Nature Portraits: Loose Parts Play Activity for Little Learners

Loose Parts Play with Items Found in Nature!

When we set up opportunities for children to play with interesting materials, they have the chance to explore, invent, and imagine in all kinds of new ways! Loose parts play is a great way to encourage fun and creative learning experiences for children with items found around the house.


*This activity involves small parts and is not recommended for children under the age of 3.


  • A flat, clean, dry workspace
  • A mirror
  • Found nature items. Our favorites include: leaves, twigs, grass, pebbles, tree bark, mulch, pine cones, acorns, and seashells
  • Depending on the different nature items available to you, you may also want to supplement with loose parts from your home. Our favorites include: buttons, tooth picks, twine, dry beans, and popsicle sticks
Create self portrait with loose play parts


  1. Take a walk outside and see what nature items you can find! It’s helpful to bring a small container, like a shoebox, along to help hold your collection as you walk. This is a great opportunity to talk with children about what is and isn’t respectful to take from nature or shared outdoor spaces.

  2. Once you’ve collected all the materials you need, set up your workspace with your mirror and your nature items.

  3. Take a look at your face in the mirror. What shapes do you see? Are some of your features bigger than others? Is your hair long or short, straight or curly?

  4. Take a look at the items you collected. What could make good eyes? Did you collect anything that reminds you of the shape of your nose or the texture of your hair?

  5. Use what you collected to put together the best portrait of yourself that you can! Don’t like something? Don’t worry! The best part about playing with loose parts is that you can create and re-create again and again! Try making portraits of yourself making different faces. What’s different about how you make a happy face compared to how you make a sad face?

  6. Don’t forget to take a picture before you put your loose parts away! Share your photos with us by using #OSCatHome on social media or submitting them to our Science Showcase!

Extend the fun!

One of our favorite things about loose parts play is that you can use almost anything! Don’t have easy access to nature items?


Try using some of our other favorite loose parts items which include but are not limited to:

  • Bottle caps
  • LEGO blocks
  • Uncooked pasta in different shapes
  • Yarn or ribbon
  • Beads
  • Pom poms
  • Straws
  • Fabric scraps
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips
  • Q-tips or cotton swabs
  • Tin foil

Just like your materials, your loose parts play prompt can be pretty much anything. Challenge children to make an invention, map out a garden, explore pattern making, design a robot, imagine their own planet, or create scenes based on different seasons!

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STEM Starts Here! Orlando Science Center’s Preschool Turns 10

Preschool-aged children are natural scientists and problem solvers. They live in a hands-on world, constantly experimenting as they discover new things. Leveraging this curiosity provides an opportunity for essential skill building and establishing a solid foundation for learning. In 2009, Orlando Science Center founded our community’s first STEM preschool to help our youngest learners, and their caregivers, better prepare for school and the challenges of an ever-competitive future.


It was a novel concept: an active preschool within a science center. Instilling the preschool curriculum with STEM learning, the teachers would use the exhibits and resources onsite within lessons, essentially turning every day into a field trip. It had only been done a handful of times at museums around the country, but the growing need for quality preschool education in the area inspired Orlando Science Center to move forward.


Over the past decade, Orlando Science Center’s preschool has graduated hundreds of confident, inquisitive learners. What started out as one classroom with only four children has grown to reach full capacity with four classrooms made up of over 70 students. Our team has created a learning environment unmatched by any other preschool in the region. Teachers ignite the curiosity of their students and present challenge-based activities created to nurture skills in problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.


Children benefit not only from an open and supportive environment, but also a developmentally appropriate learning space that includes hands-on activities and skill building centers. This atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the content-rich STEM experiences found within the Science Center. The staff, all qualified preschool educators, guide students through scientific inquiry and the engineering design process with effective questioning techniques that facilitate thoughtful dialogue.


Every facet is explored as a learning opportunity. Storytime can use the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” as a basis to explore bridge building or arts and crafts to encourage students to invent a solution for a problem in their lives. It is not unusual to see three and four year-olds correcting their caregivers’ vocabulary regarding science terms. This evidence of success is proof that you can’t start early enough to build tomorrow’s STEM workforce.


Introducing STEM concepts within the preschool learning environment reduces the barriers of entry found later in the life. Students are excited, rather than intimidated, by these subjects and their confidence with STEM concepts stays with them as they progress to kindergarten and beyond. Orlando Science Center has also created professional development for preschool educators so they can bring hands-on STEM learning into their own classrooms.


The Science Center's preschool has seen 10 years of smiles, laughter and learning. Many families have graduated multiple siblings from the program. Students have gone on to find success in grade school, winning spots on the honor roll and science fair honors. It has become one of Orlando Science Center’s cornerstone programs and a living embodiment of its motto: “STEM starts here.”