Why a stick is not just a stick in your child’s world

When is a stick not a stick…?

When with a little imagination, it can be a fishing pole, a spoon for stirring a potion, a magic wand or even a balance beam for snails!

Research has shown that in loose parts play, children often make their play choices based on how much variability materials such as a stick can offer. Who remembers the days when your toddler preferred to play with the wrapping paper and box rather than the toy that was inside? It’s because they don’t just see it as a box – they see it as so many more things!

Loose parts, in other words a stick, or mud, tubing, fabric, pine cones and the like, are brilliant tools in prompting children to create their own play stories. Hours and hours of fun can often be had at the beach, not always with just a bucket and spade, but with rocks, shells, seaweed and feathers.

And these materials are so useful for children to play with at nursery too.

Nurturing valuable life skills

At KTB Kids, we understand and recognise that children learn best when they are able to play freely with real resources and enter the world of ‘what if’. These ‘play’ materials come with no instructions and can be used alone or combined with others. A stone may become a superhero in a story, or an acorn could just be the magic ingredient in an imaginary bowl of soup.

In essence, loose parts play promotes social competence by supporting creativity and innovation – valuable life skills in adult life.

It is wonderful to observe our children fully engaged in play, adapting and manipulating, literally letting their imaginations run away with them.
One child’s pile of bits to create a magical forest quickly, once left behind, becomes another’s fairy garden – they bring their own ideas to what they see in front of them.

Consider for a moment, the limitation of a prescriptive princess fancy dress costume, which will only ever be used for that purpose. Then compare it to a piece of natural silk which could be a blanket to swaddle a baby, a place to have a picnic, a fishing pond or even a bride’s veil.

Who’s going to have the best time and learn the most?

Playing it safe

We believe that promoting a learning environment filled with chaotic natural and recycled loose parts demonstrates how we push the educational boundaries of early years.

However, it goes without saying that we’ll always take every reasonable precaution to protect our children from harm and from any hazard likely to cause injury.

We do this with dynamic risk assessments which allow our educators to monitor and modify play where needed. This approach means that even our youngest children can take part with appropriate materials and adequate supervision.

Loose parts play aids learning

Numeracy: When children manipulate loose parts in play they are gaining essential mathematical skills. The process of sorting will include measurement, equivalency, balance, spatial awareness, conservation and logistical classification. Children will thrive on counting objects, arranging them in specific sequences, patterns and colours.

Science: By the process of investigation and experimentation in loose parts play, children gain a deeper knowledge of how things work. They actively construct ideas and explanations about the physical properties of objects, and unknowingly test multiple hypotheses such as gravity, force, weight, distance and height.

Language and Literacy: Using loose parts as props can unlock rich conversations and storytelling skills. Language development is promoted as children describe the items they manipulate, making connections between loose parts, books they have read, the stories they have heard and the life they know. As they work together we see productive arguments that increase their critical thinking skills.

Art and Design: Loose parts in our art area help children to extend their creativity as they have the tools and materials to hand for storytelling and expressing their ideas and feelings. This encourages creative expression.

Movement and Music: Movement possibilities with loose parts play are endless and provide ample opportunity to improvise. Sounds can be explored in musical play and the use of scarves, hoops and ribbons promote physical development. Large items such as blocks and tyres encourage working together to problem-solve and develop muscle skill development.