The Importance of Loose Parts Play

The Importance of Loose Parts Play

The below article has been written by Busy Bees Area Manager, Steve Watts

The Educator excitedly carried a load of thin, plastic plumbing pipes from the storage shed, with a group of children following eagerly behind as they headed to the boat in the sandpit. She placed the pipes in the boat, with bright yellow and orange life jackets beside them before stepping away silently.

“These will make the best fishing rods” she thought, as she stood back and observed the play.

As the children picked up the pipes, some began tapping them on the side of the boat, and some engaged in boisterous sword fights, while others pushed them into the sand and used them to dig. One child began walking towards the bike track with an armful of pipes. He placed them on the ground, then walked over to the nearby milk crates and brought back some bends to connect the pipes together.

After only a few minutes, the boy was beginning to draw a crowd. Some of the other children started to help, discussing ideas and adding to the design.

“What are you doing here? It looks very interesting,” said the Educator who had been watching.

“I’m building a car wash!” the boy exclaimed proudly, “so we can wash our bikes.”

The children all nodded enthusiastically. The boy had built a structure that resembled an automatic car wash, which was clear to all of them except the Educator, at first.

“Oh, I see it. That is a well-designed car wash,” replied the Educator.

Another child standing by said, “What about the material that hangs down and scrubs your car? What could we use for that?”

“Do we have any of the bubble wrap inside from last week?” one of the girls asked.

The Educator went to check, and quickly brought back the bubble wrap and some scissors. The children spent a few minutes cutting strips of bubble wrap, and the Educator helped to stick them to the top of the structure.

The children took turns riding the bikes around the bike track, stopping to have their bike washed, and being “the man at the car wash who you have to pay who cleans your tyres.”

The Educator watched the play in delight, and marvelled at the children’s creativity. What had started as some pipes on the ground had become a magnificent prop that set the stage for the children’s dramatic play.

This is the magic that happens when children engage in play with loose parts.

Loose parts play is play where children decide the purpose of an item, rather than an adult or manufacturer. This may be as simple as using a block of wood as a phone, buttons as money, or shells as fairy treasure. Loose Parts theory is based on the idea that children are empowered creatively with the presence of open-ended materials that could be constructed, manipulated and transformed through self-directed play. (S, Nicholson, 1971)

Children explore invention, innovation and problem solving skills through a sense of wonder that comes with engaging in play with loose parts. Quite often, loose parts are collections of materials or recycled and upcycled items.

Do you remember building blanket forts on a cold and rainy winter’s day, or the excitement of the new refrigerator box which was sitting on the laundry floor?

The creativity of children is given the chance to soar through engaging in loose parts play, allowing for them to explore and develop, both alone and in social play, in ways that are innovative, exciting and physically active.  This type of play facilitates communication and negotiation skills, as children play more cooperatively with each other to establish the game.

This is something that children do innately, and is part of their physical, emotional and social development. Through using their imagination, children develop their understanding of the world, and have fun doing it.

Loose parts play allows for children to direct their own play, without rules or restrictions of the societal expectation of what something “should be”. Instead, this play gives children the opportunity to wonder, explore and challenge the “should be” with the “can be.”



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