theory of loose parts and the natural playscape

Allison Park – 1983 – Earth couch and chair made of top soil and blue grass sod

Now that our school has some amount of outdoor space, I have become obsessed with how we are going to prepare the outdoor environment.

The more I observe the children at play , the more I am convinced that a natural playscape is the way to go.

I once read about the theory of loose parts and it stuck with me – the more loose parts there are for children to manipulate and move, the more inventive and creative is their play.

Simon Nicholson first offered the theory of loose parts in children’s play when he wrote in 1971, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibilities of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

…. and nature is the supreme mother of loose parts ….

Anyone who has accompanied a child into nature knows the endless hours they can spend with fallen twigs and leaves, small stones, big rocks, mushy soil, dry gravel, seed pods, ants, spiders, dappled sunlight through the leaves  …

Infact, even a tree or two is enough.

At our school the falling leaves of the badam tree have become purses, wings, belts, collars, hairbands, homes of fairies, necklaces, plates, spoons and cups. Their veins have become brooms. The fruit of the tree has become paint. Their tiny flowers have become rain.

To quote White and Stoeklin:

“It is unfortunate that children can’t design their outdoor play environments. Research on children’s preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them.

Outdoor spaces designed by children would not only be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects, but also would be rich with a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. If children could design their outdoor play spaces, they would be rich, developmentally appropriate learning environments where children would want to stay all day”.


3 thoughts on “theory of loose parts and the natural playscape

  1. Thanks for the post.

    I’ve been thinking about my school’s outdoor space lately. Here in Minneapolis, it finally stopped snowing last week. This week is supposed to feel like summer (80+ F). We have a small outdoor space (a city lot).

    However, we are two blocks from a parkway next to the Mississippi River. We visit often. I hope to make it every day this week. There are plenty of sticks, pine cones, leaves, stones. THen there are the spaces, open grassy areas, trees they can climb, trees they can play under, bushes, dirt/mud.

    If we had access to a bathroom and kitchen, we could probably stay there the entire day. The kids come up with endless games.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.