​Loose Parts Play at St Margaret’s

Loose Parts Play at St Margaret’s

What do you think of when you hear the term loose parts play? Is it a complete mystery or do you get excited by the opportunities which this type of play offers?

Loose parts play is not a new idea. This type of play dates back to 1943 when ‘junk playgrounds’ were created in Denmark. It thrived in post war Britain when children played on derelict brownfield sites and junk provided endless play opportunity. More recent initiatives across the UK have demonstrated the play value of scrap materials.

In an article, written by Simon Nicholson, entitled ‘The Theory of Loose Parts: How NOT to cheat children’, Simon points out that

‘All children are born creative and inventive and we need to give them opportunities to discover and invent.’

We are fortunate at St Margaret’s that our outdoor space is a safe secure grassed area with enough room for all girls to play and so is just the environment to support loose parts play.

This type of play blurs the lines between learning and play and gives the girls the opportunity to develop, reinforce and act out their classroom learning. There was a brilliant example of this recently when all of the 3 Junior girls used the loose parts materials to make Viking hammers and then they raced around the playground being Vikings – and quite scary and loud they certainly were! We are all looking forward to the design and building of the Viking longboat coming soon.

When did we introduce loose parts play?

We have been developing loose parts play for the past few years. We started with the introduction of some tyres and plastic bread trays. This was followed by plastic construction materials and poles of varying length. From these materials musical instruments were made, vehicles constructed, dens assembled and obstacle courses created. Throughout these projects the girls worked together to solve design and construction issues, to agree rules for the games and to employ their creative and imaginative skills.

Later a mud kitchen was built during summer holiday club and a whole range of implements and equipment was added. Mud pies were made, water was splashed around liberally and great fun was had while also developing hand /eye coordination, fine motor control and estimating / measuring skills. Pine cones, conkers, shells, small stones and feathers were also added as materials to use during this play time.

So what are the benefits of loose parts play?

In addition to those already mentioned, the research points to the lack of competitive play and the all age play which naturally arises from this sort of activity. Having these resources readily available encourages active, imaginative play which is maintained throughout the whole of playtime. It is not unusual to look out across the playground and see a variety of different play activities occurring. Some girls will have taken the plastic blocks to create Viking hammers, others will have created an equestrian course for their show jumpers and others will have used the tyres, trays and blocks to create a house for their family, as well as a coffee shop. Meanwhile, some girls will have the hoops out using them as harnesses for their horses and other girls will be using the resources to hide amongst while playing hide and seek, while another group are kicking the ball across the football pitch or using the poles as high jump posts.

What does this sound like to you? – does it take you back to your own childhood or does the thought of all that occurring in one place at the same time fill you with fear? The introduction of loose parts play is a challenge for adults and children for different reasons. As adults we are used to looking for dangers and protecting children from them, but it is also important that we allow children to experience some risk and guide them through the activities in order that they learn how to be safe and how to play safely. Children need to learn to recognise risk and play in such a way as to minimise that risk. We need to talk about the risk/ benefit assessment and make sure that the benefits of this type of play outweigh the risks of it. The adults need to be on hand to support and advise but also to allow the children to experiment and not to jump in and lead the play. This can be a tricky skill to learn, but one which is essential if our children are to make the most of this type of play.

What is next for our loose parts play?

We continue to introduce new equipment. We have introduced cable reels recently – two small ones which can be moved easily and one much larger, which we intend to paint with blackboard paint so it can be used as a seating and drawing area. We are awaiting the arrival of a set of outdoor weighing scales to complement the outdoor kitchen area and we have purchased a storage shed for our kitchen equipment to provide more shelter from the inclement weather. We will continue to add resources to the kitchen to stimulate different play. We have also purchased a set of wooden planks and intend to purchase sets of wheels. After that we will introduce a sand pit and other pits to be filled with a variety of materials, such as soil, bark, pebbles. Guttering and piping will also be introduced. By continually updating the resources available we hope to allow the girls to adapt and develop their play.

How can parents help with this type of play?

At home it would be good for you to encourage your children in this type of play. We all remember how appealing an empty cardboard box can be and giving children the opportunity to play with ‘stuff’ rather than designated toys is always a good idea. It is also important that we encourage our children to play outside, away from screens and devices. Back in 1816 Robert Owen, at New Lanark said ‘To give children a vigorous constitution they ought to be kept as much as possible in the open air’ and it is important to remember that is as true today as it was when he first said it.

Parents can also help us at school with donations of equipment they feel may be useful addition to our stock of loose parts. Please do let us know if you have anything you think we could use.

I hope this article has helped you to understand the role of loose parts play in your daughter’s development and that you will continue to support your children with this type of activity at home too.

Mrs N. Murray

Head of Junior School

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