Loose Parts and Natural Materials with Toddlers
Loose parts and natural materials have gotten a lot of attention in the past decade with the increased interest in Reggio inspired practices and STEM activities for kids. Unfortunately the vast majority of this attention has been focused on preschoolers, which is great for 3-5 year olds, but leaves parents and teachers who work with the youngest kids at a loss. Rest assured Reggio and STEM does not magically become relevant when a child turns 3.
Much like Montessori and other theories, Reggio Emilia was introduced during my teaching courses as one of many ideas to be incorporated into our work with children. In my various teaching and experiences and now with my own children, I continue to be inspired by a wide range of approaches and theories but as my understanding and practice with Reggio has grown, I have grown to respect these ideas more and more.
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One of the many things about Reggio-inspired practices that inspires me is their use of real, natural materials throughout their environments.
Infants and toddlers learn through hands-on explorations of their world. They have a natural curiosity about the things around them. Young infants watch sunlight stream through objects, pull at the grass with their finger and wiggle their toes in the sand.
Choosing beautiful, diverse, and natural materials demonstrates respect for this process and for the child.
These materials also support the child's development of knowledge and their ability to attend.
To me, the inclusion of natural materials and the importance of loose parts goes together. Both naturally encourage creativity and curiosity. Both value the child and view them as a competent, creative, inquisitive person.
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When my twins were babies and toddlers, introducing them to a wide arrange of creative experiences was instinctive, but I struggled more with incorporating natural materials and loose parts early on when they were infants.
Their tendency to mouth everything in sight made me hesitate to bring natural materials into our home, yet I started little by little.
I learned that with supervision and intriguing invitations, their explorations tended to be more engaged. (I also grew to accept that some mouthing would happen as they used all of their senses to investigate the materials.)
Gradually, we have expanded the materials available in their environment. It is evident that these open-ended materials encourage children to be inventive and experiment.
The limitless possibilities of such materials draws them in to tinker and create.
Loose parts and natural materials are everywhere. Often the most simple and easy to find things are the most interesting to young children. Look around your home and yard to see what loose parts and natural materials you can upcycled or borrow for your child's explorations.
Everything above - plus,
Nuts + Bolts
The materials listed above have been presented in our environment or at the art or sensory table with the following materials to work on science explorations, basic math concepts, or build simple engineering skills.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is a good place to get started. If you want more specific ideas, here are 30 of our favorite Invitations to Play or see the posts below.
Various Upcycled and Found Loose Parts
Building Skyscrapers with Loose Parts : READ POST
Counting to 20 with Loose Parts : READ POST
5 Ways to Learn Patterns Outside : READ POST
Visit the 28 Days of STEM activities blog hop for tons of fantastic ideas.
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