Back in 1971, an architect called Simon Nicholson published a paper called "The Theory of Loose Parts". He described a huge variety of objects, materials, "physical phenomena" like gravity, and other humans as all being different types of loose parts. Building on his work, early years professionals have coined his phrase to describe a type of play. Today, loose parts play is growing in popularity. Embracing freedom, imagination, healthy risk, and often the outdoors, it's not hard to see why.
What is loose parts play?
The idea is to give children access to a range of real world objects and materials. These items of parts should not be purposefully "child-friendly", although risk assessment is an important part of this style of practice. Children are then encouraged to interact with these objects and materials on their own terms, using their imagination. The role of adults is intentionally limited to supervision, with intervention only happening to keep children safe. It is not for you to build a den for the children in 2 minutes flat. It is for the children to experiment, learn and create something of their own.
Why should we give it a go?
For starters, lots of proper academic research has proved its value. One study found that the introduction of loose parts play increased the level of creativity amongst children, improved their levels of physical activity, and enhanced their opportunities to learn how to play co-operatively. In addition, loose parts play is often facilitated outside. This can increase children's experience of the natural world, and further improve their level of activity. In the context of Development Matters, loose parts play also has the potential to touch on every area of a child's development:
- PSED - Children learn to share and collaborate with one another, such as carrying a heavy object as a group
- C&L - Children discuss and negotiate the use of different parts
- PD - Children move unusual, large and sometimes heavy objects as well as manipulating different tools
- M - Children think about different sizes and shapes and how they come together
- L - Children can draw plans or ideas and create signs and labels to support their imaginative play
- UtW - Children can experiment with different mechanical objects to find out how they work
- EAD - Children can turn parts into sculptures, pictures and other art
How do we start?
We have produced a comprehensive 5-part guide to get you and your setting started with Loose Parts Play. It includes;
- A poster for you to display asking for parents' support
- A letter you can send to local businesses asking for donations
- Basic information about Loose Parts Play to share with colleagues
- A tool to help you with risk assessing Loose Parts Play
- A collection of inspirational images
In addition, this is a great detailed document produced by Inspiring Scotland which goes into lots of detail about the principles, practicalities and pitfalls of embracing Loose Parts Play.