By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I love loose parts. I love playing with loose parts and sharing loose parts with other educators. My hope is when adults mess about with loose parts that there will be recognition of the possibilities and importance of loose parts provision for children. I have presented many loose parts workshops indoors. Sometimes I pack up my car and drive and other times when I have to get on a plane and travel to present, I work with a local organization to supply the loose parts. I look forward to my visits to Manitoba, where I will share the mystery bag challenge and British Columbia for a loose parts buffet and documentation session! Last spring, I found myself in loose parts heaven as I sorted through all the wonderful stuff that the Early Childhood Educators of BC amassed for a workshop with 350 educators!
Having more and more requests for these workshops is indication that the loose parts are becoming more widely used and accepted. Everyday I find more resources and research to support educators who have decided to move away from closed-ended toys to these open-ended materials that can be either synthetic or natural. Let the Children Play: Scoping Review on the Implementation and Use of Loose Parts for Promoting Physical Activity Participation provides a review of articles written about loose parts and suggests that the most all encompassing definition of the term comes from Sutton (2011) who defined loose parts as any collection of fully movable elements that inspire a person to pick up, re-arrange or create new configurations, even realities, one piece or multiple pieces at a time. A very useful graphic of loose parts can be found in this amazing resource Let Kids Be Kids: Using Adventure and Nature to Bring Back Children’s Play.
Yes, to loose parts for adventure play! Being adventurous is all about opportunities for children to explore and test their own capacities, to manage risk, and to grow in their capacity, resourcefulness and resilience. Adventurous play is imaginative and creative. Adventurous play can be risky but shouldn’t be hazardous. Jumping in a pile of leaves is not without risk and that is part of the adventure but it is relatively safe risk.
With the loose parts that nature offers, children can construct their own adventures. They can balance, jump, and scamper using their whole bodies in ways that support their kinaesthetic development (Sobel, 2008). When children find themselves in a woodsy playground such as a forest, the loose parts are already there. When educators want to create adventure for children, they can also supply loose parts because Open-Ended Materials Belong Outside Too! I love this free downloadable resource that will support the use of loose parts outdoors for adventure play!
This summer, I had the chance to visit an adventure playground full of these amazing loose parts. Back in the day, when I first started working as an early childhood educator, before I ever heard of loose parts, we used the term, “beautiful junk”. We would happily accept donations and incorporate these materials in art and construction projects that were always inside. Now I realize that we need to take that junk outside! The concept of a “junk playground” was first proposed by a Danish landscape architect in 1936. These playgrounds became known as adventure playgrounds and in 1950, McCall’s Magazine sponsored the first adventure playground in the United States in Minneapolis. Even though these playgrounds began appearing in other North American cities, their life span was short due to concerns about junky appearance, expansion of safety regulations, fear of injury and liability, shortage of funding and play leaders, and lack of support from community leaders (Frost, 2012). The exciting news is that adventure playgrounds are beginning to appear once again. Earth Day Canada has supported the concept of “Pop up” adventure playgrounds that can be set up and dismantled in the same day. Seeing this playground pop up in my own neighbourhood at Windfall Ecology Centre and watching children engage with the beautiful junk was an experience I will never forget!
Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires [sic], bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junkyard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don’t try and direct the kids in their play, just let them get on with it.” Nicholson (1971)
I thank all those who have inspired me to reconsider loose parts for their outdoor, adventure play possibilities!