By Mandy Limb on 11 Jan, 2022

Loose parts are an extremely valuable resource in ECEC services as they offer an invitation to play, explore, discover, imagine, create and experiment! They spark that all-important curiosity within children, assist with developing their problem solving skills and help children learn to take risks. These are all life-long skills that they will benefit from.

Loose parts feature in many facets of our play based learning here at Coonara ELC. From our
moving tinker table where taps can be turned, bike wheels spun and window winders opened, to
varied sized plumbing pipes in our sandpit and our endless cable drum ideas.

The gateway to endless, cost effective resources

Natural resources for both indoor and outdoor play are integrated in nearly all of our play spaces. This benefits the children’s senses and appreciation for our environment and offers opportunities for endless, cost effective resources and open play.

Some resources include shells, gumnuts, pine cones, rocks, leaves and seed pods. Our children have created nature faces, built villages, made stick people and naughts and crosses rock games and explored nature treasure hunts—the opportunities are endless.

Box construction and collage using a range of recycled loose parts materials such as leather, fabric, foam, rubber, cardboard, paper are on offer every session. A giant cardboard box is always a hit and has taken us on many adventures over the years as we sailed the seas, flew in planes and assisted with fires!

A robot factory exploration turns into a jewellery making session

Our robot factory was inspired by the children’s interest in the working of nuts and bolts. So we designed a family of robots and created a play space where children could interact in the daily workings of a factory. Keys and locks were introduced. Children explored conveyor belts and delivery trucks. We also embraced the brilliant idea of making jewellery from washers, which came from one of the children.

How cable drum ideas evolve at Coonara ELC (and where to get them from)

Cable drums are like gold! We source our cable drums from local electrical wholesalers who often store them out back because they are weathered or no longer deemed "useful". By just walking in and explaining the benefits to children they are often more than happy to donate a couple!

The ideas we implement are a collaborative process between the educators and evolve from the children’s interests. Getting the children involved is always inspiring as their imaginations can lead to so many wonderful possibilities. By letting the children’s play lead the way, one idea can flow to another. 

One day we placed a small, bare cable drum in our playground to see what the children came up with. They instantly begin to climb on it and jump off. This in turn inspired us to obtain a bigger cable drum, turn it on it’s side and add steps to the centre. All of a sudden the climbing became more adventurous and challenging. This also extended the development of their gross motor skills, balance, risk and even explored patience through taking turns.

Our magical tree house is our most popular cable drum play space. We position it in the centre of our room so the children can access every nook and cranny. This small world space is so versatile and some of the play has included a leprechaun village where the children hunted for gold and the elusive leprechaun. We have also incorporated dinosaur adventures, a fishing village, fairy land, lego lab, construction zone, jungle safari and so much more. 

8 uses for cable drums to inspire you

Let's go fishing

Construction zone

Leprachaun village

Peg play

Small world

Monkey jungle

Magical tree house

Water play

Creating play opportunities needn’t involve elaborate set ups—consider what’s already available

You shouldn’t feel it’s necessary to dress play spaces up on every occasion. 

Allowing children to lead the play by adding their own resources helps them to take ownership of the space and their play. The benefits of this can be so rewarding as it builds confident and capable learners. We put a lot of effort into creating opportunities that may not exist in the children’s homes—it may be a child’s only chance to take part in that experience.

  • Put on the gumboots and head to the mud pit and allow children to experience mud between their fingers.
  • Take part in hands-on learning by building garden beds together.
  • Plant vegetables, explore ecosystems, aromas and textures, listen for bugs and birds.

All of this creates valuable conversations with children, teamwork and social play.

One simple natural resource that we all have access to is water. We use water all year round. In winter we add warm water to our play tubs. Bubbles and food colouring add a new dimension to play. Whether it’s pouring, splashing, mixing, watering, washing or cleaning, we explore it all!

Before you throw it away, ask the children “What can this be used for?”

Loose parts are wonderful, budget friendly resources. They can be sourced from donations and hard rubbish but you may be surprised what you already have lying around at your service. 

Before throwing anything out we will ask the question—“What else can this be used for?”. 

Ask the children and let them drive the purpose! 

A child’s perspective will lead to an abundance of endless possibilities. By repurposing and upcycling a cable drum or any other item we are role modelling sustainability to both children and families. Becoming environmentally responsible is empowering and rewarding and creates a sense of belonging to our community and our world.

Head to Coonara’s Instagram account for more inspiration @coonaraelc

Further reading: 

Why play is an effective way to support child development and learning - Niki Moodie via CELA’s Amplify blog

Loose parts and open endedness - Marc Armitage

How we can scaffold children’s learning by allowing for ‘aha’ moments - CELA

I worry about loose parts - Teacher Tom

Car park transformed into Anji-Play inspired play space - CELA

About Mandy

Mandy Limb is the room leader at Coonara Early Learning Centre. She has been an educator for nearly 10 years. She currently runs the occasional care program with a dedicated and passionate team, and is also a trainer and assessor. 

Mandy has been instrumental in creating the annual ‘New Ideas’ Expo at Coonara in which over 500 local educators attended to be inspired by play based learning. Mandy believes that she is extremely fortunate to be placed in such an important and rewarding position.

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