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Introducing Loose Parts Play in our Montessori Home

Loose parts play! An alternative title to this post could have been "What does my Montessori 6-year-old do all day?" In our Montessori home, the answer to that has been pretend play and loose parts. For Nora's 6th birthday, I dove into the much more Waldorf world of Grapat toys (For clarity's sake, this isn't sponsored by them and I purchased all of the toys we own.) and their colorful loose parts. I bought most of what we have used, so we have about a quarter set of the Grapat Mandala set plus some extra figures. It's been a huge hit! Especially when combined with our collection of Grimms toys. 

So, what are loose parts? Basically, they are small bits of...anything used for play. The Grapat are really colorful, well made toys, but there is nothing special about them when it comes to loose parts. Everything we've seen by adding them to our home could have been gained with a tray of rocks, buttons, scraps of fabric, milk tops, and cheap wooden rings. So I don't want this to be an endorsement of hard to find, wooden toys (even though I think they are a wonderful toy and company), but more the method of play itself. 

Here's what I've noticed by adding loose parts to Nora's shelves: 
  • They've increased a desire to tell stories: Every time she takes these materials off her shelves she is creating a whole world of stories. Now, Nora plays this way more naturally than some of my other children, but these materials have really led to the creation of so many things. Unlike the barn which leads to the same story line most of the time, these materials are so open ended that she takes them in all sorts of directions. 
  • It's leading to other learning: "Mom, I'm going to go write down all the names of my town!" "I need to make a map of the woods I just built." "Three plus three plus three is nine, and thats how long my river is!" The possibilities for learning have been so natural and organic and just amazing to see. 
  • Creative construction is back: Nora went through a phase as a 2-3 year old where she loved building with blocks, but then she really shifted more toward play with her dollhouse and barn. Now, open ended building is back in a big way and it's really fun to see.  
  • Cleaning up is part of the fun: We use a large tray (also from Grapat) to organize and store our loose parts. And, surprisingly, Nora loves to clean them up because it's like a beautiful puzzle. She has specific ways she likes to place them and sort them and arrange them. It becomes purposeful work in and of itself. 
  • The "people" figures were not as popular as I assumed they would be: I initially decided on Grapat because they have such a wonderful selection of figures to go with their loose parts. While Nora plays with them, she really is much more intrigued with the small bits and parts then the people figures which I find super interesting  
  • Patterns are really intriguing: "Mom! There are three of each color and if you put them like this then they go from dark to light!" Loose parts naturally lead to playing and exploring patterns, shapes, symmetry and asymmetry, colors and so much more.  
  • It's strengthening a sense of order we aren't seeing elsewhere: As a second plane child we aren't seeing as much order with Nora anymore, except with this play. I don't know why but she creates order both in using and cleaning these materials and that really speaks to her. 

I think I would still leave this type of play for closer to the second plane of development (6-years-old). I think a lot of the abstract thinking and play that is coming from these materials is because of her solid foundation in concrete experiences. Other children and homes might be different there, but I'm not seeing interest in these materials from Gus (at 3), for example, despite the fact that they share this room. 

Do you use loose parts as part of your child's play? 


Ines said…
This is so interesting! We have some of the grapat and Grimms toys and my 4 year old (who goes to a Montessori house) loves playing with them. He uses the mandala pieces (honey, fire, trees, mushrooms) for all sorts of play: building, pushing around in his truck, story telling, feeding his wooden animals etc. He’s been really into them for about a year now. We also experienced that the peg people do not spark as much interest for him.

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