Loose Parts: Finding wonder in everyday objects

development, loose parts, open ended play, PLAY AT HOME, Reggio Emilia, toddler, toys, wooden bikes, wooden toys -

Loose Parts: Finding wonder in everyday objects

By Carrie Mitchell, mother of 2 and Early Years Educator

August 2020

Give a child an open-ended resource and you can enjoy watching them create, hypothesize, problem solve and develop through play.

The idea of Loose Parts was developed in 1972 by artist and sculptor Simon Nicholson who put forward that creativity is not a specialized skill inherent to the few. He reasoned that it can be cultivated from early childhood onwards through engagement with Loose Parts. Think of it this way, give a child a plastic doll and the options are limited: instantly you lose interest from children who are just not interested in this gender specific toy, after losing that audience your remaining children will dress the doll, brush the hair and role playing situations with an adult doll…the possibilities for play are finite and, quite frankly, restrictive. In contrast, present a basket of wooden pegs (or indeed, just the one) and the child is invited to harness their imagination. What could these pegs be and do? What and who can they become? From a construction activity to an object for roleplay (it could be a person, an animal, a car..) to a pawn in a game that they create, the possibilities are endless and the ideas this stimulate are fluid and ever changing. This is where we connect to creativity. This is where we harness innovation.

We know that when a child is playing they are learning. Yet the quality and type of learning is influenced by what they are playing, for instance playing with a puzzle develops problem-solving skills. Playing with a doll develops language and social skills. Because Loose parts are open ended in the way which play can take place they are also open ended in the way a child can learn whilst engaging with them: from engineering and problem solving, language skills and mathematical skills, collaboration and communication, to developing their own hypotheses and testing them out. Many Early Years educators and philosophies of education such as the Reggio Emilia approach adopt a Loose Parts method within their settings but how can parents introduce it to the home?

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”

-Loris Malaguzzi,Β Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

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Introducing Loose Parts to your home:

  • Start small and build your collection. Just like a child can be overwhelmed by too many toys introduce parts in smaller groups and explore them before adding more.
  • Take time to introduce new things. Safety first: talk about and demonstrate safe handling and uses, communicate any boundaries. Introduce new language such as shiny, reflective, smooth, rough, heavy. Model how to handle the parts, wonder aloud any questions you have about the item (this will encourage your child to pose their own questions.)
  • Know when to get involved and when to take a back seat. At first your child might benefit from you sitting beside them and developing your own creativity so sit with them and play there is no right or wrong use. You will know it is time to take a step back when they start innovating without you initiating it.

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    Loose Part Ideas:

    • Collections of shells, stones, twigs and leaves (natural materials are a wonderful resource that encourage observation and appreciation of the details that can be found in nature and can be collected together whilst on walks)
    • Collections of screws and hardware (check these have no points/sharp edges and are safe and introduce safe handling to your child)
    • Parts of Hose pipes, drainpipes, old tires
    • Pieces of string and rope
    • Cardboard boxes

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