Thursday, September 10, 2020

Rolling into Physics: Ramp Play!

Ramps Podcast Episode:

Simple Machines Podcast Episode:

Resources on Amazon:


Tutorial to make PVC ramps for outdoors:

Kodo Kids Simple Machines: RAMP handout


Meeting Standards: Tinker guide page 25 LEARNING GUIDELINES The Physical Sciences #20. Investigate and describe or demonstrate various ways that objects can move.



Rube Goldberg machines:


Brain Game Rube Goldberg clip:


Marble Sand Video:


KodoKids Webinar:



Kindergarten Lesson:


Things that Don’t Roll:






Questions to Ask:


Book Pick (aff links):

STEM Learning with Young Children: Inquiry Teaching with Ramps and Pathways:

Mousetrap Game:

Magnetic marble run—


Choke Test Tube:



Saturday, September 5, 2020

Math and Loose Parts in Nature

From observing and leading natural loose parts play, facilitating workshops on math and loose parts in nature, and using mathematical tools outside, I have gathered a few key concepts for exploring math outside.

·     The world is alive with mathematical learning opportunities. Nature is full of patterns, cycles, shapes, and numeric opportunities. Take a walk outside with a mathematical lens to discover possibilities. Observe how children naturally experiment with mathematical concepts as part of outdoor play. Nature Notes, an observation sheet from Dimensions Education/Nature Explore, helps me and other educators notice counting (as children gathered 1, 2, 3, 4 sticks), matching of elements (leaves that were the same), application of geometric shapes (creating rectangles for a house), sequencing (working through the order of the tasks they planned out), symmetry, and understanding perimeter. Nature provides many non-standard examples to deal with complexities.

·     Nature can provide!While I love loads of manufactured loose parts, nature often has plenty of sticks, rocks, seeds, and pinecones. If not, they can be gathered locally for free. As children collect their own natural treasures, student choice and voice becomes prominent in their play and learning as they create squares, patterns, and solve challenges.

·     Bring the tools outside. We often hide away our math tools and manipulatives in closets, only using them when teaching a specific concept. Let’s take them outside so tools can be another “variable” in students’ play. 

o  Make grab and go kits. Having “starts” for the week in small backpacks make it easy to get math options outside as part of play. 

o  Create a math cart. Curate a larger collection of basic math supplies in an outdoor cart to make easy to transport to nearby nature areas. 

o  Use digital tools to support play. Depending on the technology you use and have available, digital devices have cameras to document and record information, timers, stop watches, tally apps, and other basic math tools. 

o  Consider mathematical tools to extend play.

§ Number and Operations—arrays, number lines, dominoes, yard dice, calendar numbers, sticks, milk or applesauce lids, ten frame, dice, fabric 100s chart

·     Arrays may include egg cartons, ice cube trays, muffin tins, tic tac toe or checker boards, sorting trays, and other sets organized in rows and columns.  

§ Geometry and Spatial Sensing—frames, 2D and 3D shapes (both found and from a set), attribute blocks, mirrors

§ Measurement—rulers, yardsticks, ribbons, yarn, rope, measuring tapes, sand timers, digital timers, scales, trundle wheel, balances, sticks and ropes in standards sizes (feet, two feet, yard, six feet for COVID)

§ Patterns and Algebraic Reasoning—pattern blocks, game pieces 

§ Displaying and Analyzing Data—garden lattice, tally sheets

§ General Items—chalk, wooden planks, milk crates, light colored fabric squares, recyclables, sticks, rocks, acorns, sweet gum balls, driftwood, pine needles, mark making tools and paper

·     Solve real life problems.Nicholson, the landscape architect who coined the term “loose parts,” explained in his theory that loose parts and learning should help solve real life problems pertinent to the students. The 4 questions of data analysis are a perfect way to support inquiry and emergent learning. As student start wondering about something, we can support and guide them through this process.

o  What do you want to know?

o  How can you find out?

o  What tools will help you collect the data? 

o  How will you use the information? (from Messy Maths)


As educators, we can help support and extend mathematical learning in our emergent curriculum as we follow students’ questions, use mathematical vocabulary, observe and anticipate mathematical supply needs, assess learning, and allow children plenty of nature play. In our research, my colleagues and I found the role of facilitator in loose parts to be: 

Loose parts are open-ended, interactive, natural and manufactured materials that can be manipulated with limitless possibilities. Interaction with loose parts includes experimentation, exploration, and playful interactions with variables through creativity and imagination. Participations have the freedom to explore variables, combine materials, and react to complex themes and ideas that emerge. Facilitators encourage participants make loose parts available, stimulate discovery, provide opportunities, allow for open-ended play, and prompt meaningful connections and experiences. Through loose parts exploration participants develop imagination, creativity, and collaborative skills. Process is more important than the end product fostering overall growth and development. (Gull et al., 2019, p. 51)

You’re ready to see and support natural mathematics exploration in play! 


Resources to Help


Math Resources and Tools on Amazon (including book suggestions!)

Mirrors for Mirror Books

Resources from Juliet Robertson:

Suggested materials for maths outdoor—good list of basics to consider

Messy Maths Handout--Great content! 

Sammy the Metre Snake—consider a yard snake in the US


Books from Juliet Robertson:

Messy Maths—great book that goes through all mathematical domains

Dirty Teaching—general information about learning outdoors


General suggestions for outdoor maths from NAEYC—good suggestions to consider! 


Math Vocabulary—terms to consider to use

Kindergarten math vocabulary with definitions


Nature Notes-- Documentation Option, p. 62-63


Conference Presentation on Early Maths—inside focused--vocabulary, activities, potential sequencing lists, etc.


Big and Small Outdoor Action Card Prompts—action prompts to explore big and small


Gull, C., Bogunovich, J., Goldstein, S. L., & Rosengarten, T. (2019). Definitions of Loose Parts in Early Childhood Outdoor Classrooms: A Scoping Review. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education6(3), 37-52.




Friday, May 15, 2020

7 Day Loose Parts Challenge

I’ve noticed a lot of people get confused about loose part and are worried they won’t do it right. That’s why I created the Loose Parts Challenge, a 7 day journey where you’ll go from confused to confident. Participants will know exactly how to apply loose parts at home or in the classroom.  

May 25-31st, 2020
Zoom Call Nightly at 8 pm Eastern Time (will be recorded)
Beta Class at Special Cost $20 USD, Payable via PayPal
Support Community (Private Facebook Group)
Daily Accountability Threads
Daily Zoom Sessions (recorded and posted if there are time conflicts)
Daily Worksheets for Each Step

Bonus Materials

Hosted by Dr. Carla Gull from Loose Parts Play/Loose Parts Nature Play.

Pay the $20 class fee on PayPal. If you are having issues with this, please email me at and we'll look at other options. Sorry for any inconveniences. We'll get you in!

Sign up below:

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Books for Tinkering!

I met another mother recently who has boys who like to build and make things--so fun to see those children be SO creative! I realized I hadn't pulled together a list of books specifically related around more tinkering topics, so thought now might be a good time.

My kids have been enthralled by the Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect books recently! The youngest two have long been makers or tinkerers, so I appreciate having good books to inspire them.

Rosie Revere, Engineer. Rosie wants to be an engineer, sneaking bits and bobs that others discard. She loved to make gizmos and gadgets, but hid them under the bed as she was embarrassed when a relative had laughed at her invention. Later her aunt (the real Rosie the Riveter) dreamed of flyings. Rosie Revere, Engineer figured out a way to help her fly! Her aunt laughed as well with this creation, but also gave her support at this first try, rather than leaving her to feel like a failure. Rosie learns perseverance as she continues to the next flying model. Soon her whole class wa making gizmos and gadgets, cheering at their failures!

Ada Twist, Scientist Ada is always asking questions and is full of curiosity. Ada figures out how to think through problems and conduct experiments, even if they don't quite go as planned. She tries to figure out the stinky smell in her house, leading her on an adventure of exploration. While there are quite the messy situations at times, her parents are calm and talk her through the issues while still allowing her to experiment and explore. Ada uses scientific tools like goggles, beakers, and scales to conduct her experiments.

  Iggy Peck, Architect has always built things from diaper towers to a dirt Sphinx. Unfortunately, in grade 2, he had a teacher who had a bad experience as a child on an architecture tour and banned building in her class. But Iggy Peck didn't listen and built away! On a field trip, the foot bridge was out, but Iggy Peck had a plan. The children worked together to make a bridge and the teacher realized how important building dreams can be.

They also have workbooks to go along with these as well, such as Iggy Peck's Big Project Book for Amazing Architects. From the reviews, this includes a lot of drawing and all the activity books may be suited more for elementary school ages. The quick peek I got showed lots of "materials" to use for building--really lots of loose parts! I think this will be on the Christmas list for at least one of the kids. Ada Twist's Big Project for Stellar Scientists is another option that helps children think like a scientist and explore many types of scientific themes. I love the open-endedness of projects and emphasis on exploration and scientific thinking. Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers  helps develop problem solving and critical thinking skills through STEM concepts and approaches. All of these "workbooks" do offer specific suggestions which may veer a bit from a more pure loose parts concept; however, they can be great springboards for investigation and stimulate creative thinking.

Addy-Matic and the Toasterrific is a funny exploration as a girl attempts to create an automatic system for toast using principles from a chain reaction machine. I love Rube Goldberg type reactions, so this is a perfect way to put in story form how one girl attempts this. The book shows how simple machines work, how to face a problem, and carrying out a plan in creative ways.

What Do You Do With An Idea? is an award winning book that has universal appeal as a we get and share ideas, wrestling with the opposition of others, and how we can protect and feed our own unique ideas. This book inspires us to the change the world with our ideas. Not exactly tinkering in the illustrations, but gives us confidence and shows perseverance in coming up with an idea and making space for it in our lives.

Awesome Dawson My kids love Awesome Dawson! Dawson's motto is "Everything can be used again!" Dawson invented things since he was in diapers progressing to becoming a robot out of a chicken bucket and oven mitts to a bedsheet and wind powered way to get to school. He began bringing old toys back to life. He has access to all kinds of discarded materials, such as an old vacuum cleaner, broom and pool hose. The new robot is tasked with all of Dawson's chores with a brain made of cat food. The robot goes berserk, but Dawson uses his creations to save the day. He still uses his inventions to help with chores, but in a more realistic way.

Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon had an overflowing toy chest, though her grandmother often chatted with her about how she used to make her own toys. So Molly tried it! She made an outdoor dollhouse in the trees, a cardboard racer, shapes in the clouds, and more. A new girl moved in with more traditional toys, but Molly Lou Melon rubbed off on her until the neighbor started making her own toys as well. Loved the grandmother inspiration in the book as she winked from the clouds.

Edward Built a Rocketship Edward wants to explore space, visiting the planets, so starts making a plan. He gathered odds and ends and tinkered to create his rocket ship. His mother kissed him goodbye as Edward's rocketship blasted off into the space of his imagination. He visited aliens and planets and floated down in his home made parachute. What a creative story!

Henry's Amazing Machine Henry loved putting things together since he was a baby. He made an Amazing Machine by the time he was six, covering his bedroom and then his bathroom! He kept building and building as he grew older, building outside as well! Neighbors and others started to come visit what it was, with people setting up lemonade stands, offering pony rides, adding music, and more. Henry's parents were incredibly patient with all the space needed for tinkering, until they had enough with being pushed out to a tree house. He found a new home for his creation with the local carnival, bringing the community together.

JUNK D.N.A. is a one-shot wordless comic/ picture book with illustrations created entirely from nuts, bolts and scrap metal parts!
 Clare Thompson’s Junk DNA follows the journey of a pile of junk. As it shifts and moves, a few pieces land perfectly to create a being. The creature uses more metal scraps to build a house and then another being. Together they use the pieces to create vehicles, more people, and shelter. They continue to innovate with screws, springs, bottle caps, and wrenches, building a ginormous being. This causes problems as the giant starts capturing and deconstructing the smaller beings. Inspired by memories of the second being, the first being devises a tricky plan to take out the giant.
Thompson’s wordless picture books is not flashy; however, the neutral colors, along with metal variations, such as rust, really make the story shine. Without words, the reader can clearly figure out the story line; however, there is plenty of room to fill in dialogue and create additional details. The wordless aspect almost allows more creativity as the reader becomes part of the story telling. C.P. Thompson Press ’s ingenuous artwork reminds us all to experiment with what we have on hand.

The Tin Forest A man lives in a metal scrubland. He dreams of living in the forest, yet wakes up to the doom and gloom of live. He decides to make the plants grow out of the tin he is surrounded by. The metal turned into flowers, birds, and branches--a forest made of garbage and tin! Soon real animals and plants also filled the space.

Katie Shaeffer: Pancake Maker Katie wants to make pancakes but is not allowed to use the stove. She devises a way to make a pancake maker, collaborating with her new friend, Baxter. She has a great box of paraphernalia (loose parts!) and they get to work, perfecting the pancake machine. The machine makes too many and they share with the neighborhood. Ingenuity, friendship, and sharing are central themes to the story.

Charlie's House A young boy in humble circumstances builds an even better house and care of mud and scraps after seeing his own house built. His imagination takes him on a ride in the car! The review for this on Amazon is not for this product.

Fraidy Zoo A young girl is afraid of going to the zoo, but her family comes up with lots of loose parts creations to help her get comfortable with their upcoming zoo trip. I really enjoy the drawings of the loose parts used to create animals.

Jillian Jiggs Jillian loves to create and tinker! She uses boxes for robots with friends until she has to clean her room. So they helped clean up, becoming pirates, dragons, trees, chickens in a cage, and so much more! Her friends have to go when the room becomes messier than it was before, so Jillian can concentrate on cleaning up her room.

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