Is 'Loose Parts' just another buzz word?

Loose Parts…. Is it just another buzz word?

In a nutshell, yes!

Children have always played in this manner.

The term ‘loose parts’ seeks to harness and seeks to explain children’s inherent ability and drive to utilise and explore the world through the objects they find around them – these, we call the ‘variables’.

Why is it important?

Quite simply, an architect, Simon Nicholson, summed this up in 1972 – the more variables in a child’s environment, the more they will seek to make NEW links and theories.

Isn’t this exactly what we want for our people of the future? Not to perpetually absorb prescribed information about what we know of the past… but to create and show us NEW knowledge and NEW theories and ways of looking at the world?!

As Nicholson so artfully tells us, ‘creativity is (not) only for the gifted few’… and as Albert Einstein playfully teaches us “Creativity is intelligence having fun!”

The educationists and pedagogists, whether from a reggio-inspired background or not, have known for a long time, that plastic, predetermined toys are ‘fixed’. They have a fixed role, a fixed way to be played with and provide fixed opportunities for play to unfold.

Take, for example the difference between a plastic train station, and a wooden brick (yes, it’s simple, but bear with me!) The plastic train station can be used with… trains. Yes children can add other items, but generally it’s a piece of plastic which represents something for the child, with minimum visualisation effort required.

A wooden brick… now we’re talking – yes it’s a brick shape… it’s for building. To create a train station, it needs MORE bricks (or not?), it can be added to, moved, vertical, horizontal, large structures or small structures. It SYMBOLIZES something it could be, and it can be turned into a garage or even a space rocket! Children need to search for other items which might fit in with their plan (because, of course, with the plastic station, they don’t need to formulate a plan – it’s already represented).

The example of a wooden brick, is somewhat predictable... but please respect that loose parts can mean ANYTHING... even skateboards, washing baskets and melons! Opportunities for children to manipulate an object in a way in which they can put their ideas to the test.

Children’s brains have incredible potential to create almost limitless new neural pathways every second of the day – the more we provide play experiences, the less they are having opportunities for those ideas to spark, be tested and expanded upon, returned to and adapted.

And let’s think for a moment about the physical opportunities we’re offering children. Loose parts require shifting and manipulating… small and large motor skills are being strengthened – all through the children’s desire to expand their play and ideas. How about the feel and weight of the real objects they manipulate? With every plastic toy, comes more or less the same weight, the same temperature and texture. This gives very little sensory feedback about their real, interactive world.

So, in thinking of the term ‘Loose Parts’ as a new way of viewing educational approaches to play – remember that this is something children do already… have always done.

But perhaps, this one, is more an approach for adults to (re)learn, rather than children. If we restrict the variables of REAL items in their world, and replace them with plastic, technology or represented ‘toys’, we are taking away their right to play, expression of their inner worlds by manipulating their outer environment, and ability to show us they can design the world around them.

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