In Early Years there has recently developed a trend towards using more wooden resources and toys. I know from my own Pinterest favourites and viewing history that I am drawn towards those beautiful resources and Early Years environments that have a range of them for the children to explore. During my time at University I read a wealth of books on the Reggio Approach and Hygge and these were a big influence on my future plans. Since taking ownership of my first Pre-School in September I have removed a lot of the colourful, plastic items and replaced them with neutral colours, wooden items and real object but it has not been possible or my choice to completely remove plastic and colour. Here I will explain why….
Lovely as wooden resources and toys are, they are not cheap. Wooden resources (cars, trains, etc) are more expensive than their plastic alternatives. Due to this high price it is not always a financial option to buy wooden resources. As is the same with a lot of purchases you need to select which items to change first, have a goal in mind and work towards it. Not all resources need to be made out of wood.
Some plastic resources do have benefits you could not find in the natural world or in a wooden resource. Stickle bricks and LEGO are two examples of resources in my setting that are very popular with the children but are a) colourful and b) made of plastic. You could argue that you can get wooden bricks of different size and shape but I do not believe they are as effective as a Lego brick. (P.S. We do have wooden bricks of different size and shape at the setting too).
Our role play corner and overall learning environment has incorporated more loose parts and ‘real-world’ items since September. In the home corner we now have real items you would find in your own home e.g. metal saucepans, empty spice bots, wooden spoons, plastic forks, etc. Other areas have also seen a rise in ‘real-world’ items from the sand pit all the way to the mud kitchen outside. Loose parts offer the children an almost endless range of possibilities and have as much educational value as any other item in the setting. We now use corks, bottle tops, wooden pieces, curtain rings, and many more loose parts.
One of my key criteria when selecting new resources or toys for Busy Bodies is whether it is a closed or open resource. Open Resources have the benefit of being whatever the child wants them to be (e.g. a stick can be a magic wand, phone, sword, comb, etc). Open resources in our setting include all of those loose parts I mentioned above. We still have some Closed Resources e.g. the trains on the train track, cars, tractors, some plastic food, etc. In general, plastic resources ARE more closed because they are moulded in such a way to represent an item (e.g. a train, a strawberry).
We should remember about open and closed resources but not automatically think that all “Plastic” is closed and all “wood” is open. I have seen beautifully crafted wooden cars, zebras and other items which are still closed items as a wooden zebra will most likely be played with as a zebra. On the flip side of this not all plastic is closed. Bottle caps, straws, sweet boxes and tubs and plastic bottles offer a wealth of opportunities and are only limited by the child’s imagination.
Whilst wood is trickier to get hold of and more expensive, plastic is everywhere. I throw out boxes of it every fortnight. In those boxes are a wealth of fun resources for the children to explore and use in a variety of ways. Let's not throw out all plastic items from our setting and our homes. Let's not throw away more plastic without first thinking if we can recycle it in a brilliant way in the nursery.
Every item that was once considered rubbish may have a new life in your nursery in the role play corner, sand area, mud kitchen, art area, etc. Save money, enrich the environment and offer the children the opportunity to use real life objects. Just remember not all plastic is bad, loose parts does not necessarily mean natural objects. Open resources does not mean natural resources and there is still educational value in plastic resources.