Theory of Loose Parts In Action

As a follow up to my post on the theory of loose parts and the natural playscape, I thought I’d share some of the goings-on during playtime.

Free play at school has been becoming more and more creative and inventive of late. What’s more, we have noticed increased co-operation and fewer fights between the children.

Here’s what the children have been up to:

They have been gathering fallen flowers, leaves, sour clover, cast-away bamboo from their wood working, broken pots and anything else they can forage to make their own ‘shop’.

Everything can be bought for a few rocks and they are most generous with granting discounts!

The shop is open!
Hard at work – the pile of rocks in the corner is the ‘money’ they have collected for their wares
Hurry! Just a few items left
Beware the money safe – all the rocks are under the pots. If you try to get to it you will topple the precariously balanced sticks on top and leave a tell tale sign!

Meanwhile, the sandpit is coming alive with other wonders. A found bottle, bamboo sticks, left over bricks from our amphitheatre and a few broken pots is all it takes!

a plastic bottle, 2 tyres and sand become a truck
… and there exists an internal structure as well – bamboo sticks hidden in the sand are the pipes of the engine!
… but what does one do with all these bricks?
…. why, build a house ofcourse!
… and the wolf ? Well, he can huff and he can puff but he can’t bring this house down …

“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 

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”.