13 Ways to Use Velcro Hair Rollers

~ Written by Lindsey Shafer, Early Childhood Educator ~


One of the incredible aspects of loose parts is that they are open-ended.  Loose parts can be used in numerous ways throughout the indoor and outdoor classroom.  By adding other materials to the hair rollers, endless possibilities are created.  Here, we will explore 13 ways Velcro hair rollers can be used with a variety of other materials to engage and inspire children’s play.




Velcro hair rollers can be used in combination with a flannel board or felt board by allowing the children to stick the curlers to the board. They can also throw curlers at the board to support any children with a trajectory urge.

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Hair rollers can be used in the construction area of the classroom to build structures by sticking the rollers together. They can also be added to a variety of other building materials to create numerous types of structures. Daniel uses the curlers to build a tower by stacking them on top of each other to form an upright structure. Emily uses the curlers in combination with paint sticks to explore balance while creating a structure.


Hair rollers are also a great addition to the dramatic play area of the classroom. They can be used in place of plastic play food to allow the children more creative and imaginative opportunities. Maria uses the curlers by stirring them around in a pot and says excitedly, “I’m making breakfast!” Then, Diego and Isabella join Maria, and bring all the cooking items to the table to set up a picnic.




Hair rollers can be added to water for a great sensory experience.  12 month-old Sophia enjoys exploring the wet hair rollers.  She continuously picks them up and drops them, causing the water to splash.  She laughs and repeats the process over and over again.




Hair rollers are also an interesting addition to a sand table for another sensory experience. The children may use the curlers for scooping and dumping the sand. They may also use the rollers for small world play. Daniel uses the large pink curler to create a cave and brings a piece of driftwood over to add to his small world from another area of the classroom. Isabella then places four curlers standing up near the driftwood and tells Daniel, “this is the forest.”


Hair rollers can be added to the light table for children to explore how the attributes of curlers change when another element is added.  Children can investigate the changes in color and the translucency aspects of hair rollers.  They can also explore reflection by adding a mirror to the light table.



Hair rollers can be added to the projector. This is a great extension after having the children explore curlers on a light table children can place the curlers on to the projector and be amazed by the shadow reflection that is transferred onto the wall. Lindsay notes that you can see the texture of the color on the wall. Daniel likes the way the curlers glow on the projector.


Hair rollers can be used to create intricate design and art displays. Isabella and Maria use the rollers with black trays to make their different designs.


Wooden or metal plate racks are another materials hair rollers can be added to.  James brings the plate rack from the manipulatives area of the classroom to the curlers placed on a nearby table.  Then, he places the curlers onto different areas of the plate rack and continuously adds more to each prong until the rack is completely full.



A plastic bag holder is placed with a basket of hair curlers to see how it may be explored.  To begin, the bag holder is stuck onto the wall upside down.  Isabella places the curlers into the various holes and is delighted to see them fall into the basket below.  When Diego joins, he attempts to place the curlers into the top, but discovers the rollers cannot enter from the top due to it begin solid from being turned upside down.  Diego removes the bag from the wall and places it right-side up, so the opening is at the top.  He then attempts to throw the curlers into the bag holder from a few feet away.  Each time one goes in, he exclaims, “score!”



When exploring space and size, hair rollers can be added to a crate with various sized round holes.  Daniel and Maria try the different sized curlers in the various holes and succeed in getting some curlers to stick.  Other curlers fall into the crate and some, such as the large pink ones, are placed to the side after Maria says, “this one is too big.  It doesn’t fit.”



Hair rollers can be added to a variety of painted cardboard cans to support sorting, classification, and exploring space and size.  Diego takes each curler from a nearby basket one by one and places each curler into the matching can. 


In combination with a muffin tin, hair rollers can be used to explore space and size, sorting, classifying, and patterning.  Isabella begins by placing three different colored curlers into the muffin tin in different rows. When placing the blue hair roller into the tin, she attempts to get it to stand upright again and again, but it continues to tip over.  After several tries, she removes the blue roller and places a larger yellow roller into the tin instead.



Hair rollers can be added to a variety of fabric materials such as scarves.  Here, scarves have been tied onto a wall dowel climber and the children string the rollers onto the scarves.  Daniel keeps pushing the pink roller all the way to the top, but it continues to slide down the scarves to the floor.  He then places the smaller blue, yellow, and green rollers onto the scarves, and again tries to place the largest pink roller at the top.

The Essential Baker's Dozen Top Loose Parts List

Loose Parts are everywhere! We rejoice in this because we have nearly endless supplies.

Whether you have already made the transition, slowly beginning, or just reading about Loose Parts, then here is our Baker's Dozen Top Loose Parts that are essential for every learning environment. Hopefully, this list can help ease your transition and provide you with a strong starting point and foundation. Along with each material are also suggestions as to where to find them.


1) TREE COOKIES—we are firm believers in that one can never have too many tree cookies. Tree cookies are flat cuts of tree branches or trunks. You can buy these online or from Christmas tree farms OR you can make them yourself. All you need are tree branches and a saw. Table saws are far more efficient for cutting. Be careful of sap in trees; you want to avoid that sticky situation.

2) ROCKS—large, small, round, sharp. Rocks are one of the best Loose Parts. These are a great tool for family engagement, too. Ask the parents and children to collect and bring rocks from their homes or nearby parks (permission granting). Children will beam with pride as they bring in their own rocks and get to see them every day at their school. Rocks can also be purchased from your local outdoor store by the bag full.

3) DRIFT WOOD—drift wood, logs, and branches alike can be used all sorts of ways: drum sticks, paint brushes, castle towers. Again, this Loose Part helps increase family engagement. Parents will delight as they bring in new finds. Wood pieces can be found nearly anywhere outside.

4) BOTTLE CAPS—colorful and nearly everywhere, these little tops are magical. Start saving your bottle caps at home. We prefer using caps without advertising or logos on them. Children delight in sorting, designing, trading, and much more with these finds. Normally, we avoid using plastic, but make an exception with bottle caps. Make sure to clean them thoroughly before bringing them into your environment. Ask the parents to start saving their caps at home.

5) SEA SHELLS—shells bring children in direct contact with the ocean even if they live miles away. We do not endorse people taking shells from the beach or ocean. You can purchase bags of shells from your local craft or dollar store. This ensures safe environmental protection. Also, ask the parents. See if any of them go abalone diving.


6) SCARVES—unlike clothing and other dress up outfits, scarves allow children to use their imagination to become whomever and whatever they wish to be. A scarf can be a carrier for a baby, head cover, blanket, transporting tool, cape and so much more. Scarves are also culturally respectful. Children can mimic attire they view at home or in their neighborhood. Find these at local dollar stores or online. Ask parents if they have extra fabric material. A parent or grandparent may enjoy sewing and be able to provide scraps.

7) GLASS STONES—these are a great substitute for plastic foods. Children can actually mix the stones around in a cooking pot. We saw one child use the stones to make a cake and then later they became poop in a baby’s diaper! Glass stones are also more culturally sensitive because they can become any type of food as opposed to stereotypical plastic tacos or pizza. Or add the stones to your art area and watch the children design, create, sort. You can find the stones at your local craft store or dollar store.

8) METAL CANS—metal cans are useful for transporting materials, filling with sand, or clanging in the sound garden. Save finished metal soup, fruit, vegetable, and bean cans so that you can bring them into the environment. Make sure that there are no sharp points left after opening them with a can opener. There is a specific can opener that you can use which will open cans without leaving a sharp edge. Also, make sure to give them a good cleaning. We like the reflective silver of the cans, but painting the outside of the can is another fun touch.


9) MUD—this is a different sort of Loose Part than the others. Children need mud. The squishy sensation is a favorite among children. Adding dirt and water to your outdoor environment will enhance play. If you do not already have dirt outside you can find bags at your local garden supply store. Mud kitchens are a fun addition outside.

10) COVE MOLDING—cove molding is thick, sturdy cardboard that is used on corners of shipping crates and large appliance for more support. While these may require more patience to acquire, they are a fun addition to a block, construction, and trajectory area. The best way to find these is to ask parents or building managers if they can save them when they get new appliances. Some large box stores may also have some that they will give away for free.

11) VELCRO HAIR ROLLERS—we are still amazed with what the children do with these. From towers to marble tunnels, these colorful items are great! Along with them we suggest having felt boards or carpet around these. You can purchase Velcro hair rollers from most local stores.

12) PINE CONES-- these favorites come in all shapes and sizes across the world. Children can have a whole pine cone family or use smaller ones in their art creations. Provide pine cones in various areas in your environment. Ask parents and friends to bring in pine cones they collect from their yards, parks, or nature walks. We have had neighbors collect and leave bags full on our porch.

 13) CARDBOARD BOX-- this is the ultimate and original Loose Part. During holidays and celebrations it is a joke among adults that children play more with the box than the toy that was wrapped up in it. For good reason, too! A box has so much more possibility than a toy car. One of our favorite books illustrates this perfectly, "Not a Box." Ask parents or staff to bring in boxes when they are done or after a celebration. Watch the children build, decorate, kick, or deliver these boxes all around the site. When possible use boxes with as few labels. We want to be respectful of the children and keep them from constant commercialism and provide them with blank boxes.


*Quantity is a question that comes up often from people making the switch. As far as how many to have in your classroom, we say many, many, many! There need to be enough of each material so that no child is left wanting. This is not to say that if you have 24 children then you have 24 rocks. Children need and deserve enough of each material in order to see their vision through. So in other words, there is no magic number. If you see children really enjoying the scarves, invest in more.

*Safety is the final note. Always use your best judgement when selecting materials to place in your classroom. Use a choke tube to test each material for infant and toddler rooms. However, consider the importance of exposing children to a variety of textures and materials. Children need opportunities to meet the world around them first hand.

"Start in a Corner"- A Quick Guide to Change

One of the best pieces of advice we received was from our dear friend and mentor Bev Bos. Do not feel overwhelmed by transforming your entire classroom. Instead Bev suggests, and now we do as well, to start in a corner. Pick one area and begin the transformation there. So often do we visit other centers or classrooms and then want to come back to our own and redo everything. Not only is this overwhelming for us, but for our children. Stop. Take notes. Start slowly. 

Quick Guide to Change:

1. Observe. Where do the children interact the most within the environment? Which areas are not as used? Which schemas do you observe the children doing? 

2. Identify. After you have observed what the children are doing and where, thoughtfully reflect on how YOU can best support their interests and behaviors. Find an area or *toy you want to change in order to best support the children's current interest. Consider what the children are currently doing or not doing there.  If the children are engaging in trajectory, consider adding soft materials for them to throw. Another option would be to add more ramps in the block area. We are here to support children's interests. If your children are fascinated by creating than would you give them coloring sheets? NO. Support and foster each child's natural curiosity. 

*replace the prescribed toys with Loose Parts for ultimate benefit for the children

3. Select Materials. You observed the children and identified a behavior or interest you want to support. Now, you need to select a material to substitute in. Consider this example from a Head Start in Northern California.

Teacher J learned about Loose Parts and wanted to infuse them into her classroom. She watched the children and discovered their particular interest in dramatic play. The children had a house with plastic food, plastic plates, paper money, and dress up clothes. Teacher J decided to start the transformation by replacing the plastic plates and cookware with real ones that she found at a garage sale. The following week Teacher J swapped the plastic food for glass stones and tree cookies. The first day the children were in disequilibrium, but quickly adjusted. Teacher J observed the children at the end of the week stirring the stones for "spaghetti" and filling glasses for "milk." Next, Teacher J took the dress up clothes out and added scarves, large blankets, and fabrics of various lengths. The children built a fort, were superheros, and tucked the babies into bed. Finally, the paper money was exchanged for rocks and leaves. The children created their own currency, but with paper scraps from the art area. Teacher J was and still is excited by the higher level of imagination the children are engaging in. 

Teacher J was very thoughtful and intentional in her selections. She saw what the children were engaged in and reflected on what materials would best allow the children to continue with dramatic play, but make their play limitless. The children are not restricted by predetermined products. Plastic pizza will always be plastic pizza. However, tree cookies can be bread for a sandwich, money, wheels, stepping stones, and whatever else the children imagine.

4. Allow time. Allow time for the children to adjust. Allow time for you to observe. Allow time for exploration. When Teacher J added the stones she did not know what the children would use them for. They have since become food, money, and a tool for design.

The whole process in Teacher J's class was over the course of several weeks. However, guess what? The children do not ask for the missing plastic food or paper money! The teachers also do not want them back after seeing the children's creativity soar. Children are naturally creative, curious, and competent. We as educators must recognize this and support our children as much as possible. 

Dramatic Play Area




Thinking of Bev's words, find one area in your classroom such as science, art, or dramatic play and start adding new materials and transforming that one area. Improving your classroom one small section at a time is feasible both financially and personally. 

We challenge you to find your one corner or toy and start there! 

Loose Parts in Boston- Back to Basics

      One preschool located in the suburbs of Boston had a dilemma: previous outdoor equipment had been deemed unsafe and was taken out. So what were they to do now for the outside environment? Loose Parts of course!

      Lisa and Miriam were interviewed over the summer by Melissa Shaw from Bay State Parent Magazine in Massachusetts. The final article takes a look into Miss Tanya's Nursery School which has made the change to Loose Parts, open-ended materials. Check out the article and learn about the transformation that brought the preschool and children back to the basics by clicking here. The article gives testimony to the power of Loose Parts. The children are engaged, creating, problem-solving, inventing, collaborating. Is that not what we as educators or parents want to see developing in our children?

I want children to explore, have experiences, and learn and grow, use their imagination, and not be funneled into one activity.
— Tanya Trainor, owner of Miss Tanya's Nursery School

The Many Colors of the Leaves

Fall is upon us and the colors are changing. Every year nature surprises us with deep burgundies, intense yellows, flaming oranges, strong crimsons and a variety of greens and browns. We are also presented with a variety of leaf shapes from oaks, aspens, gingko, maples, beech, birch and sycamores amongst others. These wonderful leaves and beautiful colors can become and inspiration for children to create and explore art. As we go on one of our daily walks, Armen comments excitedly, “I see colors on trees.” Mariana looks at him and says, “Is because the wind is cold and it makes different colors.”


What it Means:

From a Child’s Perspective:

Children create different theories based on their observations, ideas, imagination, experiences and what they know and value. To them a leave changes color because of the wind, or the cold weather. They are not concerned with the specific scientific reasons. Their theories may not be accurate, but the process of developing the hypothesis is what is meaningful.  Listening to their ideas is what matters, it send the message, “What you have to say is important.” This is what gives children the confidence to continue to create, explore and test new ideas and hypothesis.

From a Teacher’s Perspective:

It would be easy to take leadership and use this moment to teach the children what makes leaves change colors. We can use books and create a lesson plan around leaves. Even though this would be our initial instinct, we know that talking about the real reasons the leaves change colors would end the conversation and once again they would look to us to impart the knowledge.  What we truly want is to embrace the children’s perspective. We want them to enjoy the changing of the colors and appreciate it as a gift from nature. We want children to explore inquiry questions, test hypothesis and keep their sense of wonder alive. We want to engage their curiosity and to connect to their own learning. We have a desire to support children to become life-long-learners. 

Consider setting a simple display of leaves near the light table. Think about the background fabric you can use to intensify the colors of the leaves. We used black and placed a few basket with leaves separated by type and by color. We wanted children to compare and contrast the differences and appreciate each leaf individually. Lany is fascinated by the leaves, she spends time arranging the leaves and creating different designs. She uses the maple leaves and arranges them in a line, she then changes them again and creates a circle. Her work becomes more complex as more leaves are added.

After a few days, we decide to include an art experience using leaves. We did not want to incorporate paint, because we felt that the leaves offered enough color and paint would be distracting. Instead we used a deep yellow fabric on a round table. We created a platform in the middle using some thick wood tiles. We added a basket with oak leaves of different sizes. Around the center provocation, we set four different stations. Each had a wood tile and on top we place frames that the children can use to contain their designs. We allowed them to explore the oak leaves for a few days. We noticed that the children were getting leaves from the light table. We decided to incorporate other leaves into the provocation. We incorporated gingko leaves and small maple leaves. The children created exquisite designs and spent time describing the colors and how they made them feel. They talked in detail about the different shapes. After completing a particularly complicated design, Tomas points to a photo of a cluster of trees and exclaims,  “I can see how all these leaves work together, like they do in nature.”