Adults that work within an Early Years setting are passionate about inspiring the children within their care to be the ‘thinkers and doers’ of the future. Lots of Early Years settings are now aiming to provide a home-from-home environment, with calming and tranquil spaces, that also offer neutral colours, natural materials, cosy places for children to sit and look at books or engage in deep learning. By creating this type of enabling environment that is full of authentic resources as well as loose parts, you are able to stimulate, excite and provide opportunities for children to explore.
So, what are authentic resources?
Instead of using plastic, pretend, child-sized toys, children have the real thing, therefore, these authentic resources value children’s play. By giving children ‘real’ authentic resources to play with, it opens up a wealth of opportunities for learning. These authentic resources offer a range of textures to explore and investigate, because in comparison, plastic feels the same, smells the same and all looks the same. By providing an eclectic collection of resources, children are given a wider range of experiences and opportunities for critical thinking, exploration and discovery.
And what are loose parts?
Loose parts are items that can be used in a multiple of ways with no pre-determined outcome. Children choose how to use these items, therefore developing opportunities for creativity, critical thinking, problem solving. They also present opportunities for counting, sorting, mathematical concepts and so many more learning outcomes. Children can use these items for construction, building, joining things together, developing skills of problem solving and critical thinking. Through the use of items, children are opening up a wealth of opportunities to experience a range of textures, size, shape and variable weights; all of these help children to develop mathematical concepts, opening opportunities for conversation and questioning.
Loose parts can be used holistically across all areas of the setting and are usually stored, so that children can access and select them independently. Loose parts have no fixed outcome, which means there is no right or wrong way to play or use these items. This, in turn, ensures learning is not prescriptive with adult determined outcomes. Children take ownership of their play and it opens up endless possibilities to learning and development. By using and interacting with these items children are developing essential manipulative skills, building their dexterity and fine motor skills in preparation for later pencil control. Their focus is on the process of learning and being actively engaged, instead of creating an end result.
Loose parts ensure children are taught HOW to Think, not WHAT to Think!
So, why provide an environment that has these types of resources for the children?
It can be tempting to feel that for an Early Years environment to look outstanding, it must be filled with brand new resources that are in pristine condition. This is especially tempting when Early Years catalogues come through the door and practitioners get excited looking through and placing orders. These resources can often be bright, colourful and plastic which when placed in a room, all begin to look very similar. They often have set purposes and this limits the learning that can happen from interacting with these types of resources.
Authentic resources spark interest and engage the senses. Unlike plastic toys, which typically have a set purpose and limited learning outcome. Authentic resources often have multiple purposes and provide children with the opportunity to experience a range of textures, size, shape and weights. Supervised play with breakable, real-life items made of glass and ceramic materials is especially valuable because it gives children the chance to learn how to handle items with care and trust their own capabilities.
Here at Sandhills Wolverhampton, we are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach and we fully believe that when children are valued as strong, capable learners, a carefully planned, well-resourced environment offers the best opportunities to foster a child’s self-esteem, identity and self-development. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, believed a child’s environment is so important in the process of making learning meaningful that he defined it as the ‘third teacher’, behind parents and educators. We set up provocations and listen to the children and allow their ideas to evolve, our role here is not provide all the right answers or to always take a backseat in the learning, instead sensitively interacting to be a partner in the learning and discover the answers together.
So, what can you do at home?
You can easily recreate an environment full of authentic resources and loose parts at home to help support your child’s learning without having to go out and buy anything! One type of authentic item that you probably already have at home home are wooden items as these are often in abundance and offer lots of potential for children to explore and investigate.
Here is a few ideas of wooden items you might find at home:
- Serving salad bowls
- Massage rollers
- Trinket boxes
- Chopping boards
- Curtain rings
- Woven mats
- Wicker baskets
But if you ever have any questions about how to support your child’s play at home, just speak to your Nursery Manager or a member of the team, who will be more than happy to help.
Debbie Rides, Nursery Manager at Sandhills Nursery Wolverhampton