When I think about loose parts I picture lovely pieces of sea glass, driftwood, acorns and rocks. Plastic is usually the last thing to cross my mind, yet as a loose part it can be so engaging! I wanted to take a little time to focus on its beauty and versatility.
Even though it is sometimes overlooked when we are preparing our learning environments, plastic is a fantastic addition to your loose parts repertoire. Plastic is durable, comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, and is readily available which means most families in your program would be able to contribute a piece or two (hello engagement!).
When we use plastic that would otherwise be considered trash in our classroom we rescue it from the landfill and teach our students a valuable lesson about reusing materials instead of wasting them. As early years teacher Samantha Kent points out, “Reused plastic loose parts are better used creatively than thrown into landfill. This allows children to see how materials can be used in multiple ways.”
“In any Early Years setting, there is no such thing as ‘waste’ – just resources,” explains Andrea Rose, Co-Founder of My Recycled Classroom. “Children need to experience playing with plastics and the things we would usually throw away in order to develop a deeper, unspoken understanding of their responsibility to our planet. Alongside this, we’ve observed at My Recycled Classroom, that enriched learning unfolds in all developmental areas when children are allowed to handle ‘ordinary’, disused items.”
Having a variety of items such as plastic, wood, fabric, and metal that have different textures, colors and weights for the children to use in their imaginative play extends their learning and challenges their thinking. Colorful plastic pieces mixed in with more muted wood cookies and other loose parts can add another dimension to the children’s play.
“We don’t have a lot of color in our play space so I welcome plastic,” explains Tammy Lockwood, early years teacher. “I just prefer it be donated or purchased used. I’m not keen on purchasing new plastic items for loose parts. While I love natural items and I think that the feel of natural items is best, there is still room for plastic and teaches something entirely different.”
“I like what is free, recycled, and accessible,” says educator Carla Gull, administrator of the Facebook group Loose Parts Play. “Some hits have been the large rings with two or three holes that hold several spaghetti sauce jars together (lots of spinning with those), pvc pipes of varying sizes, large plastic spools, heavy duty plastic crates (will pay for these), pizza “tents” to keep the cheese off the box, plastic netting around produce, and anything with texture for use with playdough.”
Pieces of plastic and other recycled loose parts are amazingly engaging materials for children to explore; they not only add depth to the children’s play but teach them crucial lessons about environmentalism. Let’s save these valuable treasures from going in the trash and give them another life as tools for playful learning in the hands of our students.