We started talking loose parts, as you do.
I was reminded of a red and blue plastic slide that we had at my old preschool. It is one you see in backyards all over the place, and I always felt that being plastic and a bit naff it was out of place in our natural setting.
But it was gifted to us, and we put it out to see what would happen. Turns out, the children shared none of my aversion to plastic fantastic and it soon became an oft used "loose part", used in ways we would never have dreamed.
It was the perfect size and weight to be dragged by one child, or carted by two. And it was - dragged and carted all over the place.
While rarely used for what it was intended by us adult sized people, it was perfect for jumping off, flinging things down, holding things up or blocking things off.
Where I saw an ugly plastic slide, they saw potential.
The play-a-bility of this slide made it a keeper. But it wasn't the slide itself that made it a successful addition to our outdoor space. It was the permission the children had to use it in their own play plans.
If we were precious about keeping it in one place, or "slides are for sliding down" the slide would have ceased to become a valuable loose part and remained a slide, neglected for the most part.
The potential and possibility of this, and of any, loose part be it natural, found or man made lies in the permission the children have to use them and in the time for uninterrupted play and exploration they have to create, imagine, scheme, construct, experiment, practice and revisit.
When we give children this permission, we are respecting their own play choices and empowering them to follow through on all the glorious plans and imaginings they have swimming around in their heads.
With permission, the slide could become anything they wanted it to. Without permission, it would remain an ugly piece of plastic.
Needless to say, the slide stayed and proudly took it's place among an eclectic mix of loose parts.
None of them pretty to the adult eye, but all so immensely useful to children on a mission!
What unexpected loose parts are in play in your setting?
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