natural loose parts for art. Natural materials are used with artistic elements to create nature play scenes, whimsical stick creations, and just for the moment nature art. Mandalas are also a fun and easy way to explore loose parts!

We often will look at artwork by these artists from the following books and then try our own hand at creating whatever comes to mind. 

1. Take 'em Outside--Chelsey Bahe does great work! Several times a week, she leaves artistic creations on stumps along the trail at a nature center. People now specifically watch for her new creations. She adds pictures of them to her Facebook page. She is a huge play advocate and encourages following the child's lead outside.

2. Heart Stones--This collection of hearts made of stones and rocks is inspiration to keep looking for art in nature, without even having to make it ourselves. Art is in nature if we will but look for it.

3.   Andy Goldsworthy's Work-- Goldsworthy has several books and a couple of documentaries about his work. His art is made with elements he finds in nature and manipulates to some degree, using artistic design principles for his creations. His art is ephemeral and will not last long; however, they have been captured by photographers for our inspiration. I first found this book many years ago and knew I needed one. I've used it over and over again!

The work itself determines the nature of its making. I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and ‘found’ tools – a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I am not playing the primitive. I use my hands because this is the best way to do most of my work. If I need tools, then I will use them. Technology, travel and tools are part of my life and if needed should be part of my work also. A camera is used to document, an excavator to move earth, snowballs are carried cross country by articulated truck.       --Andy Goldsworthy
4. Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty--I think I absolutely love this because I was able to work side by side with Patrick on one of his creations. I enjoyed the process and love his whimsical stick work. Since we have ample sticks, this is great eye candy as we get started with outdoor creations. Read about our adventures here.

Sticks are something we all have in common. Everybody knows sticks – the twigs and branches picked up on grandfather’s farm; the branches woven in grandmother’s basket. Somewhere threaded in all the public mass is a common thread, and that thread is the human spirit.  --Patrick Dougherty

5. Natural: Simple Land Art through the Seasons--I really like the simple, seasonal nature of the land art in this book. This seems more doable for kids, though is a great study in lines, textures, and natural elements.

6. Land Art in Town by Marc Pouyet--I love how this books shows art and nature in whimsical spots in town. While I enjoy "deep nature", nature is all around us wherever we may be.

7. Nature's Art Box--This is a collection of many crafty activities that could be made from nature.

8. Land Art for Kids is a website with instructions and many examples for creating land art. 
The author says, "Land art for me begins with seeing the world and nature through child’s eyes, I am grateful that it is something I have never lost. Making natural sculptures allows me to indulge a little longer in that child’s world. Whether you are proficient or just dabbling, an adult or a child, making a sculpture or just kicking through fallen leaves, it is all the same to me. It’s all about being outside experiencing all nature has to offer." Richard Shilling, Land Art for Kids

9. The Organic Artist--This guy makes all his own art supplies from nature! I love this. An easy way is to make your own "carbon" for drawing with the sticks from the campfire. My kids already do this.

A few blog posts you may like:
Natural Weaving


Friday, January 12, 2018

Nature Book Club for Adults

I have hosted a nature centered book group, along with others, for the last several years. We've had a lot of opportunities to read books on nature! Here is our list, plus a few wild parenting books I enjoy. We found that meeting every other month worked best for us. We also liked mixing up some nature related fiction with the heavier non-fiction books on our list. We also would just have a topic at times and each person chose an article or book related to the topic. We all brought ideas to our meeting near the end of the year and looked up reviews on Amazon, trying to balance out local books, seasonal books, books on particular topics, etc., while getting something everyone was interested in. Checking the local library for availability is helpful. What are your favorite nature books for adults?

"Wild" Parenting Books
There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda McGurk
Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom
How to Raise a Wild Child by Dr. Scott Sampson
Play the Forest School Way by Peter Houghton and Jane Worroll
Beyond Ecophobia by David Sobel
Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors by David Sobel
Handbook of Nature Study
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Whatever the Weather
Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks
Plain ol' Charlie Deam
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Lab Girl
In the Watershed: A Journey Down the Maumee River
Anything on Pollinators

any book on vernal pools
Wandering Home
Hidden Life of Trees
Braiding Sweetgrass
The Snow Child

JanThe Daily Coyote, Shreve Stockton
FebGuide to Caves and Karsts in Indiana
Mar. Natural Heritage of Indiana
Apr. The Secret Life of Backyard Bugs
May Any Foxfire book
June 100 Heartbeats, Jeff Corwin
July What the Robin Knows
Aug. Gray Mountain, John Grisham
Sept. The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs
Oct. A Walk in the Woods, Bryson
Nov. Birdology, Sy Montgomery
Dec. Voices in the Ocean, Casey
Past Nature Reads
Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald and Lillian Stokes
Anthill by E.O. Wilson
Moonbird by Phillip Hoose
any book about wildflowers
Lost Woods by Rachel Carson
Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal by David Kline and Wendell Berry
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking
Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul
Autumn: Season of Change by Peter Marchand
Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River by Jonathan Waterman
The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David Haskell
any book about nature photography, such as Ansel Adams, John Shaw, Muench, etc.
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Mammals of the Great Lakes Region by Allen Kurta
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
(included a field trip to the state historic site with a tour of her gardens and home)
Life in the Soil by James B. Nardi
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
America as Seen by its First Explorers: The Eyes of Discovery by John Bakeless
Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves by Farley Mowat
Keepers of the ___________ by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac
(Native American traditional stories, combined with ways to teach nature and environmental education. We’ll all read one chapter of one of the books to present and share.)
Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich
Walden: (Or Life in the Woods) by Henry David Thoreau
Alone: The Journey of the Boy Sims by Alan K. Garinger
The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose
The Dunes, any book based loosely on the Indiana Dunes, such as Dune Country: A Hiker’s Guide To The Indiana Dunes, The Dune CountryDune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist, or Diana of the Dunes (IN): The True Story of Alice Gray.
The Trees by Conrad Richter
Pond and Brook: A Guide to Nature in Freshwater Environments by Michael J. Caduto
A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russel Sanders
The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age by Richard Louv
Wild Edibles–You Pick!
A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides)Stalking The Wild Asparagus
The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
The Herb Book
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day by Diane Ackerman
Any book by John Muir–You pick!
Art of the Earth: Ancient Arts for a Green Future by Elizabeth Hyatt or other Environmental Art related book

This post contains affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, thanks for helping me buy an extra book or two. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Loose Parts Professional Development Books

I am an avid reader and LOVE having resources that help me imagine possibilities. I thought it would be great to compile a list of Loose Parts related professional development books. I can think of various avenues to explore here.

These are the basic loose parts books I like for educators/parents. I have all of these (except for the one coming out soon). Each has it's own focus and strength.

This focuses on various topics such a senses, creativity, action, and inquiry, with subtopics for each of these themes. This is a very visually stimulating book.

This follow up book looks specifically at the younger crowd. It focuses on different schema in children's play centered on object exploration, assembly exploration, instrumental exploration, locomotion, and action. Each schema topic has several subtopics, such as throwing, trajectory, pretending, constructing. Once again, great visual ideas throughout the book.

This is coming out in Spring 2018, looking at creating a sense of belonging, helping support a child's identity, and shows cultural sustainability. It focuses on aesthetic,  authenticity, equity, dynamic, praxis, and critical reflection.

This is a unique approach highlighting one classroom's journey in collecting "stuff" from families. Each child brought in a lunch bag of found items from their homes and went through a process of sorting, categorizing, conversing, and using the materials in art and play in the classroom. The book shares a sample letter to families and the documentation process. this is a Reggio based approach. While I find it has an older feel to the book, the information and process is solid. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Exploring Magnetism as Loose Parts

As part of looking more at Nicholson's Theory of Loose Parts, we have been exploring other aspects of it, such as light, music, and even magnetism. We all like to "play, experiment, discover, invent and have fun"! There are many, many ways to explore magnetism. Some of our favorite ways are magnetic blocks, such as Tegu Blocks or Magformers. We also really liked those smaller magnet rods with metal balls--we started buying some like this before we had kids. These were our toys! We also have just gotten a large variety of magnets for exploration. We have a "magnet" bin, with lots of options. It's made of metal so especially fun. Our front door is also magnetic, so we do plenty with magnetism there. 

I still remember my then 3 year old figuring out there was metal in the corners of the walls at the hospital when we'd been there a few too many times to visit my husband. I didn't know about the metal forms to keep good corners either! Yet he found them with our Magformers. We also like nuts, bolts, and other magnetic (and non magnetic) metal pieces paired with magnets. We get all the metal by the pound at our local ReStore and add in good magnets, including a variety of strengths. Magnetic fun is a quick way we explore on the go. How do you explore magnetism and loose parts? What are the variables? 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Light Painting

I recently found the series The New Creatives on BYUtv, watching it with my tinker loving sons (ages 5-11). We have REALLY enjoyed it, watching all the episodes quickly and more than once. With a focus on creativity, the show highlights an artist, gives a collaborative project, and ends with a challenge for us the viewers. Each episode encourages us, “Don’t just watch stuff, make stuff” (Peterson & Craig, 2017). One episode highlights Patrick Rochon, a light painter. To me, this approach falls right in line with loose parts play (Read my summary of Nicholson's article here. ! Here is one of my favorite definitions of creativity by Simon Nicholson.

Rochon finds and makes his own light “tools”. He uses modified flashlights, light sabers, light wands, and gels and filters, to experiment with light. He captures the trace of light and body movement through prolonged exposure camera techniques (Peterson & Craig, 2017).

The New Creatives episode gives us the viewer the challenge to try our own light painting. As part of the episode, Rochon gives a tutorial, listing needed items and tips.
  • DSLR camera with tripod that can do prolonged exposure. There are also many smartphone apps for light painting (Pablo, Slow Shutter, Light Paint, Holographium).
  • Multiple light sources—flashlights, toys, glow sticks, etc. Get creative! Try three dimensional tools to add shapes and textures. (Here are some we are trying, though our first ones we got were just at our Dollar General and Dollar Tree).  Multicolor Light Wands LED Foam Light Sticks Lollipop Light Wands LED Globe Light Wands LED Finger Lights  (affiliate links)
  • Dark clothes help you blend into the darkness.
  • Turn off the lights! A dark room or outside space away from lights is ideal. 
  • Set the camera for an open shutter of several seconds (we did 4) of prolonged exposure. Start the camera (a remote works well if you want to be involved). Make movement with the light. Try other movements. Review your light art on the camera screen.
  •  Let go! Experiment. Try new ways of movement.  (Peterson & Craig, 2017).

This last bit reminds me most of loose parts! The light, darkness, movement, and various tools become the variables to explore, experiment, play, discover, and have fun with. 

We first accepted the challenge when we had a bunch of preteen and teen boys playing Capture the Flag in the dark. They all were armed with glow sticks! It was a perfect opportunity. My husband quickly set up a camera on a tripod and off went the lights. The boys played and danced as the camera captured the movement of light over time. We took a break to explore their work and started again. What a fun creative experience! It was quick, inexpensive, and gratifying.

We next tried the concept at Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart, Indiana, as they hosted their first winter lights display this year. As part of my volunteer work there, I brought in a variety of activities such as nature art, stick building, outdoor STEM loose parts, and a display on animals in winter.  We also thought it was a perfect time to explore light painting with the public. My 11-year-old son became our ight painting tutor and cameraman. He quickly explained light painting, let people choose lights, took pictures with the camera set for prolonged exposure while the people explored light, and then shared the results with the participants. He really enjoyed the shock of the people as they saw their light painting creations. My younger boys were also there and analyzed their own results and how others created unique effects, ready to try new movement and lights next time. We posted the pictures in the online event page. It was great fun! 
                  We really enjoyed exploring light as a loose part! It was inexpensive and easy to set up and explore since we already had a camera. The New Creatives episode on light painting is visually appealing and a great tutorial for the basic process. We think you might enjoy light painting as well!

Peterson, J. (Writer), & Craig, A. & Peterson, J. (Directors). (July 26, 2017). Patrick Rochon [Television Series Episode]. In Cook, J. R. & Cook, A. S. (Producers), The New Creatives. Provo, UT: BYUtv

Interested in other light painters? Check out this inspiration!
Other websites:
Light Painting Photography
Light Painting Tutorials

This post contains affiliate links. thanks for ordering through these links if you are interested to help support good content at no cost to you. 

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Here are some other things that look cool!

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