Monday, August 8, 2016

Unexpected loose parts for play

I was out walking today with the very lovely Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning who is in town sharing her passion and expertise with educators around Australia.

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?

Like more information on loose parts?


  1. Plastic slide as loose part : something, upon reflection, we have all seen! Thanks, as always, Jenny :)

  2. I know exactly what you mean about children being more open to the plastic bits and pieces than we are! thanks for another enjoyable and thought provoking post.

  3. Children find so many uses for many things they turn all sorts of things into toys which I think is wonderful

  4. I love this perspective. I have an ugly yellow plastic slide that was gifted to us and looks completely out of place in our natural setting. I propped it against a stack of tree trunks, but never screwed it into place (because I wasn't sure I wanted to keep it). The kids soon figured out it wasn't attached, so now they take it away for whatever project they have in mind (ramp up to the slack line, for example). I hadn't thought of it as a loose part, but of course that's exactly what it is.

  5. Hello Jenny

    Thanks for a lovely walk and talk and this blog post which is spot on.

    I do meet people who now worry about having plastic items in their outdoor (and even indoor) spaces. Yet, to ditch an item because it doesn't sit with a particular line of adult thought or belief can be an oversight. Not least we want to advocate re-using and making the most of any item until it really is loved-to-death.

    The whole joy of learning is the unexpected that arises from "why not" when a child decides to use an object in a way we had not considered. There are always dilemmas for adults but this is one of the reasons ECE's are professionals - to make sensible decisions regarding both resources and their use in the context of play. The post reminded me of this one - when a group of children took the play around a house in an unexpected way... oh my goodness :)

  6. children always surprise us with their ideas and ways into which they can use things that even we grown ups can not think of. Letting the imagination flow free helps in developing the logical ability in children. I am really surprised with the ideas these children used to make use of the slide. I would say just beautiful. I also have a kid, he is in a pre school in New York city (, he always surprises me with his ideas and imaginations.

  7. I really love watching children when they are in the middle of making up their own creation. I helps build their imagination.

  8. I have my son go to an NYC preschool and over the last one year I've realised the importance of these extra-activities in a child's growth. These activities open up a child to new experiences and things which help them grow academically and on an overall basis.

  9. I love this! It is a great example of how kids can utilize anything by applying their imagination. It helps develop their problem solving abilities as well.

  10. I bought some wooden embroidery hoops for a mother's day project. I abandoned the project as it didn't work in the way I had hoped and now the hoops have joined our outdoor loose parts collection. I'm constantly being surprised with new ways the children find to use them.

  11. Its amazing to see the possibilities little ones can think of when given the freedom to do as they see fit!

    So many parents are too afraid to let their little ones explore and create. Its good to see that some people are still willing to let them!

    I think I might talk about this sort of thing on my blog soon!