Beads as loose parts


Many educators and parents view using beads as a natural step towards crafting and jewelry making. While H does enjoy making bracelets and necklaces with beads, perhaps what she loves more is to play with beads as loose parts. Her collection of beads has easily grown into the hundreds.


Loose parts, at least as I refer to them in my blog posts, are essentially open-ended items, meaning they are objects (often a collection of objects) that can be used and played with, in a number of different ways.

Her love for beads started with sorting them. She would easily spend an hour sorting beads by different properties. For example, she might first sort them by colour, arranging them into distinct piles on the floor. Then, when I would come back to check on her, she would be arranging them by shape/form. Sometimes, she will arrange them using multiple properties or subjective categories like “beautiful,” often coming up with names for the categories based on  their attributes. Some examples of this include referring to parts of her collection as “butterfly beads,” “Christmas lights,” “keys,” “maracas,” “cactus,” and “raspberries.”

Often, she would try to house her organized beads in ice cube trays, but because she didn’t have enough compartments to reflect all the different categories, sometimes, she would combine categories (“this section is for red and green”).

One day as she was painting an empty styrofoam egg carton (it was for 18 eggs), I suggested she may be able to use that with her beads.


Sometimes, H uses the beads as characters, giving them voices as she treats them as characters. This was a very distinct theme for her in the fall when she would play with plastic pop arty beads (the different shaped plastic/rubber beads click together so that string isn’t required to make jewelry).


Building on the idea of using beads in dramatic play, she sometimes uses them as props for little figures in small world play, often acting as food, jewels etc.


More recently, H has started using beads in combination with sensory materials like playdough to create things (not just to process). Here she is making sprinkle ice cream and chocolate chip and sugar cookies.

Last week, in collaboration with me, H used beads as a medium to create pictures. We started by creating what looked like a minion, a bird (kind of looks like a pigeon) on a branch, and a birthday cake.

Then, H worked independently. From literal representations (here is “a garden with flowers and grass and butterflies like a real garden”)


…to more abstract complex ones (“I want to make a human with a silly face, a hijab, a bindi on its head over here [points to forehead], earrings and makeup on her lips.”)


Sidenote: when H was creating the work above, I was not with her. I was putting Y back to sleep so this piece was conceptualized and executed exclusively by her. She even documented it herself (took the photo to share her work with me). It was an empowering moment for her and a proud moment for me. One of her favourite parts about making pictures with beads is destroying it after. She takes much joy in mixing everything together.

This morning, I had an idea for another activity: using beads to “colour” in existing pictures, more specifically mandalas. This idea appealed to her. I will include a photo once we get around to it.

For more information on loose parts, you may wish to consult these books, full of inspiring ideas and beautiful photo examples. Note: they may be available through your local library as well as in e-format.

There are some cool “loose parts” groups on Facebook as well as profiles on other social media platforms. Most recently, I’ve been benefitting from this podcast series on loose parts. You can also search for other “loose part” entries on my blog as it’s a common theme for us.

I hope that this post has helped broaden your perspective on the role of beads in early childhood play.



Infants, Grasping and Emergent Curriculum


For many new parents, it’s one of the sweetest, earliest memories when their baby holds their finger. Thanks to the grasp reflex, babies are primed to wrap their palms and fingers around whatever is placed in their palms. As they grow, they lose this reflex and grasping becomes more intentional.


I remember noticing Y’s fondness for grasping things that provided some kind of holes. Infants often start by grabbing into gasping rings but it became very noticeable to me when he was repeatedly drawn to items with multiple holes.


I decided to intentionally provide materials he could weave his fingers in to promote his interest in a safe way.

One of the first things I did was hanging up a belly dance scarf within arms reach for him to explore during a diaper change.


Then again with H as I looked on.


Because of the small coins on the scarf, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone to play with it for long periods so I started thinking of what else I could create.

I remembered an idea from the book Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers where embroidery hoops were used with different textured materials. So I decided to use a mesh bag that previously housed babybel cheese as my fabric of choice. I left the tag on because infants are drawn to tags.

In addition to creating this toy for him, I also became more mindful about our environment and started thinking about things we had at home that he was drawn to grasping that perhaps weren’t independently accessible (artwork, towel holder ring etc).

I’ve been ruminating over how I can make his bedroom and the children’s play space more inviting and engaging. I will share the process and results of this in a future post.

Observing Y the past few months has been especially satisfying for me because while I have quite a bit of experience using emergent curriculum (planning play environments and learning opportunities for children based on demonstrated interests, needs and abilities), it’s mostly been with preschool-aged children. To witness the amazing progression of skill in infants is really something special and these days, I find myself more drawn to creating meaningful play opportunities and environments for Y.

In the 3.5 years that have elapsed since H was this age, my knowledge and understanding of play and development has not only deepened, but I’ve been able to connect to likeminded parents and educators which continues to serve as inspiration. This along with getting to live out my learning firsthand is a reason to get excited!

Light and Shadow


A lot of the play that goes on in our house stems from what the children are interested in. Sometimes, one moment leads to just minutes, hours, days or weeks of play. Other times, an interest that keeps resurfacing is deepened, developed and transformed into something that takes on a life of its own. My favourite play moments are spontaneous and are often happened upon by accident. This is one such “big idea”.

I can’t remember when exactly it happened, but sometime during stealthy middle of the night diaper changes, coutesy of my cellphone flashlight, I noticed Y noticing shadows on the ceiling. By the time he could make controlled movements with his limbs, I noticed him trying the cause and effect with his shadows. If I was holding him, he would often try to reach out and touch his shadow.

As fall approached, the days were getting shorter, and darkness quickly descended upon our house. We spent many evenings cozy indoors on nights my husband had an evening class. We started playing with shadows regularly.

We lay in our king-sized bed and wiggled our hands and feet towards the ceiling. Y was entranced: so many wiggly fingers and toes!

Being attracted to shadow seems natural for infants and toddlers. It’s exciting and stimulating to see interesting shapes appear on spaces- often distorted or in a different size. I still remember when H was 2 years old, I was pushing her along in her stroller outside. The moon was following us as we walked and H was revelling in the novelty of a night landscape since we usually went for walks during the day. We passed by a wooden fence, and with genuine concern she said ” My shadow is broken.” Because of the way the wooden slats were arranged, her shadow, did indeed, appear broken. She was relieved when her shadow returned to normal when we passed by a solid wall.

As the months passed and the children sustained an interest in light and shadow play, I realized that this would be an accessible play opportunity for both kids, despite their age gap and vast difference in abilities. It was super fun for me too! I felt like my inner scientist was coming out to play.

I gathered objects I thought would create cool shadows (thinking about texture, size, colour, and shape).


H was intrigued at first but wanted to get back to her play so Y and I went to his room to continue the experimentation. I was blown away at how focused he was. I didn’t have to do much. I just set up objects at different heights and distances from the light sourced and he marvelled. We were able to experiment with things built into his room, like mirrors.

Now that he’s mobile, I’m curious to see how he would engage with this idea.

We tried again a few weeks later and H was much more intrigued. She incorporated her figures and other objects from her room. It was great! Stories started forming around riding bikes and friends on a boat stuck at sea. It was so cool to see tiny things appear as big as my children!

My favourite was the effect created by a pink and silver sequinned pillow.


We introduced other light-based play by including a globe toy that lit up (thanks for the awesome birthday present Auntie G!), her humidifier, as well as a “night sky” projector I had picked up for her as she became interested in outer space.

More recently, Y has been playing shadows created by the sun- trying to engage with his reflection and catch the light I reflect off of mirrors.

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating some sort of light table or purchasing a light pad for the children. Perhaps that will be the next extension of our play.

Note: if you enjoyed this post, I will be posting more baby play ideas. Subscribe to the blog or like the Facebook page for updates!


October Round Up


October has been a busy and interesting month! We spent the last few days of September outdoors visiting the farm and exploring the neighbourhood.


Good thing because the beginning of October brought snow! Fortunately, it was temporary so we could enjoy fall some more.


As we found ourselves settling into more of a routine, we started spending more time indoors.

H came across this tray and literally begged me to fill it with things for her (she remembered the last time we had used it), so in a five minute hussle, I filled it with things from my kitchen (isn’t it amazing how many different types of pasta there are?!)


H got to work, adding in her own loose parts like bracelets.


This month, she spent a lot of time dressing up. Sometimes she used ready made costumes and sometimes she used her imagination.


I love H’s knack for symbolic play. I think she would be great at improv. Here she is with her bicycle helmet, a bunk bed she made for her dolls and putting her babies to sleep in their bassinets.


We voted in the municipal elections and that raised a discussion about mayors. So far the only mayors she knew about were Mayor Goodway and Mayor Humdinger. She was very curious about Mayor Nenshi.


H played with old loose parts, building homes and having picnics.


And explored new ones too.

We read. We ran up hills. We went to go see a play.


We did experiments and yoga.

Our car broke down and we ended up stuck at her school for a few hours. It was nice for me to have a deeper look at her preschool environment. I know I’m the keener parent- the one who is always looking at the lesson plans, remembers spirit days and peeks to see what new centres have been added to the room.


As Y has been growing older, it’s fascinating to see what captures his attention. Not only does he love watching his sister at play, but he has started to express his own preferences. He was really drawn to this bicycle-printed hijab of mine so we used it over his play gym and suspended from the swing. He also tried catching his shadow.


I spent time learning this month. I found some inspiring Facebook groups and attending virtual workshops I had signed up for last winter. This exposure to seeing Reggio in practice got my gears turning and reignited my passion for self-growth and reflection.

When I look back at some of what we did this month, I feel exhausted! But I also can’t help but smile at all of the synapses (brain connections) that must have been made. Play, is after all, the work of the child.


Hands on Patterning and Loose Parts Play


For the past few months, I’ve noticed H has been showing an increased interest in patterns (which she so endearingly pronounces “pattrins”). She points them out in clothing, when we walk outside, in food and in her play.

While she still has a simple understanding of patterns, not having quite realized the full definition or complexity of what constitutes a pattern, she shows pride in being able to recognize them.

To deepen her knowledge and understanding, we’ve read these books which are part of my personal collection.


I’ve been wanting to give her a hands-on way to create her own patterns and further investigate the concept. This morning, I finally set out a very simple activity for her on the still-crumb-covered kitchen table. By sharing how our experience unfolded, I hope to show you all the potential of loose parts (basically collections of items that can be used in many different ways).

I provided a tray that had two elements: dried kidney beans and yellow crystals. Originally I was not planning on prompting her and just wanted to see what she would do, but I thought some guidance might help, so all I did was ask her, “Can you make a pattern?”


I was pleasantly surprised by her attention to detail as she carefully ensured the kidney beans and the gems all faced the same direction (she turned the kidney beans so that they would all be vertical and placed the gems on the widest side).


When I saw that she was able to successfully create a pattern with two elements, I introduced a third: pink milk jug lids. She adjusted her pattern to incorporate these.


When she could no longer reach one end of her pattern, she started working at the starting end. It was interesting because she did not know how to reverse the pattern since she was working in the opposite direction. I had to prompt her with saying the pattern out loud in the opposite direction – by drawing her attention to this fact, she was able to extend her pattern in the opposite direction correctly.

I was further impressed when she created a little game. She removed the milk jug lids and asked me, “What’s missing?” I said, “the lids!” and she said, “You’re correct!” She proceeded to removed the beans and then repeated her question.


She then undid her pattern and started arranging the parts in shapes saying things like “I made a square! I made a circle!”


After making shapes she decided to sort the pieces on the table and said “My bean collection is all done!” Even though I haven’t used the term “collection” in my dialogue with her, I marveled with what an intuitive term it was for a three year old to be able to refer to her loose parts as “collections”. After separating the three elements, she proudly exclaimed that she had three collections.


H really enjoyed playing with the loose parts. She looked at the tray and noticed there were empty spaces so asked me for more. I went on a hunt around the house trying to find a jar of pennies I knew we had somewhere but was unsuccessful. I returned after ten minutes half-hoping she had lost interest, but she hadn’t. She was still sitting there. I checked the pantry and gave her some raw pasta and a pouch of blue beads. She happily announced that she had five collections and then said, “I’m mixing them up. They are having a big party. Tada!”


After this, she loaded the tray back up, sorting the loose parts and said something about the parts going for a train ride. She noticed that one space was still empty so again asked for something to fill the space with.


At this point it became clear that her play was transforming from being a mathematically inclined activity to open-ended dramatic play. She said the parts were soup for her friends that were sick. I offered her a pot and wooden spoon which she gladly accepted. She added blue beads to the pot commenting that they looked like rice.


She asked me for some bowls for her soup and went on to pour some “soup” and feed her stuffed toys. She declared that they felt better after eating the soup but still needed to rest.


When she was done playing, she resorted the pieces and left the tray on the floor. Seven hours later when she woke up from her afternoon nap, she approached the tray again and this time, mixed various elements in the pot. She poured the soup into the bowls and let her friend Lammie have a taste. She also fed me with the wooden spoon and then pointed it at my stomach so that Baby could get a taste too.

Loose part play is promoted by play advocates all around the world. It’s something my daughter really enjoyed in her toddler years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to provide as many opportunities for it as I would have liked this past year (however it’s always in the back of my mind). By looking at how her play evolved over the day, I hope that you too, can see the value, depth and potential of this type of experience. She started with something more structured (but it was still based on her interests and initiative) and explored patterning, sequencing, geometry, counting, sorting, fine motor development, language and dramatic play. I’m curious to see what she will do next and how a broadening understanding of various patterning sequences will translate into her play.