Playing with Loose Parts

Playing with Loose Parts

What is “Loose Parts” play?

Play with “loose parts” already happens when you watch what children are naturally eager to do in their play. They often take parts of one toy and use their imagination to create a whole new play scenario, beyond it’s original design. Or, they pick up a stick outside and it magically transforms into a wand, paintbrush, or sword. So why not encourage this further and see what creativity can flourish from the experience?

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Simon Nicholson was an architect who created thoughtful landscapes and outdoor spaces that allowed for creativity to be freed, coining the term “loose parts”. From these beginnings in the 1970’s, came an adaptation into early learning classrooms and outdoor play spaces today where using various open-ended materials and spaces, children can put new meaning into their play. As noted above, when given the opportunity children will naturally do this and it is up to us, those providing the care and enrichment to children, to offer opportunities for this creativity to flourish. By allowing the children to take the lead in designing the environments and games in which they play, we are empowering them. This is core to the loose parts idea, in that children are more than capable of co-creating their own play and that as adults we should let them do so.

Playing with loose parts ideas for toddlersLoose parts play inspire learning through: selecting and testing materials, asking questions and making conversation, experimenting, imagination through pretend, movement in lifting and readjusting materials large and small, and so much more. As adults, we can guide and ask questions, encourage and document the learning. Providing the materials can be as simple as using materials that are natural are of course easily accessed in the outdoors, blended with odds and ends you may find around the house, but anything that can be easily moved or manipulated can be a part of loose parts play both indoors and out in this self-directed play.

As most of the play we love and use at Daycare, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Learning through play comes naturally for children and it is us, as grown ups who have to “re-learn” these approaches. Having grown up in a pencil to paper world (or… fingers to keyboard) it’s hard to imagine that VALUABLE learning can be done from playing with “random stuff”. But there is little random about it, and the children themselves add the value. It is through our preparation of materials, encouragement, and support that we can discover what they already know, and experience experimentation in a natural play setting.

I love to incorporate something natural in my loose parts invitation but it’s not necessary. I find including rocks, sticks and leaves for indoor play maintains a connection to the outdoors and has in my experience allowed for more natural play when actually being outside as these items become familiar as a tool and less a part of the setting. When outdoors, I love to bring out elements of inside: baskets, bowls, sheets, pillows and boxes, to see what comes of the creativity.

To keep in mind:

As with all play, there is the aspect of risk with loose parts. Some parts can be small so for those with small children or children who still gravitate toward putting parts in their mouth, it’s important to think about what you are providing to the children to investigate. Our loose parts play invitations change with who is taking an active part, or will be within reach of materials. I keep parts large and more simplified (lighter, fewer, less overwhelming) for those new to this type of play or for my younger players.


A great resource for loose parts play can be found in this book as well as additional editions by the same authors – really excellent examples are provided in the book and have been a great source of inspiration for us:

For your child’s bookshelf to encourage imaginative play with loose parts, here are two stories we love to read which are so sweet and illustrate how a box or stick can be anything at all!

I would love to hear how you implemented loose parts play and if you have ideas to share with your approach!


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Homemade Play Dough Recipe

Homemade Play Dough Recipe

Who doesn’t love to play with play dough? It’s relaxing, let’s you get creative and mistakes just aren’t possible because all it takes is a squish of your masterpiece to start all over again! Play like this reminds me so much of my childhood (I say that a lot… but it does) and each time I see this material I think back to working the play dough magic at our kitchen table. My father was a master artist in my mind. Turns out, he actually still is as I watch him create tiny creatures to amuse my daughter out of this amazing stuff. My sister and I used the tiny tubs of colourful clay that were often given as gifts for a birthday. Peeling the cover off of one of those tubs for the first time…. aaaaaamazing. The tiny imprint of the backward logo pressed into the top. Can’t you just see it now?

Turns out you can actually MAKE YOUR OWN PLAY DOUGH. I know… took me being a parent and daycare provider to figure this one out.

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Sure, you can go out and buy Play Doh (link to finding online here). There is no denying that product is well loved, and comes in more colours than you could imagine. But my daughter and the daycare children I spend my day with love to help me in the kitchen and making our own play dough is a great activity to keep us all busy, talk math and science and practice skills like pouring and stirring. This in itself makes a great STEAM activity (for more information on what STEAM is and how to implement it at home, check out my blog post here), is easy with the products you have around the house (more about that here) and is super cost efficient. Win-win-win!

There are soooooo many recipes online, but here is one we found and gravitate toward (mostly because I have it memorized and often have these items on hand).

Homemade Playdough Recipe:

2 Cups of Flour

2 Tbsp of Oil (whatever cooking oil you have a little extra of around the house –  coconut oil, vegetable oil, olive oil)

1/2 Cup of Salt

2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar

1 1/2 Cup Hot Water

Let’s get messy!

  1. Pour flour into a bowl and add salt.
  2. Mix in Cream of Tartar. You can find this in just about any grocery store or here online.
  3. Add oil and mix. I like coconut oil because afterward our hands feel silky smooth, but it’s all about preference and what you happen to have.
  4. Pour in the hot water. I often take over here for a quick second until the water mixes with some of the other ingredients and cools down… too hot for tiny hands at first.
  5. Mix all the ingredients together until they form the dough. Voila!

Take it to the next level:

This is an added activity to talk about colour mixing and blending. What colours mix together to make new colours? So much fun and in no time you have a little lesson about prime and secondary colours (Thank you to my friend Dorothy for teaching me about the mysterious colour wheel, while we were doing our B.Ed ♥)

We also add a little flavour to this from time to time. Great way to make it festive: cinnamon or mint makes for a lovely smelling dough, pumpkin spices in the fall (thank you to my cousin Danielle for this amazing idea ♥), or leave it plain for noses that are more sensitive.

I sometimes knead the dough to mix the colours or fragrance in as it takes a bit of work, stains your hands and possibly the surface your working on… but in the spirit of STEAM (see more on that here), I usually just let them go for it and see what happens!

The dough can last for quite a little while if you keep it covered when not in use, such as a plastic bag or container. I keep our home play dough a little bit longer but tend to have the daycare play dough move along after just a few uses for the potential spreading of germs.

We often use standard food colouring but I’ve heard of people using the gel food colouring that is used for cake decorating, with brilliant results. If you have any other strategies that you use, feel free to share below! I’d love to hear from you. ♥

Check out a recent fun activity we did with play dough here: Playing for Earth Day

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STEAM Learning: What is everyone talking about? 

STEAM Learning: What is everyone talking about? 

STEAM lemons fun easy simple science booksbeesandabcs.comIn simple terms, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) is an educational concept ever growing in popularity and implementation in the educational world. It’s far from “new” but it’s becoming a big part of everyday in early childhood education. The options are endless with creativity and exploration and once you start taking part, you’ll see excitement grow over what these activities can become. It’s all about showing children that traditional learning subjects cross over into one another and that we can think and problem solve about real world problems through play. STEAM projects create conversations, invite questions, and open up a world of imagination in hands-on learning.

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Playing and learning in this way can begin at any age. I won’t deny that I LOVE STEAM so it’s a strategy that I incorporate often in my daycare or at home one-on-one with my daughter. It’s fun to let loose and let the creative juices flow! Learning about the materials, growing the skills to manipulate them and using them beyond the conventional brings so much to the learning for your child.

My Grandmother always said, “you have to make memories” and that often includes a mess ♥

Mother, Grandmother and Living Life to the Fullest Guru, my Nanny knew what she was talking about. My older sister and I were good kids but most standards but we were kids nonetheless, and would accidentally write on a table, or put a giant dent in a wall with our head… that was me by the way and I’ve come out the other side with few lasting side effects, or so I like to believe :)…, but what she meant was that learning is messy, but oh so memorable.

Inviting this play does also invite mess more often than not. If this is out of your comfort zone, take the activity outside where cleanup is a breeze, or just embrace it. As a former neat freak I’ve had to let go of the need to pick up every dropped piece and focus on the learning, the conversation and the connections with the children. Clean up at the end can become a part of it as well, depending on the age of the child and the materials you are working with (Read about age appropriate responsibilities here). For us, I just let it unfold. It goes against my early life values that everything had a place and a recipe was to be followed. I still believe this in most areas of life, but creative learning is messy and I see the benefits to it so clearly now.

Where to start: Simple. Short. and Uncomplicated.

During a time of the day when everyone is happy and alert, invite your child to play with you – invite being the key word here. Sometimes my daughter just isn’t feeling it and she’s happy to carry on with what she started in independent play, and that’s okay. Not all children like to get messy and that’s okay too! Inviting them to do so without the expectation is a great beginning. Use something familiar to start, like play dough (homemade recipe here), reimagined! (I’ll post an
activity here soon). It can be intimidating to see a lot of new materials and to try to figure out how each work, the textures, weights, sizes, colours… it can be a lot to take in. Using something you have seen before can be a welcoming place to begin.  You don’t need to spend a fortune in supplies! Just grab what you have around the house (like this Lemon Volcano idea here!) and go for it!

Check out this amazing list of 63 messy activities that you can do with your little one with things you have around the house!

Quick and Easy Science for Kids Lemon VolcanoLet it happen. You don’t need to take a particular direction (that whole following the recipe idea), but the children will most certainly love seeing you in action and will often replicate in their own way what you are doing. Plus, it’s fun to get involved! Connecting with you is a big take-away from all of this, remember. Start with that as the goal. Then, as you both get more comfortable with it, you can add to that with a bit of learning in the various STEAM areas noted above.


Keep it simple. Just enjoy it. Learn more about your child and let that lead the next activity. What you both get out of it is incredible and it really can be fun for the whole family ♥


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10 ways to use what you have at home to keep your toddler or preschooler entertained

10 ways to use what you have at home to keep your toddler or preschooler entertained

Cooking with Kids on Books Bees & ABCsWhen planning for children, I knew I wanted to create easy and meaningful education experiences at home (without feeling overwhelmed). After my daughter came along, this blossomed into sharing this passion with my community when I opened my home daycare and I spent my days laughing and learning with little ones. Not long into this dream-job-come-true, life happened – resulting in my putting my business on hold for a while. But my desire to share quick and easily implemented learning never went away. I’m a real mom with a real life and things get chaotic and busy so why make life more complicated? In the recent moments where Lady F and I are away from our normal routine, we have to find the creative in the moments of the day when I also have a long list of things to do. It’s possible through conversation, continued interaction, and valuing their input. Sure, things take longer to accomplish, but we both walk away from the task happy and having enjoyed one another. I wanted to share some of this with you, another busy mom with more than enough to do and no time to plan, but who value learning through play and time with your littles. So came this list of times we have made it work, having my daughter share in what is our “new-for-now” normal, and deepening our connection through everyday activity. ♥

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1. Laundry Helper!

Such a big part of keeping a toddler or preschooler happy and engaged has to do with the attention you can give them. At the end of the day, all they want is to share your time. This can be tricky in those moments where something really needs to get done. I’ve come to find that my little lady really just wants to help me when she can and after we got the hang of doing this together, and she had a good understanding of what the “goal” was (to sort the laundry), she was happy to take part (check out this post on age appropriate responsibilities around the house). So much came from this! Talking about colours, shapes, sizes, textures, body parts, rooms in our home, the people we love, silly ways to wear clothes, categories, matching, using clothespins for fine motor development and the list goes on. The language and conversation here was incredible and what a great way to share our time and accomplish one of the many items on mommy’s to do list.

2. Chef In Training

This one can be a bit messy until everyone gets the hang of it but it’s a wonderful and fun way to play and learn. In our case, we keep it simple, pancakes, smoothies, play dough (which I will talk about in a moment), so she can play a bigger part in what we are doing rather than something complicated where I would feel compelled to “take over” the project for it to come out with a product we know and expect. Talking about measuring, learning to pour, names of ingredients, parts of the kitchen, using heat and the safety involved, healthy eating, and so much more. Letting F take part in the kitchen has her interested, excited and happily eating whatever we end up with which is always an added bonus.

3. Play Dough

Making the play dough itself (recipe here) is great as stated above, but using the play dough to create takes on a world of it’s own. Wonderful for the development of the muscles in the hand, building creativity, using tools in the kitchen to create and pretend, taking on roles for dramatic play, the options are endless which is why play dough continues to be such a popular activity! This is a favourite for me to take part in as it brings me back to my childhood, but also provides a great few moments of quiet play for those times when I need to get something done. F happily plays with the dough for ages and I am able to tick a few things off the to-do list.

4. Forts and Caves

When you can’t quite get outside to burn off that extra energy, pillows, blankets, and boxes provide endless hours of creativity! From the forts we knew as children with sheets draped over tables, to taking your creativity and your child’s imagination to the next level with boats or hot air balloons, you would be amazed with what you can come up with! We’ve taken this activity outside as well as sheets are so easily washed and it’s so fun to take the indoors outside! We are very big into caves at the moment as We’re Going On A Bear Hunt (activities here) plays a big part in our day. I talk a bit more about this in another post, coming soon.

5. Cleaning

Win – Win, right?! Dusting, wiping, helping to put things away, seem like such small tasks and of course can be done much more quickly by an adult in a hurry. But, taking the time to turn it into an activity, maybe adding a little dance party music, and letting the play unfold while being patient of how long it could possibly take, teaches your little one about responsibility, taking part in the household, and helping out while having fun (read more about age appropriate responsibilities here)! My little lady LOVES soapy water so providing her a vessel or sink with soapy water and whatever might need a wash (her own toys included) is a great way to let her have some fun and get a job done as well. Just be warned that the water will be everywhere, but cleaning that up can be part of the activity as well!

6. Window Writing

This is a great one when you need to keep your space small, and your clean up simple. Crayola has special markers just for this, which we really like and they clean off really well with your standard glass cleaner. When these markers aren’t available to you, a washable marker of any kind will work, or a dry erase marker works wonders! Just be careful with the dry erase, that it doesn’t get onto a surface that might not wipe off as easily 🙂 Doing the unexpected or non-traditional is always a hit for us, for who knew you could write on the window?!

Not A Stick7. Loose Parts Play

This is one that I will dive into in more detail in another post as it is such a big concept right now and offers so much for learning and development. By taking materials that can be moved, manipulated, and combined with other materials, and allowing children to let them become “something else” with their imagination, your little one can get creative with their play and imagination, and you can make little changes to keep it exciting, and watch the play unfold! A great inspirational story for this is Not A Stick, where you can discuss with your child how with imagination, a stick can be anything!

8. Morning Binder

Having a morning routine that encourages learning through play is a great way to start a day and enrich those foundational concepts that are key to success in later years for your little ones. Printing a binder like this one, and working through it with your child until they can do so independently also creates a quiet time binder so while they are busy working away, you can get a few things done around the house while being nearby for support if they need it!

9. Get Outside

This would be a favourite for me. There is really nothing better that getting outside into the fresh air (check out these amazing and surprising benefits to getting your little one outside). Letting your little one run off some energy, letting you feel like a kid again acting silly outside. Anything from a quick run to a local part, to going off the beaten track and walking somewhere new. We love to create a story adventure (activity here) in the woods, collect leaves, or sticks or stones to use in a craft later. Being outside offers more than you think and usually ends up with a good sleep that night.

Here are 63 amazing messy play activities you can do outside with your little one using things you have around the house!

Playing with loose parts ideas for toddlers10. Take the Outdoors Inside

We can’t always get outside, be it weather keeping us in or having to accomplish something in particular. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the outside. For us, we take bowls of snow inside to play with (in the sink, on the floor that is a little more welcoming to being wet, on towels) and learn about, adding food colouring, or salt, or getting creative with play. If snow isn’t available, leaves, sticks, bark, grass, stones, sand and of course mud can be endlessly fun in an out of the box kind of way (although inside a box is less messy). Something so simple becomes so exciting when it is out of the ordinary.


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Adventure Awaits!

We are about two weeks away from taking our little family to the beautiful shores of Prince Edward Island. This is the incredible place I call home (away from home) and where F and I will spend a few months to gather inspiration, meet incredible women with much to teach us, and most importantly, spend quality time with F’s grandparents! If you haven’t been, this island is like no other and welcomes everyone with open arms.

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Now, to figure out how to pack light for a toddler and her momma for 2 months, every type of weather and possibilities galore! This will be a true test of our ability to be creative with play and learning for we won’t be taking traditional “toys” with us, but will be making use of nature and what can be found at my parent’s home, for play (check out post about that here)! We hope to distance ourselves from technology (which won’t be too difficult as we aren’t a big technology house to begin with), except for regular video calls home to Daddy, who we will miss very much!


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