Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Loose Parts Play

I have always been concerned about centers that have one main climbing structure and a few trikes to ride on a concrete slab as the extent of their outdoor play area. I've been on some of these playgrounds, watching the children aimlessly wandering around, and often misbehaving and messing with each other just for something new to do. This has been the case at some very expensive and some very highly respected centers. 

It made me sad for the children.

I have tried to let my students really be kids here. We turned over a board in the yard the other day and they were poking sticks at the slugs and watching spiders and rolly-pollies. We dig for worms and play with them, race them, measure them, etc.

They get muddy. Sometimes...REALLY muddy...

But I think there is a lot more that I can do to make their outdoor time more stimulating and creative and I'm working on that this year. They will probably get a lot dirtier this summer . 

One of the things I am really interested in is the concept of Loose Parts Play. Basically, loose parts play is children taking items and making them into whatever they want. It increases their creativity, problem solving, social dynamics and language as they negotiate what an item will represent, logic and reasoning skills, etc. 

Loose parts have been around in our playground since the beginning. This plastic pedestal was in the garden holding a statue until I began doing childcare. The children decided it had better uses...

It's something to think about for home, as well. A's father was telling me how she just loves their broken barstool they were going to throw away that lays on the floor. It becomes her Barney bus and she plays in there for a long time, even though her room is full of toys. Imagination is a wonderful thing, and when a child has that ownership in play, it's much more powerful than doing what they are suppose to do with a specific toy that does a specific thing.

Proponents of loose parts play think a good playground should strongly resemble a junk yard. It should provide endless opportunities for children's creative expression, exploration and architectural wonderment. 

I purchased several pans and lids from Salvation Army to create a banging wall, however, once I got them here, I reconsidered attaching them. For instance, if I place those pans and lids onto a banging wall for music, I am basically telling the children what they are for and how to use them. They are for music, they stay attached to this fence and you bang on them to make music. It is a teacher-down direction. 

However, by placing them in the playground and just leaving them there, within one day they were used as restaurant servers, baby beds for rocks, hats for the toddlers, they slid down the slides, served as stools for a few bottoms.  

They were also banged against several things to make different sounds, the lids were banged together as cymbals, they served as scoops in the sandbox, and much more. If I would have created a banging wall, they would have each banged on it a few times and been done with it. With the items kept as loose parts, the play potential is endless, and still actually served the initial intention...making music. 

I also had bought a small wooden bucket. It obviously didn't last long. I found it the next afternoon in pieces on the playground. I thought about picking it up, but was busy taking pics. A few minutes later, I saw H looking over the pieces and trying to put them back together. Then she arranged them in a line and used the pieces as scoops. 

A little while later, she had found the bottom somewhere and brought it to show me. "Circle, Miss Connie, I have a circle!"
"Why yes you do, darling."  

The beauty of loose parts.

B and H also used the lids and pans for some sequencing. 
Challenge: how can you tell if one is smaller than the other? B came up with a solution.

A couple days later I noticed the children playing on one of the basketball goals, in true loose parts play glory. 

G is 22 months, H is 2 1/2...

I WASN'T thinking, as many do, that this is tearing up valuable equipment, or that they should be taught respect for items. I was thinking of my over all goal for these children: to turn them into thinkers, explorers and avid learners. That can not be accomplished by pigeon holing behavior into "right" and "wrong," and being TOLD how to behave. They must be allowed the freedom necessary to EXPERIENCE...everything and anything possible.

I saw very young children experiencing cause and effect, taking turns, using language to convey meaning to one another, experimenting with different movements and evaluating the resulting causation, learning that different movements and forces produced different results in the equipment and in one another. I saw them trying to control the situation and how they responded if they couldn't. Earlier H pointed out to me that there was a square window in the bottom and looked through it at me. Applied knowledge and observation. They also walk the center line as a balance beam. It has a slight incline, so it's wonderful for that.

The basketball goal may not last long with so much learning going on, but learning is the real goal, not baskets. 

Tags: outdoors, outdoor play, outdoor environment, outdoor learning, loose parts, loose parts play, childcare, daycare, preschool, prek, pre-k, parenting

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