March 2017 - Low-cost, no-cost materials April 07 2017

A young child sits on the ground in a busy market, near her family’s vegetable stall. The girl is surrounded by a circle of stones that she has gathered and ordered from smallest to biggest around her. Other stones form lines, radiating out from the circle like the rays of a sun.

Stones are a classic example of a low-cost or no-cost (found, recycled/reusable) material that is naturally occurring, timeless, and easy to collect. There are many ways to use these types of materials, which makes them particularly valuable as play items. Think of all the possibilities: sorting, counting, piling, pretending!

Children naturally gravitate towards these types of open-ended materials, also referred to as “loose parts”. The girl in the market has not received adult instruction or guidance to play as she does. She plays because she is motivated to do so. She uses her imagination and creativity and she shows a tremendous ability to focus. As she plays, she gains knowledge about the physical properties of the rocks and demonstrates mathematical thinking.

The following video, filmed in Tajikistan, shows children using a variety of low-cost and no-cost materials in their play. Did anything surprise you about the types of materials with which children were playing? How were they playing with these materials? What kinds of materials do you have available that you could provide to enrich play opportunities for children?