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Loose Parts: Sensory Tables & Creativity for All

Loose parts: creativity for all

What seems to be the buzz-word in early childhood education? Loose parts! I was fascinated to learn more about this theory, developed by architect Simon Nicholson in 1972.

The theory of loose parts, in sum:

‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect (The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle for design methodology, 1972)

Basically, the more materials in a space that people can tinker with, move around, and design, the more creativity and interaction there will be. For kids, this means they learn more, and all the latest brain development research supports this. Sensory play – or playing with loose parts – encourages kids to discover, learn, and build skills and confidence.

Take a museum for instance…what parts of the museum are most popular? Usually the ones where there are some sort of loose parts involved. Maybe an interactive exhibit where you can manipulate objects, or walk under them or, do something that interacts with the space.

Anyone who has ever been in a preschool classroom can attest that the post popular activities are the water or sand table, finger painting, and building blocks…all of these are sensory play using loose parts! Kids are just naturally drawn to the very activities that will be most beneficial for their learning!

This doesn’t affect just kids, by the way. As adults, we might have bought into the myth that creating and having a direct relationship with our space is for some sort of creativity elite – the architects, the artists, the ‘professionally creative ones.’ Nicholson reminds us that loose parts should be an important principle of design in spaces for all humans. It’s in our nature to tinker, innovate and create.

Now, what are some specific examples of loose parts? Here are some simple ones that you can find in nature:

  • Pinecones
  • Sticks
  • Rocks
  • Pebbles
  • Leaves
  • Seashells
  • Dirt
  • Sand

And others that I know kids love:

  • Water beads
  • Rice
  • Crinkle paper
  • Straws
  • Bingo chips & magnet wands
  • Pom poms

What loose parts are you using in your sensory tables this week? Happy playing!

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How to Make a Sensory Bin + IDEAS!

Looking for ways to keep your younger child occupied? Sensory play offers great developmental benefits, but is also a tonne of fun. Our sensory tables make it easy to create ‘bins’ with different themes and materials that will keep your child happy and busy, learning through play.

Here are some tips:

  1. Choose a container. Our sensory tables come with Ikea Trofast bins and lids for easy storage. You can have different bins that are stacked in a closet when not in use, or filed neatly in a Trofast Storage Shelf. But you can also use X-Large ziplock bags that you pour out into a bin later.
  2. Choose a base, or filler. Your bin is most fun when there is a lot of one type of material – a base or filler – that children can scoop, sift through, and dig their hands into. Look for materials that are inexpensive and non-toxic. DollarTree, Walmart, and other discount stores carry inexpensive brands that can be used as fillers. Other fillers might be simply water, foam, water beads or sand.
  3. Choose a theme. For added fun, you can use themes for your bins. Themes can be anything from ‘colours’ to ‘animals’ to ‘scooping’. You can rotate themes based on the seasons, holidays, and other timely events in a child’s life. It also makes it easy to introduce and reinforce concepts – for instance you can do a sensory table theme around ‘numbers’ to reinforce books you’re reading about numbers, or animals, or hockey, or whatever other subject your child is interested in!
  4. Have fun! Put your bin together and have fun! Always supervise small children who might put items in their mouth. Talk with your child about what they are experiencing – this stimulates language development. Talk to them about how items in the bin feel, smell, and sound. Give them ideas and items to scoop things into or sort with. Provide ladles, measuring cups or salad tongs for sorting and picking things up with, to help with fine motor skill development. Here’s an ultimate list of sensory bin tools that add to the fun!

Here are some sensory bin ideas to get you started:

Scented Rainbow Beans

Coloured rice, pasta or salt

50 Rice-based Sensory Bins

Non-Food Sensory Bin Ideas

15 Must-See Sensory Bins

10 Ways to Use the Sensory Table

Sponges in the Water Table

Rubber Ducks!

The Ultimate List of Sensory Bin Fillers

The possibilities are endless!

Share your sensory bin ideas and successes on our Facebook Page.

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