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Imagine you are playing with a toy car—what can you do with it? You drive it around with your hands, you watch it roll on the ground after a good push, and you race it against other cars across an imagined finish line. Cars do just that, they drive. Now, imagine you are playing with an empty cardboard box. How do you choose to play with it? Is your cardboard box a rocket ship, blasting you into space? Do you step inside the box and imagine you've entered a time machine that can take you anywhere? Maybe you want to paint your box, turning it into a unique piece of art. A box is not a box at all. The possibilities are limitless!

In childhood, it's important for children to have opportunities to exercise their creativity and individuality. Open ended materials, like a box, can help children reflect their understanding of the world and how they fit into it.

At LEAP, you'll notice we display an abundance of open ended materials, in the hopes that children will take control and guide their own play in whatever way they choose. We call these materials, "loose parts." When it comes to play, the term loose parts describes abstract items and materials that children can manipulate, move, change and explore. These can range from natural items like sticks, rocks and shells to household items such as fabric, buttons and kitchen tools. We also include ways for children to examine loose parts in a different way—magnifying glasses allow children to take a close look various containers allow children to explore how parts move and flow.

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According to Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky's book, Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children,

"When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of 'what if' that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children's ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children's play."

Loose parts give you a glimpse into a child's mind and help them grow by supporting physical, cognitive and social-emotional development.

Want to see more of these benefits firsthand? Get your own loose parts station started at home by collecting everyday items from around the house and keeping them in a special area. You can add to your collection by picking up natural items when you go on walks through the neighborhood and visit your local park. Once you've got your collection started, sit back and watch what happens! How does your child play when they're in charge?