Are you familiar with the theory of loose parts?
Maybe you’ve heard about loose parts play, read an article on line or have seen images on pinterest. Or maybe all you can think of right now is the number of loose parts scattered throughout your entire home after a day at home with the kids.
The concept of playing with loose parts has been around since the day children have been playing with sticks and stones.
But in 1971 an architect named Simon Nicholson developed an actual Theory of Loose Parts and it has been exciting play experts, educators and parents ever since. Let me tell you more:
What is The Theory of Loose Parts?
The theory of loose parts is simply the following:
“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the
possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of
variables in it.” Simon Nicholson – The Theory of Loose Parts, 1971
Nicholson criticised how children were often presented with ‘finished’ materials and environments that left nothing to the imagination. He thought children were robbed of all the fun and crucial learning experiences that come from being involved in the creating process.
Nicholson believed that all children are creative beings. He felt that this creativity should be nurtured and empowered. The way to do this according to Nicholson is giving children the opportunity to play with a wide variety of loose parts.
These loose parts can be anything. Mostly they are not toys, but random bits and pieces of materials that we can find in our everyday life. The interesting thing about loose parts is that they have no defined purpose: they can be anything and can be used in any way.
Loose parts can be moved around, sorted, stacked, and tinkered with. The opportunities are truly infinite and it’s resulting play never ceases to amaze. Which is why everyone is so excited about loose parts play!
The Right to be Creative
Nicholson’s paper certainly moved people in a number of ways and this blog post is proof that this is still true today.
The following passage he wrote in his paper struck a particular chord with me:
“Creativity is for the gifted few: the rest of us are compelled to live in environments
constructed by the gifted few, listen to the gifted few’s music, use gifted few’s inventions
and art, and read the poems, fantasies and plays by the gifted few. … The result is that the vast majority of people are not allowed (and worse – feel that they are incompetent) to experiment with the components of building and construction, whether in environmental studies, the abstract arts, literature or science: the creativity – the playing around with the components and variables of the world in order to make experiments and discover new things and form new concepts – has been explicitly stated as the domain of the creative few, and the rest of the community has been deprived of a crucial part of their lives and life-style.” Simon Nicholson – The Theory of Loose Parts, 1971
I don’t know about you but this most definitely resonates with me.
I did grow up thinking that either you were creative or you weren’t. And even if you were considered to be creative, you were often encouraged to focus on developing ‘real’ or more useful skills that would secure you a decent job. When I grew up (and maybe even still) it was truly believed that only a few gifted people could make a respectful living out of their creative interests.
That mindset has impacted me throughout my life. It has taken me years to trust my own creativity and feel comfortable enough to share this part of me with others.
Maybe in one way or another a lot of you reading can relate to some degree.
How often do we shy away from creativity because we think we can’t, shouldn’t or even have no right to act or speak because we are no experts?
We seem to have forgotten that it’s ok to do anything even remotely creative without seemingly admirable results. We seem to have forgotten that it’s about the journey, not the destination. We seem to have forgotten that ‘creating’, in the broadest sense of the word, is like breathing. It keeps us alive.
Children don’t seem to have those inhibitions yet. Give the chance, most of them will happily give anything a go!
So where along the way do we lose confidence in our own creativity? And how can we support our children to hold on to their creative enthusiasm?
I believe the creativity is a mindset anyone can achieve. And I think that through loose parts play we can support our children and teach ourselves to hold on to that creative mindset throughout life.
Loose parts play encourages children to explore experiment, design, create and construct. It gives them the opportunity to figure out that there are different ways of doing things. It teaches them to be critical of their own creations, be flexible and resilient when things don’t work out. Loose parts play encourages independent play, self motivation and creative thinking.
Here’s to hoping that loose parts play will somehow encourage us all to believe in ourselves and keep giving things a go, maybe one day we’ll even make the impossible happen. Because when you think you can, you’re already half way there!
From Theory to Reality
Now what, you ask?
How do we put this theory into practice? Where and when do we begin? Where can I find (new) ideas? What loose parts can and do you use?
In my article Playing with Loose Parts at Home, I will try to provide an answer for all those questions and more.
I will structure different areas of creative play in which loose parts can be used, give examples of materials that can be used and ideas for how to set up invitations to play.
I also set up a pinterest board dedicated to Loose Parts Play, where I have collected some great images that will give you a good idea of items you could use and awesome play ideas.
And you could have a look at all of our loose parts play ideas and start planning some fun invitations to play and explore.
PS: I want to acknowledge An Everyday Story, where I first read about loose parts and a whole new world of opportunities presented themselves. Thanks Kate!
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