“When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of ‘what if’ that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015).”
What are loose parts?
Loose parts are open-ended materials that allow children the freedom to express themselves. There are no rule books or instruction manuals on how to play with loose parts. As she thinks and creates with and develops relationships with loose parts, a child becomes the director of her play and inquiry and loose parts the direction or vice versa. The flexibility allows a child to take varied roles in their play as unique self, collaborator and co-creator of their learning theories, stories and experiences. For instance, a cardboard box that your washing machine was once delivered in, can be a castle for two, a robot for one or a coach of a train to accommodate several. It can be worn, dragged, pushed, squashed, cut, painted, split, decorated or flattened as the need arises.
A handful of petals collected from the garden floor, a basketful of twigs or a bunch of herbs, a collection of buttons in a jar or a feather that was found in the garden can be loose parts too. Can you imagine the possibilities of play with these materials when combined? These materials are so versatile, they can be ‘transformed, transported, taken apart’ to suit the purpose of play and the player’s ideas, thoughts and emotions.
An old bathtub, a couple of old tyres that once belonged to your car and a few planks of wood that were part of your floorboard, can transform and create richer play spaces. Larger loose parts such as these allow opportunities for risk-taking, building resilience, perseverance and self-regulation in children. A piece of fabric, a box of old redundant CDs that were rescued from the trash pile and a basketful of seed pods, can create amazing storytelling sessions. The list is endless and so are the possibilities of play, imagination, creativity and countless ‘what if’ moments.
Why should we promote loose parts play?
Simon Nicholson an architect who first proposed the theory of loose parts in the 1970s believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that will empower our creativity. Some of the benefits of playing with loose parts (natural, manufactured or upcycled), developed through research are:
- Increasing levels of creative and imaginative play- Engaging in dramatic play helps children gain symbolic competence, analyse ideas and develop perspectives and language skills.
- Improves self-control, perseverance and delayed gratification.
- Increasing levels of cooperation and social interactions.
- Loose parts from nature are inviting and calming. Developing nature play opportunities and natural play spaces improve young children’s physical coordination, focus and cognitive skills. The children become physically more active and being in nature boost their psychological well-being(Wells & Evans 2003).
- Connects students with nature and increases their environmental awareness(Ward Thompson 2008)
- Helps create culturally inspiring and sustainable play environments.
What does loose parts play look like in Early years at MBIS?
The Early Years Team at MBIS are constantly reflecting and adapting learning spaces and engagements to support play and inquiry.
This is a tray of coffee, in different flavours, with ability to turn the drinker into a creature as ferocious as a T-rex or a dragon to souls as gentle as butterflies and kittens. It depends who the drinker is and the purpose behind why they are being offered a drink so magically delectable.
Storytelling at the lighttable: A small group of children have combined both natural and manufactured loose parts to create a farm for the animals.
Experimenting with volume, shape, size and how things works with upcycled materials during collaborative play.
PS1 the youngest created this ‘bridge’ with logs together and tested their creation by walking up and down.
Several members of the PS3 assembled these fairly heavy logs, new addition to the garden space, and created a boat to accommodate the entire crew.
Mud kitchen: Playing with natural materials such as mud not only help develop creative expression but make the immune system stronger.
‘Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory type of environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves’-Simon Nicholson, Architect
In our quest to create a responsive, challenging and sustainable outdoor environment, we ask our community to support us collect an abundance of loose parts with beauty, complexity and quality!