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Loose Parts in a Jewish Curriculum

By Kim Krikorian

“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”
-Loris Malaguzzi, Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

The hundred languages is a key principle of the Reggio-inspired approach. It refers to communication and emphasizes the importance of providing children with one hundred ways to share their thoughts on the world around them. The hundred languages represent the infinite amount of potential each child naturally has and each child’s individual view of their community. Children learn in a variety of ways. This knowledge is the reason why providing different means for learning and exploring is critical in the educational journey. 

Using “loose parts” is one way that young children express these languages. Loose parts include both natural and manufactured materials that can be moved, combined, and taken apart in a variety of ways. There are an abundance of natural and manufactured materials for children to play with and manipulate. Natural materials can include objects such as rocks, pine cones, pebbles, shells, sand, sticks, leaves, and seed pods. Examples of manufactured materials include: blocks, rings, balls, boxes, and recycled materials. The diversity of these materials not only encourages creativity and imaginative play, but leads to longer and more complex play.

Open-ended play supports imagination and creativity. When children are given a chance to play with little-to-no adult interaction or direction, they are able to express themselves freely and creatively because there are no limitations or expectations. Playing with loose parts not only encourages imagination, cooperation, and interaction among children but also fosters problem-solving skills and promotes areas of learning such as math and science. Problem solving skills are developed during this creative process when children are trying to figure out and understand what works and what doesn’t. 

Through a grant from the Jewish Federation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, I have been able to participate in the Sheva Center's Leadership Institute for Early Childhood Professionals. Through this program we have been exploring what we do in Early Childhood Education settings with a Jewish Lens. We use lenses to describe core concepts, drawn from our ancient tradition, into seven interconnected categories. These lenses provide an ethical model for living. 

The seven lenses are:
Masa: Journey (Reflection, Return and Renewal)
B'rit: Covenant (Belonging and Commitment)
Tzelem Elokim: Divine Image (Dignity and Potential)
K'dushah: Holiness (Intentionality and Presence)
Hit'orerut: Awakening (Amazement and Gratitude)
D'rash: Interpretation (Inquiry, Dialogue, and Transmission)
Tikkun Olam: Repair of the World (Responsibility)

Through the use of loose parts in a Jewish Curriculum we can see these lenses in a multitude of areas. Through the lens of Masa (Journey) we find ourselves introducing ideas that can be added to and continued based on the interest of the child and facilitation of the teacher. Imagine the story of creation with loose parts. How can children build on the idea of creation with open ended materials? Imagine the use of sand, clay, and water when approaching ideas about the earth’s creation.

Through the lens of D’rash we can dig deeper into our understanding of how leaves change color and how trees grow. We can wonder with amazement (Hit’orerut) at connecting our growth and development with cycles found in nature. We can connect with deeper meaning of holiness or presence (K'dushah) when we experiment with light and reflection during Hanukkah with loose parts such as CDs, mirrors, clear tubes, beads, marbles, and flashlights. We ask questions (D'rash) about how we can be a light that shines through the darkness during this season.

The art of inquiry within Judaism is a time-honored tradition. I think of the words of Janusz Korczak, "I have the mind of a researcher, not an inventor. To study in order to know? No. To study in order to know more? No. I think it is to study in order to ask more and more questions." Loose parts offer intellectual or cognitive learning including; questioning, analyzing, predicting and reasoning.

One of the easiest ways to connect loose parts with a Jewish curriculum is the re-use of materials that would otherwise be discarded. When we find new ways to work with recycled materials we are able to keep that material from becoming waste. We encourage children to repair the world (Tikkun Olam). We know now more than ever how important it is to instill this idea for ourselves and our future generation. Spending as much time in nature collecting loose parts allows our children to become more deeply connected with nature. Using loose parts in nature can help children to better understand the world around them.

This year at Portland Jewish Academy we have been working on building a loose parts library. We would like this library to include materials that Infants through Pre-K students can utilize. Some of our classrooms are experimenting with using loose parts. Through these experiments we as educators have been able to join the children in cooperative learning. At the beginning of the year we set out collection boxes and collected a wonderful start of donated materials for our library. If you have materials that you feel could find new life in one of our classrooms, please let us know. Please feel free to email kkrikorian@pjaproud.org - we would love to see children experiencing loose parts in all of our early childhood classrooms. We appreciate our community involvement in making our classrooms into places of limitless potential.

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