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How Loose Parts Play Can Inspire a Sustainable Future
Sarah Lotter, Preschool 3/4 Teacher

Children find beauty everywhere. Just look in their pockets after a long walk in the woods. These unique rocks and leaves give us a glimpse into their constant search for treasure. Our preschool encourages this search by providing materials and experiences that inspire them. Here's a story about how our classroom turned a sticky (and quite smelly) situation into an opportunity of hope and learning. Please join us as we encourage this next generation to look at waste and overconsumption in a new light.

Child with a bottle cap

"Mrs. Lotter! Mrs. Lotter! That blue trash can smells so yucky!”

Ellie was right, it did smell "so yucky." Unfortunately that "trash can" was our recycling bin and a week's worth of thick, gooey rotten milk coated the bottom. We had been in school for two months, yet I seemed to have missed the opportunity to actually explain how (or even why!) we recycle in preschool. I decided to make this a priority and as soon as we learned about where we "place our waste," everyone began to feel curious and empowered about their ability to help the world.

Handwritten sign by a preschooler: Just Paper and Plastic

We made signs to remind us of what could be reused and found books to help answer their many questions. The children were shocked to learn that paper actually came from forests that are being cut down just to keep up with our consumption. We also read that many of the plastics we throw away could potentially stay on earth for another 1000 years before actually decomposing. I didn't know what the children would do with this information, but they continued to ask questions and before I knew it, they started finding solutions to the problems we were reading about. This snack time chit chat turned into brainstorming sessions about how we should reuse much of what we were throwing away in the first place. We started cleaning our containers and collecting them in a special basket just for "recycled loose parts" waiting to be creatively repurposed.

What are Loose Parts?

Loose Parts Recycling Items

One of my favorite elements of a Reggio-inspired classroom is how each group chooses to use “loose parts." These parts are made up of found materials that can be moved, constructed, changed, rearranged, taken apart or manipulated in ways only determined by a child. Applesauce caps become currency at a pop-up candy shop and paper towel rolls become otoscopes during a pretend ENT appointment. Some children enjoy identifying letters and numbers from packaging while others build cardboard houses for their snugglies. Or most recently, we had a group of preschoolers design their own "Box City" by reusing large water heater boxes that were donated by BW/Cook Service Experts in Elkhart, IN. The possibilities are endless!

If you have any materials that you'd like to share with our students, please drop them off in an empty bin or shelf in our "Loose Parts Collection Center" found in the Fannin Hall lobby. We also encourage you to start your own collection at home. Together we can help our children create in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way!

Loose Parts Recycling Items and Student Artwork

Recommended Books

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World, by Melanie Walsh

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet, by Jess French

About the Author

Sarah Lotter

Sarah Lotter

Preschool 3/4 Teacher




  • Reggio

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