Loose parts has taken the educational world by storm over the past few years. But what actually are loose parts and what aren’t?
Read on as we are redefining loose parts by going back to the basics, look at the Theory of Loose Parts, think beyond the mainstream perception of loose parts and figure out what that means for our everyday play today.
Redefining Loose Parts: a Creative Outlook on Creative Play
It all started with the Theory of Loose Parts, which comes down to 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
With his theory (I wrote more about it here) Nicholson redefined the importance of creativity and freedom in play.
In short Nicholson promotes open ended play and states that the more different kinds of materials you have available to you, the more creative strategies you will be able to come up with. More is more.
Because the theory of loose parts emphasizes open ended play and a variety of materials, loose parts has slowly become synonymous with nature play in a Reggio Emilia kind of way. Which is absolutely fine. (I am completely in love with Reggio Emilia inspired class rooms!)
To fully engage in this creative play (or creative state of mind) Nicholson was referring to, children need freedom to play, explore and create. Beautifully set up invitations in calm, natural and engaging environments where child led play is the norm are perfectly suited for loose parts play as it was originally intended.
But here’s the thing. We don’t all have the opportunity (or choose to) homeschool our kids or send them to Reggio inspired schools. And our homes certainly don’t always look that inviting, calm and in our case definitely not that organised. In our family life we also don’t always have (or take) the time to give children the space to fully engage and explore at their own pace.
It might be a bit sad, but even when you as parents are committed to raising creative children, slowing down family life and use coconut oil, there will still be limits. Which doesn’t mean we don’t get to play with loose parts. And that is why we need to redefine loose parts and how we play with them.
We need to open up this world of loose parts to the masses. We need to let people know what is at the heart of it. We need to show families and schools everywhere that the theory of loose parts can be put in practice everywhere, with just about anything.
So here’s how we do that.
When we look at the theory, we can distill two main aspects: a variety of materials and open ended play. When you put those two together, you’ll notice that the possibilities of loose parts play really are endless. And most importantly: it’s achievable.
You don’t need to scavenge beautiful items from nature or buy new gorgeous materials. You don’t have to plan in advance or put a lot of effort into beautifully presented invitations to play for your children. Though you most definitely can and are more than welcome to! But you don’t have to.
The point is that playing with loose parts is also playing with everyday items around you such as toys (yes, toys!) and everyday items from around the house. Keeping in mind that the way you set up the invitation to play (or engage in an activity with your kids) is open ended, it’s all good!
the “modern day version” of loose parts play
Are you still with me?
Let me give you some examples of loose parts play activities that perhaps might not fit the loose parts play norm:
- Making Pretend Play Cookies with Loose Parts
- Creating a Small World with Loose Parts from Random Toys
- Invitation to Explore Loose Parts on a Mirror
- How to Set up a Portable Tinker Box with Loose Parts
- Invitation to Create a Flower Garden with Loose Parts
You’ll notice that in all of these activities the loose parts look different. That’s because I sourced them based on what I thought would work best for that particular activity.
On the other hand you’ll also notice that some loose parts keep making an appearance. That’s because I source them from my home. I use what I’ve got available to me.
The point still is that we use a variety of materials in activities that promote open ended play so that children will learn that there are more possibilities than they thought to create the one thing they may have had in their mind. And that is what creativity is all about: you use what you have got to find a solution for the problem you are facing. Through creative play you learn that there is not only one solution, there are many and that you are more than capable of figuring it out. These are important life skills people.
I’ll quickly add to this that you’ll also notice that isn’t always an abundance of loose parts available. And here’s where the theory meets reality: young children need to grow in their ability to sort through materials and options. They can get easily overwhelmed and will seemingly quickly lose interest. So the younger the child, the simpler I would keep your play set up (like this Dinosaur Small World using loose parts), the older the child, the more open ended and adventurous you could make the activity (like this inventor’s box).
Join the Loose Parts Adventure
This journey to creativity will look different for each family and within that family it will look different for each person. Find your own way. Experiment. And let me know how it went!
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