Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shelling Beans

We recently went to a friend's house and explored her wonderful garden! If you don't have your own garden, I find the most gardeners would love to share their pride and joy with you, as well as some of their harvest, especially during tomato and zucchini harvests. :-) 

I noticed she had beans on a trellis and asked if our nature preschool group could shell them after they are dried. She was ecstatic and it turns out that she had a small barrel of dried beans from last year that still need shelled. She hasn't taken the time to do them all so just goes out and shells a few at a time for whatever soups or other foods she is making. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Pokemon Party!

There is something about planning things that I LOVE to do! Even better when I get to collaborate with others for it. My boys are in the middle of a string of birthdays. My now 5 year old wanted to have a Pokemon party--of course we love nature, outside, and loose parts, but they do watch television, read books, and have toys/games. Anyway, I remember my students way back when I taught 4th grade almost 20 years ago in Japan loving Pokemon as well--it has really had some staying power!

For the invitations, I just found an image online and put the party information on top. These were easy to text or email to mommas. :-) 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Button Box

Don't you love buttons? I recently found this box of buttons for $5 at a garage sale--it was even all sorted and separated in little baggies. I thought we'd explore a bit as we read The Button Box (again) and we started opening a few buttons and putting them in a divided, recycled cookie tray; however, children had other ideas and I'm pretty open to following their lead.

Soon all these little baggies of carefully sorted buttons were in one big pile. And then we started sorting again! We found buttons that had four holes or two holes or just a shank.

The Button Box shows a boy opening his grandmother's button box and sorting through the treasures. It also shows how buttons could come from shells, wood, deer antlers, and more. He makes a string and button toy, counts his "gold" as he puts them back, and then ends with a little history on buttons. I also played with my grandmother's button box. Do people still have button boxes? I hope so! Our button box actually had antler/bone buttons, too. So neat to see the connections from the book! 

We found some that the boys looked like eyes and separated out the shiny ones! 

Some ideas to extend the buttons from the book: 
Sort, count, create pictures from buttons, puppet eyes, etc. 

Sort by:
-family connections
-seashells, sand, wood, antlers

Ask, “Are they alike?”
As children get older you might chart types of buttons even, bringing in a math component if they are interested. I was surprised even my 8 year old and almost 11 year old were enjoying these as well. My youngest (almost 5) spent over an hour with these today. I'll leave them out this week for them to peruse as they'd like!

Interested in Loose Parts and Books? Find my list here

Buy the book "The Button Box" here! (aff link)

Here is a video of the book. Here are some other extension activities as well. 

How do you all use buttons? 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Nature Preschool Planning in an Outdoor Classroom

In many types of spaces, we do a little planning for our learning experiences. I have heard many say to "just let them play"; however, most spaces also need to meet learning standards and such. Even in an emergent learning setting, a little planning can help us pull things together for success. I have used a planning sheet similar to this for the last 5 years I have done a nature preschool group. I also use a similar approach to event planning using an outdoor classroom.  Our basic rhythm for our group is to have a gathering activity (or more), craft/art, a story time, hike, wash hands, edible craft (snack), and then open options centered around our areas of the outdoor classroom. We try to do as much as this outside as possible, but do have some moments inside as well. Below is a very sketchy example of seeds. Children are free to participate or not and we follow the children's needs and interests, as well as any seasonal or unexpected finds when we are outside. We may not get to all of these options and it is okay if the children do not do each option. Having a variety allows the needs of all children be met.

Since I typically do programs at a place where other activities are happening, I schlep a lot of stuff around. This helps me remember everything I need. See some examples of the results of this under "Nature Preschool" on the blog.

I use a few resources to help in planning:
Growing Up Wild
Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood
Pinterest Boards:

Here are a few examples of how our activities turned out. Honestly, there is usually enough that could work for a week at a time; however, we just had one morning a week for a couple of hours.
Oh Deer!
A Natural Holiday
Exploring Trees
Sensational Senses
What's Bugging You? 

Here are some events planned using a similar sheet:
Fairy Wings and Wild Things
International Mud Day

Find the planning sheet here. Let me know how you use or modify it--I love seeing how others use similar stuff!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Joyful Noise: A Book Review

Don't you love finding something at a garage sale? I stumbled upon Joyful Noise recently. The mom said she loved it in her classroom when she was a teacher. Note the Newbery Medal? I like Newbery books! It also is all nature based, with poems that are meant to be read by two people. As I read through the book, I wanted to hear what these would sound like when presented by two people. Of course, I took to Youtube! Here is one rendition of the poems.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Texture Balls

So, I drool over those ceramic sand balls--such pretty designs and so aesthetically pleasing! I really like the sets that Montessori Restore designs. She is great at creating loose parts sets, typically on the higher end, beautiful, and carefully curated.  She is very intentional and up cycles many items and works with great artists for others. Take a look at her work at her Etsy shop or her Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

30 Plus Ways to Approach Loose Parts Play!

The term “loose parts” has grown in popularity recently as educators and parents have rediscovered this timeless approach to play. Loose parts play can be as simple as finding a stick and using it in play or it can take a more complex approach to open ended landscapes. The term “loose parts” became popular with the Theory of Loose Parts by Simon Nicholson.  He advocated for movable items in outdoor play settings in his work as a landscape architecture. Today, the term is fairly ambiguous with some guiding principles: open ended materials and lots of options. See a post about quotes about loose parts here and the basic premise and resources here.

While the guiding principles remain consistent, there are many ways to approach loose parts play. I choose to take a more inclusive approach allowing for different interpretations and applications of the term, as it is rather “squishy”.  Some of these may overlap but I found them unique enough to list separately. Here we go! 
  • Treasure Baskets—A well curated basket is perfect for infants and toddlers.  Think of textures, safety, and opportunities for exploration. Scarves, textured fabrics, mouthable wooden blocks and other items, large, smooth shells, etc. are great additions.
  •  Small World Play—Create a miniature world with lots of loose parts. This might be a specific habitat of local animals, a fairy garden, or other miniature type world. 
  •  Faces—Faces can be made in so many ways! We make them out of clay on trees, draw a circle on concrete and use natural items, or use found items inside a frame or a circle. Try the books Let’s Make Faces with this approach. Seriously, the sky is the limit with making faces with loose parts!

  •  Ramps& Balls—We love ramps and balls as it allows so much STEM exploration and it’s just plain fun! I watch gown adults and older children making more complex configurations. See how we made our own ramps here.
  • Blocksand Add Ons—Blocks are a standard loose part. I like adding more elements to the mix and non-standard options to extend the play. We often have bins of acorn caps, shells, sticks, walnut shells, and other items near the block area for additional play opportunities.  Read my post about block play here.
  • Playdough/Clay—Playdough and clay are such a great base material for molding, stamping impressions, building, connecting, and experimenting with textures. Both playdough and clay have a unique feel. There are many recipes available for playdough; we like this one. Clay is such a neat natural substance. We enjoy using clay to make “faces” with natural elements on trees outside. My 10-year-old son makes and sells play dough and loose parts kits at Pop Up Handicrafts locally. Look for                                                        
  • Sensory Bins/Experiences—Sensory bins can be a shallow tub, a dishpan, a pie plate, or a larger sensory bin in a school setting. While they can be filled with any loose parts, here is a simple “formula” that can be followed. The possibilities are endless! Sensory experiences may include playing with pea gravel, sifting hands through sand or soil, etc.
  • “Junk” Jars and Junk Play—Loose parts play can be as simple as allowing children to interact with “junk” in their own way. You may do this by collecting junk in a big jar. Junk could be unneeded items, extra screws, netting from oranges, scrap wood or fabric, etc. Larger “junk” could be leftover building materials old tubes, etc. Children can create and build with the materials. This would be a classic of how we grew up scavenging for junk in abandoned lots or similar to the storyline of Roxaboxen.
  • Adventure Playgrounds—Playgrounds full of loose parts are popping up various places such as The Anarchy Zone in New York, designed by Rusty Keeler. Think of the junk jars and junk play with a permanent place with a little more adventurous offering. Trained playworkers staff the space. Find playwork training at Pop Up Adventure Play.
  •  Pop Up Play—Pop Up Play can be similar to junk play or adventure playgrounds; however, it is typically for a short time period, such as a special event or weekend. Pop Up Adventure Play has a great resource on how to set up pop up play in your area--find it here, with volunteer training and checklists here, and mini kit here. Gather staple materials, get the word out, use simple training with the adults, and have fun playing!
  • Build It or Loose Parts Parties—Have a party on a specific loose parts theme. Loose parts play can also be incorporated into just about any type of celebration or party. Whether it is having loose parts out as a centerpiece that people can play with, having specific open-ended play opportunities, or having a whole Build It party, play is meant to be a part of celebrations and parties. Here is an example of using loose parts in a pirate themed party, a fairy/wild thing party, and International Mud Day
  • Seasonal Activities--Loose parts can be a great addition to holiday parties or seasonal activities. Read about loose parts with Valentine's Day
  •  OutdoorClassrooms—Having specific spaces set aside or outdoor play can be very beneficial. In the outdoor classrooms I have developed, loose parts are the “layers” that make the outdoor space work with space
  • LooseParts Toys—Some toys are more opened ended and have a loose parts vibe. Check out my list here. Think magnetic blocks, moveable marble runs, fort kits, etc. If Grandma insists on buying a birthday present, send her this list!
  • Grab& Go Kits—Create small bags that easily can be taken to use while out and about, waiting for dinner at a restaurant, during quiet time, etc. See some examples here. Here is another example of a robot tinkering kit.                                      
  • Curated Collections—There are so many beautiful trays and carefully created collections for loose parts play. There is intentional design in choosing items that work well together. Nora Ryska’s work at Montessori Restore or the Loose Parts and Loose Parts 2 (aff links) books by Beloglovsky and Daly are good examples of this.
  • NatureArt/Land Art—Several great artists, such as Chelsey Bahe, Patrick Dougherty, and Andy Goldsworthy. Natural materials are used with artistic elements to create nature play scenes, whimsical stick creations, and just for the moment nature art. Mandalas are a fun and easy way to explore loose parts!                                                                           
  • Found Objects—Sometimes you just “find” stuff to create with. This can be wood scraps, boxes, plastic cups—really, anything!              
  • Classroom Project and Sort— As shared in the book, Beautiful Stuff (aff link), some classrooms have sent each child home with a bag to fill with loose parts. The bags come back in, the students discover the many treasures, talk about ways to sort them, categorize them all, and then use them as part of their creations and play.
  •  “Station”, Areas, Zones—Many classrooms, both inside and out, divide the area into different areas or zones. Loose parts may be unique for each area, such as rocks, dishes, spoons, pinecones, water, mud, and herbs in a mud kitchen outside. Stations can also be set up with specific loose part invitation.
  •  Part of Décor—One way we have incorporated loose parts is just part of the décor. Think of colorful scarves hanging from hooks or a zen sand garden with manipulatives.  This last Christmas we had a printing tray filled with loose parts and holiday baubles. Everyone around the table interacted with the loose parts before and after dinner as well as during down times while the materials were out. 
  • Invitations /Provocations/Activity—Some people separate these terms out, but I find they are largely similar. A collection of loose parts might be presented in a divided tray with mirrors, frames, or an “invitation” to play with the items. Here are several examples
  • Architecture—This could include fort building (inside and out), making stages, tents, rooms within rooms, interior design, etc. Thanks for broadening this category, Belle!
  • Cardboardand Cardboard boxes—Cardboard is plentiful and easily manipulated. The classic cardboard box is a great example of the diversity of how cardboard can be used. Not a Box is a great book to use in conjunction with this. See my post on using cardboard as a loose part here.
  • Challenges—Sometimes, especially as children are in older elementary and beyond, giving a somewhat loose, yet directed challenge may be needed to tie loose parts into a curriculum need. The materials are still open ended and there is a lot of freedom, but it may be using loose parts to create the Great Lakes, manipulative to show word problems, etc. In this example, children use loose parts to create wind born seeds that they tested in the wind tube. 
  • Collections—Buttons, buttons, who has the buttons? Think button or nature collections. These are sorted, categorized, and used for building and creations. The books, Sort It Out and Grandma’s Button Box, are good books to go with this type of loose parts play. 
  • Tinkering—One of my sons loves tinkering! He likes taking things apart and using them in other creations. Duct tape, wire, and paper are his best friends! Here is one example of a robot tinkering kit.  Rosie Revere Engineer and The Most Magnificent Thing are great books to pair with this. 
  • Spontaneous—Sometimes loose parts play is totally spontaneous when we find things while out and about and use it as play. For example, my children turned a receipt and wind from their breathing into a game while waiting for dinner one time. We take advantage of those moments by having a loose parts mind set.
  • Obstacle Courses—We love child made obstacles courses. These can be made with natural elements in the yard and rearranged infinite numbers of times. We have a couple of large bins full of random things, such as pool noodles, crates, wooden planks, hula hoops, traffic cones, rope, and more. We pull these out as additions for obstacle courses that will be different each time we use these loose parts. 
  • Extensions of Learning—Sometimes, loose parts may be used in conjunction with more formal learning. We made loose parts woodpeckers which morphed into cavity houses and other creations. We might also extend literacy connections into our loose parts play.
  • Scavenger Hunt—When we were studying eggs, we went on a loose parts egg hunt.  Each egg was filled with various loose parts, in this case natural. Next year try an Egg Hunt for Easter with other loose parts. Specific hunts for loose parts items can also be a fun way to explore the space, such as finding 5 rocks, 3 leaves, 6 sticks, etc. and then making a creation out of them. Children could even make their own loose parts scavenger hunts. 
  • Natural—Nature provides so many opportunities for loose parts play! We might stack rocks while on a hike, build a stick “fort” near a downed log, draw in the sand, etc. Read about seeds as loose parts or discovering loose parts while waiting on soccer practice. 
  •  SeniorPlay Trays—I love these loose parts trays designed for retirement homes. The open-ended options become spring boards for discussion and memories, offering engaging and sensory rich experiences for seniors.

What other approaches to loose parts play might you add to the mix? How do you like to use loose parts in your setting? 

Having a variety of approaches and tools in the loose parts tool box can lead to richer, loose parts filled outcomes. More creativity and imagination is always good!

Michelle Thornhill organizes loose parts play differently, around different schema, such as transporting, connecting, trajectory, etc. She has a great resource here.

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.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Role of the Educator in Loose Parts Play

I met Chris Kiewra last year at the Leadership Institute National Conference, one of the collaborations Nature Explore puts together with the Outdoor Classroom Project. She is delightful and I was delighted to see this new research in the recent copy of IJECEE from the Natural Start Alliance I picked up at the International Children and Nature Network Conference.

What is the role of educators in loose parts play?
Caring, observant adults who support creative play and learning are an aspect of creativity that Kiewra and Veselack (2016) report, sharing a few key characteristics:
a. open-ended questions that further scientific inquiry
b. ensure long blocks of time for deep exploration
c. keen observers of children’s play to see and document learning
d. close observation of children’s explorations
e. strategically support children’s processes and thinking to enhance learning
f. physically in proximity of children
g. offer observations
h. follow children’s lead without taking over
i. trust children to make decisions
j. dialogue with children to promote taking other perspectives and learn about problem-solving
k. facilitate and scaffold children’s learning
l. model and support a sense of wonder
m. set up learning areas in outdoor classroom
n. make sure an abundance of loose parts are available
o. provide learning support materials (clipboards, paper, pencils, other loose parts)
p. freedom and flexibility to use spaces and materials in unintended areas or manners
What is our role as educators in promoting creative or loose parts play?
“The teacher’s role is critical to supporting children’s skill development in self-initiated experiences in a Nature Explore Classroom. The teacher needs to be physically in proximity of children, offer observations, ask thought-provoking questions, follow children’s lead without taking over, and trust children to make decisions.” (Veselack, Cain-Chang & Miller, 2010)
“Teachers bring a selection of equipment and play matierals outside from storage sheds and classrooms daily based on several factors: teachers’ observations of and response to children’s needs; children’s articulation of their needs or initiative in bringing items outdoors themselves; staff members consideration of the weather and other factors.” (Kiewra & Veselack, 2016)
Great article! Research coming out of Natural Start Alliance 

Read the full article here. Join us for discussions on the topic in Loose Parts Play on Facebook! 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Out on a Limb: Benefits and Risks of Tree Climbing

Tree climbing is such a fun and challenging activity for many children around the world. As I started noticing more restrictions on tree climbing in parks and other places, I brought the topic to my research team, Suzanne Levenson Goldstein and Tricia Rosengarten, to see if they would like to investigate the topic in more depth. They were hooked!

In February 2016, we started our journey. We did preliminary research, started contacting organizations, and developed a survey that launched in May 2016. What did we find? Study participants are really passionate about tree climbing! Below is a copy of our poster session to be used for the International Children & Nature Network 2017 conference. Our research paper is also under consideration at a peer reviewed environmental education research journal.

Nurturing Nature: The Educator's Role in Nature Play

Chris Whitmire and I recently did a presentation on Nurturing Nature: The Educator's Role in Nature Play. We had three objectives for our training:

We started with a continuum. How much time are providers spending outside? 

We allowed educators to consider what is nature play, sharing their own definitions on the topic. We shared the following definition: 

"Natural Play challenges and fascinates children and teaches them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they explore and play within it. It is intuitive and unstructured, constructive (or deconstructive), and timeless, encouraging interaction with natural materials, features, indigenous vegetation, and creative landforms. Natural Play is often a blend of materials and experiences to create purposely complex interplays of natural and environmental objects." 
                                                          – Oregon Natural Play Initiative Definition of Nature Play

Oregon Natural Play Initiative also shared 5 distinct types of nature play, including the following:

Think of playgrounds, activities with a specific end. 

Think of taking advantage of the moment, unexpected natural play, using the landscape as a partner in play. 

A child is building confidence in being out on their own, taking more risks, and judging safety measures. 

Through informal and more formal education, nature becomes the subject and tool for learning. 

Daily nature includes the general, every day learning that happens in our backyards, while running errands, and by noticing nature around us. 

There are many benefits to nature play, or outdoor free play, such as the suggestions listed in this info graphic from Caileigh Flannigan, an outdoor play advocate. 

Kenny Balantine from Nature Kids Institute recommends how often we should engage with the wild, advocating for daily outdoor nature play. 

We also looked at the barriers to nature play and brainstormed ways to get around these for outdoor play, with this infographic about Pathways to Play: Overcoming Nature Play Barriers.

This video by Nature Play (a beautiful film!) gives a good intro narrated by Richard Louv to the movement toward nature play:

We moved into developing a sense of wonder at this point as we debriefed watching the clip, sharing the following quote by Mary Paleologos

Once again another continuum to help us understand our staff better. 

The definition of wonder!

How comfortable do educators feel in facilitating nature play?

We moved into direct experiences and inquiry based learning as part of nature as an educator.

We had an experience to first just describe what we saw in the picture. Later we passed sweet gum balls out and investigated them up close! What a richer experience to have real experiences with real nature!

Rachel Carson's Sense of Wonder is a great example of a knowledgable person who could set aside her own agenda in order to explore the natural world to explore nature with her nephew. A new version of her book is coming out, though I've also enjoyed the earlier copy.

At this point, we watched this video by Eastern Connecticut University on inquiry based nature investigations. Great modeling as nature as educator. They have a whole archive of good quality videos  on outdoor investigations and such.

What are the teachers doing in this picture? We all may have been here at one point. Becoming more engaged through our various roles as educators can yield a more fulfilling experience for us and the children. 

What are the roles of educators in nature play? We have many varied roles that will depend on the type of nature play. 

As educators, we are the gatekeepers for children experiencing the outdoors and nature in general. Enhancing our spaces can make a huge impact. I like the natural playscape or outdoor classroom approach to this, though also promote finding some time with wild nature as well. 

Additionally, having a few tools and resources can really enhance our experience. A first aid kit is usually a basic that we should always have as there is a risk in all our learning. Guide books, magnifying glasses, ideas for nature hikes, marking tools (colored pencils, paper, clipboards, etc.), and more can quickly add to our experience outside. 

There are many ways to document the learning that happens through nature play. Dimensions Foundation, a partner of Nature Explore, provides training on nature notes, like the example in the left. Many use Facebook or other social media posts to detail the learning that is happening like the example on the right from the Natural Beginning Program. They have a wonderful nature based early childhood program! I also will take out a clipboard with labels or sticky notes for notes on individual children that can be transferred to their files later. Inquiry based books have observation sheets in the resources often as well. Here is another video that looks at documenting learning. Video and photos can be an important part of this process. There are more apps moving toward an easier flow for documenting learning in early childhood. 

Facebook Groups:
Teaching Resources:
Growing Up Wild
Project Learning Tree Early Childhood Environmental Experiences
Nature Explore
Fostering a Sense of Wonder During the Early Childhood Years
Natural resources providers- state, county, and city parks, birding groups, SWCD, EEAI, IMN, etc. 

Ruth Wilson really delivered with the Fostering a Sense of Wonder during the Early Childhood Years. While a bit older of a resource, she has a new book out called, Learning is in Bloom. She is a great inspiration in this field. So great to meet her in person last year! This can be a way to assess where we are in our journey as a classroom to encourage nature play, inquiry, and wonder in early childhood!

Throughout the presentation we had time to share examples, converse, and work toward inspiring solutions for more nature play! 

Feel free to contact Chris or myself with any questions or comments.

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