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Exploration and Creative Play with Loose Parts

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The new initiative for my school library in September is the addition of a loose parts area in the library makerspace, where students will have the opportunity to play with different materials and use them to explore literacy, numeracy, and art. One of the features I love about loose parts is that they are all reusable; the learning can be captured with a photograph or video and then the creation can be taken apart. I have already gathered some natural loose parts (shells, sticks, twine, rocks, pinecones etc.) along with buttons, beads, Lego, blocks, small electronic items like motors and a number of recycled materials. As with all the learning tools in my makerspace, I like to add picture books as prompts for exploration. Here are just a few that may inspire your students to become creators.



Windblown by Édouard Manceau is a simple picture book featuring colourful paper shapes that are blown together by the wind to be transformed into different animals. The minimal text and art, paired with repetitive dialogue make this book perfect for young learners. Students will be inspired to create their own animals and other masterpieces by using a few simple shapes.

* Student activity available for download *

Sorting through Spring written by Lizann Flatt and illustrated by Ashley Barron uses bright, textured illustrations and rhyming text to ask questions about different math concepts such as patterning, ratio, graphing and probability. Students can use a variety of loose parts to make patterns, number sentences and graphs. A stop motion app adds a technology component for students to animate and explain their work.

* Teacher’s guide available for download *

Discovering Numbers by Neepin Auger teaches children to count in both English and Cree to the number ten. The illustrations depict natural objects and the colour scheme will easily capture a young child’s attention. This book can be used as inspiration for children to count and sort with loose parts or perhaps even illustrate a counting book of their own.

One Red Button by Marthe Jocelyn is a wordless picture book with richly textured illustrations that show a button being used as various objects in the story. The red button moves from its place as an apple on a tree to become the snout of a pig and the tail light of a car. Displaying this book next to a button bin will motivate students to create images with buttons or use a single button to represent different objects in a series of artwork.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr is written in English but includes an Arabic translation. The author was inspired to write the book after discovering the remarkable stone art of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. It tells the story of a young narrator, Rama, who must abandon her village in order to find safety in another country. Readers will gain a better understanding of the plight of refugees and the dangers they face in their home countries. They may also be encouraged to develop stone art or retell a story using stone pictures.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is the perfect book to foster creativity, problem solving and resilience. A girl decides to makes the most magnificent thing she can imagine. She plans, gathers materials, and begins construction. Everything does not go exactly to plan but, after a small attack of frustration, she perseveres with the help of her trusty assistant and finally achieves her goal. After reading the book, loose parts can be used for students to design what they consider to be magnificent things. These creations could possibly launch an imaginative story.

In the beautifully black and white illustrated, Ten Birds Meet a Monster by Cybèle Young, a group of birds attempt to scare a shadow monster by transforming themselves into inventive and scary creatures. As each bird joins in, the number is shown made up of a collection of loose items. Younger students can construct numbers out of loose parts, while older students may decide to publish an e-book about counting, with numbers they make out of natural and/or manufactured objects. Monsters and other creative creatures can also be assembled.

Ojiichan’s Gift written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Genevieve Simms describes a garden that was built for a girl named Mayumi by her Ojiichan (grandfather). Mayumi loves the garden because it is so different; it’s made almost entirely of stones. When her Ojiichan can no longer care for his garden, Mayumi creates a miniature stone garden for him in a bento box. The book deals with the emotions brought on by change and the aging of grandparents. Using natural loose parts, gardens can be designed for a special person in a student’s life.

Although sometimes messy (use a plastic tablecloth), playdough is a fabulous tool for sensory exploration and play. Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo can be used as a model to inspire students to construct illustrations out of playdough. This book, about an inquisitive pup, named Juno, who saves his family from a polar bear can also be used to capture student interest into finding out more information about polar bears and the Arctic Circle.

The realistic illustrations and informative text of West Coast Wild: A Nature Alphabet by Deborah Hodge, pictures by Karen Reczuch, make it much more than a simple alphabet book. Each letter tells about a different part of the Pacific West Coast. From limpets to Ziphister (a species of fish), students will learn about the many fascinating creatures and characteristics of the Pacific West Coast environment. This book, paired with loose parts can prompt students to assemble both letters and words. As a collaborative class project, students can put together an environmental ABC book or a series of word art where all of the letters are made up of natural loose parts.



Allison Hall is a Teacher-Librarian at a K-8 public school in Brampton, Ontario. She is passionate about creativity and empowering students. She is also a bit of a Lego addict.


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June 5, 2019
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