A "loose- parts" toy... is open ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose parts through imagination and creativity. A typical list of loose parts for a natural play area might include water, trees, bushes, flowers, and long grasses; sand ( best if it can be mixed with water) ; places to sit in, on, under; structures that offer privacy and views. Go beyond that play area, to woods, fields, and streams, and the parts become looser and even more potent to the imagination.- Richard Louv, from Last Child in the Woods
One spring morning in kinderforest, three little boys collected some of the river clay/ mud and rolled it into balls all morning long as they hiked to Kern Park. The sensory experience of squishing the mud between their fingers and scooping it from puddles to create a little ball also stimulates fine motor skills, which develop strongly between the ages of three and five. Over the years, I've seen the children get creative with mud- making creatures with pebble eyes and stick mouths, painting with mud on the Troll Bridge, and using it to cook with each other. Another two of my friends built a see saw from a log and a fallen tree ( see picture) and the children used their large motor skills to negotiate around the others and worked on their patient waiting. Everyone wanted a turn with the seesaw.
Other ways I've seen children use loose parts includes a morning in the winter when the children from two combined suites spent their morning in the clearing rolling a snowball around and then finding branches to decorate it. (see picture)The only 'loose part' I sometimes like to bring into the forest is yarn- then we can spend the morning making bows and arrows and fishing poles as we learn to tie knots. The very young child is working on these fine and large motor skills through the use of loose parts toys constantly at LifeWays.
Another loose part is the stick. Children get very attached to their sticks and want to bring them inside and on nature hikes, sometimes attempting to hike long distances with huge piles of sticks in their arms, or sneak extra sticks in their rainboots or under their jackets. The reason for this is the stick's versatility. Children have a deep need for simple toys that can easily transform into anything that their creative play requires. In Spring, we love to work on our knot tying by making ribbon sticks to carry at circle time. Sticks and fallen branches have been used to construct houses in the forest and it is great to see how an entire kitchen, spaceship, mouse house, or pirate ship can be created just from a fallen tree and some branches. The children never cease to surprise me with their inventiveness with loose parts as they develop and grow.