Friday, March 27, 2015

My love affair with loose parts

Kids really get to know the environment if they can dig it, beat it, swat it, lift it, push it, join it, combine different things with it.  This is what adults call creative activity...a process of imagination and environment working together.
- Robin Moore

Loose parts and I have been best friends since way before I even knew that loose parts were an actual thing. 

The small, progressive preschool I chose for my boys -  and later - for myself had an outdoor space rich in loose parts - both natural and man made.  The children had ready access to all manner of sticks, planks of wood, bricks, stones, mesh, fabric, rope, tyres, tree cookies, crates, sand, dirt and mud and - here is the important part - the time and permission to use them in whatever direction their imaginations, creativity and curiosity took them.

Do you know what I noticed?  Children engaged for long periods of rich, co-operative play.  Curiosity sparked and imaginations ignited they followed their own interests for days, and in some cases months. Children became expert problem solvers and dispute resolvers.  There was very little need for "supervision" in terms of behaviour management challenges which was the norm in other centres I had worked at.  

Building ramps
My eyes were opened to the power of loose parts.  I started to sing their praises on my blog, and at last count there were 50 odd posts on loose parts alone.  Why?  What the children did with loose parts knocked my socks off, every single day.

A pile of rocks was moved to a "rock factory".  The rocks were ground by hitting them with bricks.  This evolved into a rock shop.  Rocks were decorated.  Signs were made.  The children at the school next door were invited to come and peruse their wares.  This went on for weeks.

Over time, I noticed that things in the play department were really rocking when the loose parts available supported the schemas in children's play.

Enclosure, trajectory, transporting, positioning, connecting, rotating, transforming - loose parts are the raw materials that support children's innate urges in their play.
Making cubby houses was a constant.  The urge to create spaces of their own is strong.

Resist the urge to step in - unless invited - and you will be amazed where the play takes them.  I promise.

Often a project would ebb and flow - a manic hour of work in the morning and then the work site may sit untouched until the next day.  It may look haphazard but rest assured they know where everything belongs and why.
Making traps continued for months on end.  
 When children play with loose parts, they are not only developing their imagination and creative thinking - they are solving problems, moving their bodies, calculating, measuring, inventing, negotiating, co-operating, respecting and learning how to get along.  

What more could we want than that?  But don't just take my word for it.  Try it yourself and see!