Sunday, April 24, 2016

Loose Parts Inspired Toys

I often hear the plea from mothers that the grandparents are not buying toys they really want for the children. Typically, the culprit is a toy that makes noise, uses batteries, is "stuffed", or can only be used one way. Many parents are asking for a different approach to gift giving. Enter loose parts play! A note to grandparents: please listen to the parents of your grandchildren on ideas for good toys for the children, especially if they are asking for toys that inspire creative, imagination, and STEM concepts. If they are not asking for this type of toy, please share the joy that can come from this type of interaction with loose parts.

Choosing Loose Parts Toys

Purdue's Engineering School came up with an Engineering Gift Guide, with the guidelines above in choosing toy to inspire engineering principles in children; however, they also can work VERY well for loose parts play. Great guidelines! The following quote inspires me! I love the natural aspect of it, but sometimes feel the need to buy a present. 

Loose Parts Toy Suggestions
  • Blocks--Blocks can be a basic for any type of loose parts exploration. A basic set I like is the Melissa & Doug 60 Piece Standard Unit Blocks. These can be used in many ways, adding extras like sweet gum balls, plastic animals, and buckeyes for more impact and diversity of choices. Also, consider adding on rainbow or other wooden "stackers", as well as peg dolls.  Wedgits are another fun building block with endless possibilities that span a variety of ages at our house (infant to adult). 
  • Tegu Blocks--These smooth finished magnetic blocks are a wonderful way to use blocks. You can explore magnetic properties and make an endless variety of creations with them. Here is a smaller set, though I salivate over the larger sets. We have two of the smaller sets--my husband was intrigued by these and plays with them as well!
  • Anything Magnetic! There are many great magnetic sets appropriately sized for whatever age child you might have. We have many options, such as the magnet sticks with a ball. We started buying these before we had kids as we enjoyed playing with them ourselves. We also enjoy the Magformers. The Magnatiles are also a great option. We got the Picasso brand which is nearly identical for less cost. We got more after our initial set. :-) I especially like these combined with a light table. We also just have plain old magnet options as they can be used in a variety of ways. Here are a couple of other magnet set options: Magnets and More and Fun with Magnets. I like having the magnet sticks and Magformers in separate grab and go containers (like a bag or basket) as they are great entertainment in church and other activities that are a little harder for my younger kids to sit through. I'll take them to basketball games to keep the 3 year old busy and all the 4th graders start swarming around me to play as well. One boy asked me where my toys were when I didn't bring all the extra kids to a game! They really enjoy them at different levels as they grow. 
  • Pattern Blocks--As an educator, I have been around pattern blocks for many, many years. These manipulatives are great for sorting color, size, and shapes. They are good for learning about fractions, tesselations, patterns, and other mathematical concepts. They are also good for just building! I love watching younger children use them in a very different way, stacking them rather than making the patterns. I prefer the wooden pattern blocks, with a big box left over from my teaching days. We also have a magnetic portable set that can be nice for travel. 
  • Building Sets--Classics like Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, K'Nex, etc., are great basics. I often get these at garage sales for less than $5/set. A couple of pieces may be missing, but they work overall. Other sets, such as Keva and Kapla or even a Jenga game with missing pieces are a great option. 
  • Marble Runs--We also really enjoy marble run blocks that can be manipulated in many ways. There are both wooden and plastic options out there. There are even magnetic marble runs for the front of the fridge! There is something about watching marbles run that is just fascinating!
  • Electronic Sets--As my children get older, I find they want a little more adventure. Electronics is a good way to bring in more adventure. Many offer interchangeable sets that can be used a variety of ways. We particularly like SnapCircuit sets and littleBits. Littlebits are one of my favorites as they are very easy to use and can be built in so many ways! Read my review of them here. Make your own sets with a variety of LED lights, batteries (be careful with little ones with button cell batteries), wires, battery holders, wire cutters, popsicle sticks, wood cutters, low temp glue gun, pieces of wood, motors, and more! I find my "builder" child loves to have access to all of this stuff! I also really like the Electric Stick and the Energy Ball. These are not exactly loose parts, but they are a fun tool to explore circuits and how they work. I like having children all put a hand in the middle, grab someone else's hand, put the other hand in, and grab another person's hand, making sure the Electric Stick or Energy Ball is between two hands--it completes the circuit through all those people! We clap hands or give high fives to complete the circuit as well. 
  • Gears--It's really neat to see how gears work together to move. Being able to reposition and move the gears allows for exploration. We have this set and like it. 
  • Connecting Kits--There are several options for these. We like these: flower building kit, Bristle Blocks, Waffle Blocks, Building Discs, Color Clix, Brain Flakes,  etc. 
  • Realistic Animals--If I could only have natural items plus one other toy--this would be it! I LOVE having realistic animals from our region. We've sampled many of the "Toobs" and other sets, but my FAVORITES are the Safari Incredible Creature line. They are larger, very detailed, realistic, and with plenty of options of animals in our area. We love the eagle, soft-shelled turtle, bullfrog, flying squirrel, etc. You may also enjoy my post on ways to inspire animal play here
  • Fort Kits--My sister-in-law and brother pulled this together for our kids and we love it! Sheets, rope, clothespins or other clamps, etc. Pretty basic stuff that combine together for fun results both inside and out! 
  • Books to Inspire--Check out my list of Loose Parts Play inspired books! These are a great place to spend quality time building qualities of imagination, creativity, perseverance, and tinkering. 
  • Slinky!--I had to add this in after seeing it used in so many ways. I actually got it for my husband for Christmas. He said he had never had a metal one, just the plastic ones as a child. He and the kids have been enjoying experimenting with this! I couldn't believe our $3 toy was such a hit!  

Special gifts do not have to be purchased. They can be carefully curated for impact. Try making a Tinkering Station for a loved one interested in building. See my links above for some of the electronic and tool options that have worked well for us. 

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Loose Parts Books!

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If you read the blog, you know I love loose parts! I was excited to find a cartoon while flipping through Netflix recently that was full of loose parts that come alive! Have you heard of Lily's Driftwood Bay? A 6-year-old girl lives near the beach and collects various treasures, which become her friends and adventure. I had to watch it after my 3-year-old did so I could see all the loose parts play aspects. Pretty cool!

We went to a museum recently that actually lacked loose parts for the most part, but that contains a library with some pretty neat books. I was happy to be introduced to a few new books, especially ones with loose parts in them. My 7-year-old is all about creating, inventing, and building things, so these were perfect books to share with him.

One book we found is called "Fraidyzoo". Honestly, the title took me a while to figure out--it's a play on Fraidy Cat, as a girl is afraid of going to the zoo. Her family comes up with various zoo creations out of loose parts to help her get used to the ideas of the zoo. It works and they have a fun time there. I really enjoyed the drawing depicting loose parts put together for these animals. Check out just the title! Loose parts everywhere! Cardboard boxes can become so many things, like the rhinoceros on the right side. Tilt screen to view. :-) This is a picture book with minimal text, yet I loved all the combinations of possibilities. This is appropriate for preschool through grade 3, though it may need to make an appearance at my next presentation on Loose Parts Play!

Another book we really liked is Rosie Revere, Engineer. Rosie is a girl who is always squirreling away odds and ends for her engineering projects as a young girl. I can relate to this as my 7-year-old's eyes get so big when he finds a new object to add to his stash. He most recently discovered duct tape (Thanks, Cory and Holly) and is in heaven! Rosie's aunt is Rosie the Riveter whose only regret is not flying, so Rosie the younger sets out to make a flying machine. However, the machine falls flat. 


I loved this quote on the page, "With each perfect failure, they all stand and cheer, but none quite as proudly as Rosie Revere." Rosie soon appreciated that we learn from mistakes and can use them to inform future projects. I love all the bits and baubles combined for creations.

Another book that caught my attention was Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking. I'm working on a nature inspired tinkering program right now, so this fits in nicely. The book itself is made up of a collage of papers and shapes, showing the natural world. The author suggests we can learn so much from nature if we just investigate, using specific examples of how nature works and inspires thinking.

The author talked of dung beetles finding direction from the Milky Way and leaves a note explaining how we learn from nature and how it can inspire our thinking! This one is not as loose parts focused; however, it reminds us to look for inspiration in nature! It espouses the idea of tinkering and creating. It shows how animals solve problems.

Have you found any Loose Parts Play books? Please share if you do!

I found another book for my list. Scraps! by Lois Ehlert, shares how the author/illustrator grew up surrounded by scraps of life and uses those many scraps in her artwork and books. I loved it! See my review here.

I shared this in a couple of online groups, such as Loose Parts Play (I host this!) and Loose Parts and Intelligent Playthings. They had additional suggestions! I'm excited to check these out soon!

The Most Magnificent Thing is about a girl determined to make the most magnificent thing ever! She gets discouraged as it isn't working out exactly as planned. Her dog takes her for a walk and upon her return, she is refreshed and ready to keep working with her bits and parts to make the most magnificent thing! Thanks for the suggestion, Linda and Kristina!

Andrew Henry's Meadow is classic I had not encountered before. Andrew feels a little left out as a middle child (I am one, too!) and sneaks out to the meadow and starts building. Other children start joining him. He builds them interesting houses. Soon, the parents are looking for the kids and the children are looking for the adults. Everyone ends up happy and Andrew is allowed to continue working on his creations in the basement. Thanks for the suggestion, Sherah and Tessa!

Have Fun Molly Lou Melon is a great book about learning from grandmother who didn't grow up with all the various plastic toys that often line our houses today. Her grandmother teaches her how she had fun with twigs, leaves, and flowers. Boxes become race cars and clouds become fascinating television programming. Thanks for the suggestion, Jill!

Roxaboxen sounds delightful! Children claim a rocky hill full of sand, rocks, wooden boxes, and cactus; however, it turns into a magical place for them to create a whole city, including money made out of pebbles! Thanks for the suggestion, Rondee and Allison!

Lucy's Picture takes place mostly in art class while people are painting. However, Lucy wants to do her art differently, as she would like to share it with her blind grandfather. She incorporates velvet, feathers, twigs, and other found objects for a picture her grandfather can "see" with his hands! Thanks for the suggestion, Rhona!

Leaf Man is another book I love. We check this out at least every year to the point where I recently purchased it after going on a Lois Ehlert binge! "Leaf Man" is traveling in the fall, passing the ducks and geese, pumpkins, squash, orchards, meadows, lake, river, along the river, with the butterflies, over the mountains, and more! It leaves you with the invitation to find Leaf Man blowing near you! Honestly, I love all of her illustrations and find that she incorporates many loose parts and natural bits and pieces in her work. Check out my review of her autobiography, Scraps, for other books I like by Ehlert. Thanks for the suggestion, Stacy!


Let's Make Faces  immediately caught my eye! We make "nature faces" in so many ways with natural elements. These are more found elements in the book, yet I love the open inspiration to play and experiment with loose parts in making faces. Thanks for the suggestion, Kristina! Here is a blog post on how she used it. Loved the use of the light table with it.

Not a Box and Not a Stick are simple books with simple line drawings showing that the box is really not a box, but a racecar or a spaceship (and so on) or the stick is really a fishing pole catching a shark or a sword in medieval times. I will read one as I bring loose parts to a school to get ideas flowing before we start working with loose parts.

If You Find a Rock looks at finding rocks along one's journey and the many things the rock can be, such as a skipping rock, a drawing rock, a group of sifting rocks, a place to sit, etc.  It uses real photos and is delightful! I LOVE rocks and have a decent collection, so this rock pairs nicely with many open ended rock activities.

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!

Hannah's Collections focuses on a girl and her collections. She is a great collector, but is asked to bring only one collection to school. She sorts, categorizes, and explores her collections as she decides what she will take. Thanks for the share, BJ!

Elizabeti's DollElizabeti has a new baby brother, but no doll of her own. She found a rock just the right size and named it Eva. When the baby had a bath, so did the rock baby. Elizabeti was a good mother to her “baby”, yet the rock is lost while she is doing her chores. They are reunited as she cooks over the stone fire pit.

Something from NothingJoseph’s grandfather gave him a blanket as a baby. As it gets worn, grandfather snips it into a jacket. As the jacket is too small, it becomes a vest. The blanket then becomes a tie, handkerchief, and a button. Joseph has “just enough” paper to then make a wonderful story.  
Salad PieMaggie is enjoying her time alone in the park making “salad pie”  until Herbert shows up. He tries to add to her salad pie, but she doesn’t want his help. He persists, saving her and the salad at the bottom of the slide. Thanks, Kimberly G.!
  MattlandA young boy who has moved many times is not happy and just about to break a stick in anger. The stick feels good in his hand and he draws Snake River. A nearby puddle is Turtle Lake.  A road and town spring up about the space. A girl brings extra provisions. The rain threatens the new town, but nearby children save the day as Matt finds new friends.
Charlie's House A young boy in humble circumstances builds an even better house and car of mud and scraps after seeing his own house built. His imagination takes him on a ride in the car! Thanks for the suggestion, Tricia L. 
On My Beach there are many Pebbles Suggested by Hannah P.--thanks!

Henry's Amazing Machine: Thanks, Judi Z.

The Perfect Purple Feather: Thanks, Jeanne Z. 

If You Find a Rock: Thanks, Michelle, T.!
Rhoda's Rock Hunt Thanks, Rania F.!
Faces: Thanks, Sally H.!
The Line Up Book: Thanks, Nancy H.!
Treasures of the Heart: Thanks, Nancy, H.! 
More: Thanks, Nancy H.! 
If Rocks Could Sing: Thanks, Nancy H.!
The Cleanup Surprise: Thanks, Sandy H.!
It Zwibble and the Greatest Clean-up Ever: Thanks, Sandy H.!
Harry's Hand: Thanks, Samantha C.!
Galimoto: Thanks, Sue L.P.!
Mr. Cornell's Dream Big Boxes: Thanks, Sue L.P.!
Dream Something Big: Thanks, Sue L.P.!
Everybody Needs a Rock: Thanks, Diane O.!

More Lists! 
Block Building Books on Loose Parts Play
Valentine's Nature and Loose Parts Books
Rocks as a Loose Part
Books for Tinkering Inspiration! 

Here is another list that was suggested on tinkering and inventing! This is right up my 7-year-old son's alley!

Cynthia is also working on a loose parts inspired book!

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

This post may contain affiliate links. 



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Low Cost Outdoor Classroom Alternative Tips

Outdoor Classrooms provide a place for children to connect to nature. With so many areas where children are told "no" to the diverse ways they want to interact with nature, outdoor classrooms are often a "yes" place. Yes, please dig in the dirt. Yes, please dig with the log pieces. Yes, please climb on these fallen logs. I was introduced to the Nature Explore outdoor classroom concept as we developed a natural playscape at a local nature center. This research based process helped reign in all the possibilities and gave me a framework to actually get this area done!  Their Learning with Nature Idea Book is essential to getting started. It contains the guiding principles, theoretical framework, and needed elements for certification with a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. Certification is worth the extra step! If you work with youth in Indiana, the intent is to make this part of the library with the Indiana Youth Institute so that it can be checked out for free. However, I think the $20 investment is worth the money for the simple concepts and framework presented. To help make these spaces more accessible, I share tips below for lower cost alternatives.

As you get started in the outdoor classroom, look for what you already have that can be repurposed or used for the area. For example, at Woodlawn Nature Center, we already had a water feature. Many volunteers and donations helped with that in the past, though upkeep and maintenance takes time and some money. It's a great place for children to watch the fish, observe animals drinking, and to look for other habitat signs. We added a few benches made from wood on the property. A chainsaw artist who grew up in the area made them when he was home visiting. Additionally, there was already a campfire area with logs for sitting. This became our gathering area. What spaces do you already have that might be repurposed into an area in your outdoor classroom?

We also started looking through the basement and other areas of the nature center to see what might be used or repurposed. We found this low open table with sides. It is slightly slanted, but okay enough to be a building base. We put it behind our building under the overhang. It doesn't need as much protection being under the overhang. 

We also found many loose parts throughout the center that could be repurposed for outdoors. We gathered baskets, pinecones, sweet gum balls, etc. for use in the outdoor classroom. We store much of it in our "Loose Parts Play" area inside and then take outside as needed.  I also helped a friend nearby get ready for her certification. She has a beautiful outdoor area that just needed a few more pieces for a music and movement area as she didn't have official built in pieces outside. She had a great open space for it though. Going through her indoor storage areas she had great scarves, hula hoops, and smaller musical instruments. These could easily be gathered in a large basket to have the available in this area. What can go outside that you have inside? 

My children were part of a Pay It Forward 4-H club. I love how they focus on teaching service and connecting with others. They toured the nature center and decided they would like to help with a music wall. The children brought in items that might be used for music, such as old xylophones and other metal items. They put in the upright poles, added collected branches from the area, and screwed in the items to explore. Thanks PIF 4-H! As mentioned above, a chainsaw artist, Mark Harris, helped with some benches. Additionally, we received a grant as the nature center to buy a chainsaw to make other benches. 

We received funds from local Optimist clubs and then the New Paris boy scouts group came in and put together our boxes. Girl Scouts helped clean up the area and added new seasonal plants. 

My husband knows that one way I feel love is through acts of service and spending quality time together. He has "given" me a few mornings of his time as birthday presents the last couple of years. His help might include using a post hole digger to add poles, building an art easel, sawing legs off a table, etc. I try not to abuse it, but his help comes in very handy when I have a vision of what I'd like to see done. 

I LOVE seeing various ideas for outdoor play area. In particular, I love the,, the Adventurous Child Playgrounds, and Natural Playgrounds. I also pour over websites, such as Pinterest, for other ideas. Check out some of the boards I have to start your search. I have boards specifically on Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom "areas" as well as lots of boards on Loose Parts Play--infants and toddlers, storage, natural items, etc. My main board for outdoor classroom ideas is WNC Natural Playscape.

I cannot generally afford all the items I would love from these catalogs (though buy select items I can't get otherwise); however, I can use them as inspiration for safe DIY versions of the items. For example, I usually see the clear easels for around $1000 with additional shipping. We had some grant money and were able to build our version for just around $250. It took a morning with my husband, plus some time figuring out what we would need and finding places for supplies. Here is a basic tutorial we based our plans off. We chose to make our easel longer as that was the size of acrylic we could find easily at our local home improvement store. 

I also LOVED the ramps I was finding various places for exploring in our messy materials area. These were $250-300 for a set. My friend has a handy husband. I showed them to him and he thought they were something he could make. For about $30 (plus a willing helper who has lots of tools), we had at least two larger sets of the ramps only, using pieces of logs and tree cookies to help position the ramps during play. Find our tutorial here. These have added a great dimension of engineering, math, and STEM concepts in our outdoor classroom. 

We keep our ramps inside in a crate near the back door. We can easily bring them outside when we want to use them. 

This is our nature art area. As we put this area together, I found a table on the side of the road. We cut the legs down so it was a shorter table. Our neighbors were having tree work done, so I asked for their stumps. The garden mirror came from a local resale type shop for $2.50, the cork board from a garage sale for $1,  and the easels and metal decoration were unused in my garage. By "scrounging" we came up with a basic area that we could add to as needed. Total cost--less than $5 and time gathering items. 
I'll share another picture of this concept soon. A friend finds plastic and wooden crates behind a local Mexican grocery store. She understood our concept and shared crates with us. These were perfect for storing loose parts in our outdoor classroom. 
Nature is usually free! Our site is on ten acres of woods. Wood abounds! These logs happened to be stacked in the area we used for our outdoor classroom--instant climbing feature! We also have been able to make tree cookies, gather pinecones and sweet gum balls, make log seats, etc. 
Nature naturally recycles itself. Natural items can be used for a time and then put out to compost when they no longer serve their purpose in the outdoor classroom. Watch for a picture below with items in crates. A neighbor was getting rid of rough tree cookies, my children collected acorns, my son and I picked up downed pine branches, and children at the nature center gathered sticks to fill our crates. Nature is free! Check with tree trimming places for materials. I also have stopped numerous times when I see downed trees. I knock on the door, let them know what I'm trying to do, and usually am allowed to take whatever I can fit in my van. I put adds in our local free newspaper and let people know what we need! They will often collect and deliver even! 
As we looked at what we would like in our outdoor classroom, I knew we couldn't afford all the things we wanted. We received an initial grant from NAI Region 4. In the grant, I explained our vision and what we were trying to do. We couldn't afford the whole Nature Explore set up, but we did select things to buy that would really make an impact in our outdoor area. We bought large pieces of outdoor fabric (though have since also added tulle to this crate and it seems to be doing fine), small garden tools, buckets (love Nature Explore buckets), and materials for our clear easel. Find the items you really want and can't find a less expensive way to make or procure them. As you write grants and look for other funding, use these funds for those items you cannot get otherwise. 
We have a great local store called ReStore--it's part of Habitat for Humanity. People donate all kinds of building and other supplies to sell there. I like to browse it once a quarter or so to see what I can find. I have found these garden mirrors for 2 for $5 when they are on sale. I have even called and asked for when they will be on sale so I can get a better deal. I couldn't afford a large entryway; however, I could afford two garden mirrors on posts that I got on sale at our local big box store. They make an impact and say welcome to our area. For our initial certification, I had found poles to post in the ground with a laminated color picture to name our area, and scarves tied around. This was an okay temporary fix, but I'm much happier with our $10 upgrade. We also put these mirrors in our mud kitchen area, as "windows". We are also considering adding them to our wildflower and weaving area for additional artistic elements. One person mentioned the ground was warm from the reflection of the mirrors. I didn't see any warnings on these, but it is something to watch and be aware of. 
I have also found domed acrylic mirrors. I put these out in the yard to see our muddy faces on International Mud Day or to watch the trees above our head swaying in the wind. It's great to see children interact with these. I take these in when we are not in the area. I found marine planks for $2/board, too. These made a little table in our mud area and my children use them as a loose part in our log area at home. Get to know the people at the store and let them know what you are trying to do--they may alert you of other materials you hadn't thought of before. 
I have also seen utility spools and large tubes sitting outside industry spot in our area. I have stopped by and asked if they were okay to repurpose in our area. I check to make sure they didn't have exposure to various chemicals and look for smooth edges and safety. Are there places in your area that might have items to repurpose? I also found large cardboard flowers after a Vacation Bible School that were going to be discarded. We easily stapled these to the back of our building for some color and added whimsy! Thanks Bristol United Methodist Church for helping with these! They even helped drive them over.
Building stores, salvage shops, and flea markets may be in your area. Browse home improvement stores. What low cost options do they have for engaging play? What is their giving policy? What resources might you check out in your area? 
I am always on the hunt for other ideas that are low cost. We visited Kalamazoo Nature Center's outdoor playscape and noticed this gate made out of sticks. It seemed simple and inexpensive. We used this concept to carve out a dirt digging area in our outdoor classroom. One guiding principle is to have clearly defined areas. This is an inexpensive way to make a clearly defined area. A couple of cub scout groups came in and put in the wooden stakes (about $20) and gathered the numerous sticks from the woods and yard to fill in our "bird's nest". It makes a great place to dig in the dirt. 
Check out Pinterest boards, blogs, and other certified Nature Explore Classrooms for ideas on what you might like in your area. 
While allowing for easily accessed storage is one of the guiding principles for Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms, we don't always want to leave some of more expensive items outside beyond our open hours. We have items in crates for the various areas that can easily be secured indoors and taken outdoors. We have a basket of scarves and small musical instruments to add to our basic musical area. We also did a mobile concept like this for my friend's music and movement area. In the picture below, you can see crates outside--these items I am comfortable leaving outside. 
Other baskets we might have include a fort building kit. We have an area under a tree with lots of long sticks for building. We started our fort building kit from a Christmas present. My brother and sister-in-law gave the boys a set of recycled sheets, ropes, and clothespins. This was a great place to start. We have added more of everything to this to accommodate larger groups. The picture above is from when we set up shop in front of our local library during a program, called Nature Play! It was fun to have a mobile nature spot that could be taken many places. 
My final tip is to let others know what you are trying to create. It takes time to explain it and let others see the vision, but it's worth it in gathering resources and finding friends and groups to help with the process. As you read above, this involved families, husbands, friends, service groups, and many more to pull together. It took a leader to see the vision and to help with the organization, with lots of help of other volunteers. I appreciate all the support in getting this done.  
I mentioned these crates in various comments above. This was all free! One person donated the crates (and came back with friends and did yard clean up for a total of 16 hours). She also filled up the garden boxes with worm castings. She has an awesome product through RAW Sustainable Living. As people get more involved, see children and families using the space, and understand the need for the areas, they will help! Point them to what you need done. I have been sharing my Pinterest boards lately as inspiration for others who want to contribute to this project. I cannot do all the projects that I would love to see happen, but families and groups can adopt a spot and make it an even more engaging area for our community. 
Another family often brings their 4 girls into the nature center. They are working on a fairy garden spot deep in the woods. This is different than one of the guiding Nature Explore principles of having areas visible at all times. However, we wanted this spot to be a little more magical. Our intent is that it will be for older children who might not need as much supervision and for families that include an adult with them so there will be supervision there. Their family owns a custom audio company, Dynamic Audio Design, for cars. They have  access to tools, products, and resources that will add to this space. Watch for the Fairy Wings and Wild Things event on May 7 to launch this magical space, including a fairy trail in the woods. 
We have another mom in our nature preschool group that has been using nap time for various projects that need done. She is good at free cycling (I think I need to give her a list of what we need!--put those wish lists on the Internet and let people know what you might need) and had access to lots of yarn and fabric. She has made banners (crocheted even!) to help spruce up our area and add whimsy. She cut pieces of fabric that will be perfect for capes and outdoor building. Other moms and interested groups see the potential and vision of this Outdoor Classroom area and are stepping up to offer time, talents, and resources to help make this happen! I offer my skills and time as a volunteer as well--I am not paid for pulling this area together, but want to see a natural play space for my children and the community. I started volunteering at the nature center through the Indiana Master Naturalist program. 
In our Loose Parts=Imagination + Creativity workshop, Chris Whitmire from the Early Learning Center in Granger and I developed a worksheet and process for helping find resources in gathering loose parts for our spaces. For me, loose parts need to be a part of any Outdoor Classroom setting. I'd love to see more at playgrounds as well. The principles in our planning sheets for Loose Parts would also work well as you develop your Outdoor Classroom spaces. Also, you might want to check out this post on Natural Playgrounds for additional resources, ideas, and inspiration. Indiana Children & Nature Network also has valuable resources on Natural Play Areas
If you would like to donate time, energy, resources, or money to the project at Woodlawn Nature Center, please click here for volunteer opportunities or here for our wish list. Additional monetary funds are needed for ongoing operating costs at the nature center. Any amount is helpful!