Using Loose Parts to Inspire Culturally Sustainable Environments

 Angel begins to bang on a variety of pots and pans that families brought into the program. He arranges wooden bowls and cardboard boxes and listens as he bangs on them. He experiments with different sounds by using metal and wooden utensils. He tells Marina, who is sitting next to him, “This is how my dad drums when we go to my family.” Angel is a member of the Miwok community, where drumming is part of their gatherings and ceremonies. Joaquin joins in and starts singing a familiar song in Spanish, his home language. He continues to bang as he sings “Pin Pon es un muñeco muy guapo y de cartón . . .” (“Pin Pon is a beautiful doll made of cardboard”). Other children join in, and they learn about each other’s cultures.


These stories share the daily cultural interactions that take place in a culturally  

sustainable environment where children engage in loose parts play and where their culture, history, language, traditions and values are respected and honored. This creates a sense of belonging which allows children to be their authentic selves, be curious, and learn about each other’s cultural values.  These are skills they will need to function in a not-yet-created world of the future where they will have to positively engage and build equal relationships with diverse groups of people.


The term loose parts was originally coined by British architect Simon Nicholson to describe open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in different ways (Nicholson 1971).  The concept of Culturally Sustainable environments was introduced by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995). She argued that to create equality and equity in education, we need to produce students who can achieve academically, who are culturally competent in their own culture, and who understand and critically question societal rules and norms. She stressed the importance of supporting children’s community and cultural heritage by maintaining their language and other cultural practices. Working with young children, helps us appreciate the value of combining the Theory of Loose Parts, and Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy to support children’s learning, development and a sense of both individual and group identity. Because of the open-ended nature of loose parts, they help children develop the following skills:


  • Develop symbolic thinking

  • Develop Creative (divergent) thinking

  • Develop Critical (convergent) thinking

  • Perspective taking

  • Recognize and respect differences and similarities

  • A confident self-identity

  • Develop empathy


Reflect on loose parts that represent your local community, and what possibilities will they offer young children.






This information is an excerpt from Loose Parts 3: Inspiring Culturally Sustainable Environments by Miriam Beloglovsky and Lisa Daly.  For more information contact the Play Equity Institute at

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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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Pre-K 4 SA Professional Learning
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