Friday, 14 March 2014

Loose Parts

It sounds a lot ruder than it is, I assure you!

Have you ever heard of Loose Parts Theory?  I hadn't, but now that I have, I find that it's been part of the way we use our space the whole time!

At C's pre-school they have just revamped the outside space.  There's now a canopy and rubber matting which the grass grows through to make it "all weather".  I was on parent-rota duty there the other day, after the staff had been out resources shopping, so the children spent the morning outside in the garden exploring all the new equipment.  It has now been organised and laid out so that the children have easy access to it, and it was explained to me that this is called "loose parts".

Of course, I went away and Googled it.  Apparently "Loose Parts Theory" was designed by an architect called Simon Nicholson in 1971, in the construction of play spaces for children.  He suggests that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more engaged and creative the children's play will be.

So what are "loose parts"?
Basically, anything which can be moved, carried, combined and redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  They can be natural or synthetic, or even edible!  Examples might include: stones, tree stumps, logs, twigs, tyres, planks, pallets, crates, boxes, gravel, pebbles, marbles, moss and lichen, fabric, buckets, spoons and tongs, straws, chalk, rope, string, shells, pine cones, cushions, play props, dressing up clothes, junk, spades, cups, plant pots, cardboard tubes, beads, corks or bottle tops.

And what do you do with them?
You make them accessible, and you encourage the children to play with them however they choose.  You help the children to re-order them at the end of the play session, you replenish them, add to them and change them as appropriate.  And that's it!

If you think about pre-school and nursery settings, and our own homes, you'll probably realise that your indoor space is full of loose parts - things that the children can freely access and use in a creative way.  Whether it's a dressing up box, a basket of pegs, the Lego, the box of blocks, the kitchen cupboard full of tupperware tubs etc.  Indoors it's just about access.  Letting the children know that it's okay to use these things in their play, and teaching them how to put away afterwards.  It's the outdoor spaces that are often missing the loose parts.  You'll see a trike, a scooter, maybe a sandpit or paddling pool, maybe even a climbing frame, swing or play house... but how often do you see the small bits and pieces that the children have free access to?

I thought about this, and realised that in my garden there's a plank of wood, two drain pipes, a stack of plant pots, a pot full of plant labels, a pot full of pine cones and another of pebbles, a couple of piles of logs, a heap of chopped back pine tree branches, a tray of sand, a couple of buckets and a handful of spades.  Yes, I'm pretty confident that my outdoor space has lots of loose parts that the children can and do play with freely (though its pretty messy after a stormy winter, and not at all beautifully organised).  Our pre-school now definitely has loose parts outdoors, and the children are loving the change.  While I was on duty a small group had arranged tyres, planks and other bits and pieces to be a ship.  Some of the younger ones were simply arranging and rearranging pebbles and pine cones in the tyres using buckets and wooden spoons.

Loose parts definitely seem to lead to creativity on a new level.

What loose parts do you have in your play space at home or in a play setting, indoors or out?  And how do you arrange them for maximum accessibility and inspiration?

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