Kathy: Hello, everyone. We are once again, talking with retired child psychologist, Dr. Connie Eslinger about the importance of fostering creativity in our children. Welcome back to part four of our chat Connie.
Connie: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back today.
Kathy: Today, we are discussing some ways to foster creativity through loose parts play. So let’s get right into it. What are loose parts?
What are Loose Parts?
Connie: If you are new to homeschooling, or if you don’t know what loose parts are, basically, they are just materials that can be used in so many different ways. They’re really versatile. They’re flexible. Kids can combine them in different ways. They can put them together. They can pull them apart. They can carry them around, redesigned them. What’s great about them is they really invite kids to just explore with them, use their imagination and their creativity and all these materials really support what we are talking about. Imaginative and creative thinking. When I was in the classroom, this was back in the seventies and early eighties, loose parts were one of my favorite elements of the map their way approach to teaching basic math concepts. This approach really encouraged kids to think and explore and discover and experiment while learning about numbers and number concepts.
We didn’t call them loose parts. However, we created junk boxes, if you can’t believe it. I covered small boxes with contact paper, and then I filled in with materials from the environment– things like lids, nuts and bolts bottle caps, golf tees, old keys, rocks, and shells. These materials were great to help facilitate problem solving and exploration in the kids as well as creativity.
But the kids did not use them just for experimenting with math concepts. They often use them in the block center, or they would take them to the sandbox and sometimes they would just play with them by themselves.
Kathy: So how would you use loose parts play? What is that exactly?.
What is Loose Parts Play?
Connie: Loose parts play is basically how kids have been playing since the beginning of time. You might have noticed your children will sometimes take random items, and they will use them and manipulate with them in various creative, imaginative ways that you might never have thought of before.
Kathy, have you ever noticed your kids taking random items and using them in new and different ways?
Kathy: Absolutely. Just this week, my girls were rummaging through the recycle bin. They found a couple of plastic bags. And I took them outside in the sandbox and they laid the plastic bags down and filled them with water so it made it a pond, but it’s junk that they repurposed to make something creative out where they are. Yeah.
Connie: That is exactly what loose parts play is all about. It’s using materials in new and different ways. No defined purpose, but you can create your own way to use them. There’s really no rules. There’s no expectations. Kids love that. There’s no specific steps to follow no right or wrong way. No ultimate goal. Just, you can create your own way you want to use them. Architect, Simon Nicholson, developed this theory of loose parts in the early 1970s.
And he actually coined this term we call loose parts to describe all the open-ended materials which he believed, helped to facilitate creativity and exploration more than just the fixed learning environments with toys and other resources that just have limited use. In fact, he believed that loose parts play was strongly linked to creativity and critical thinking later in life.
And these are skills that will really help your children stand apart from others as they grow older.
Kathy: I agree completely. In fact, in my homeschool curriculum for preschoolers, I actually have some suggestions for parents as far as pulling different loose parts for their kids to experiment with like nuts and bolts and screws and things like that that they incorporate. But why should parents encourage play with loose part?
Why Should Parents Encourage Loose Parts Play?
Connie: You might be surprised to learn that fostering play with loose parts actually facilitates growth in a number of different areas, not just creativity.
I’m only going to list a few for you, but one is play with loose parts really facilitates cognitive development. Children have to use their critical thinking their problem-solving skills as they just explore and manipulate the materials in new and different ways. It also helps to build fine motor skills because kids have to pick up and move the parts and just manipulate the materials in a lot of different ways.
If they’re working together with other kids or siblings or even adults, it really helps to develop their social and emotional skills as they have to learn how to share and take turns and work together collaboratively. It also helps to encourage language development because children begin to communicate their thoughts and their ideas about what they’re doing to their siblings, their parents, other kids they’re play with.
And of course, play with loose parts, develops creativity because kids are really encouraged to think outside the box with open ended materials and just find creative and divergent ways to use them. The list goes on and on, but that’s just a few to give you an idea about the benefits of kids playing with loose parts.
Kathy: That’s great. I have a friend that likes to come up with fun presents to give a Christmas time. And she one year had this huge box and she filled it with what you’re calling loose parts. The styrofoam filler from packing, toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, sacks, anything that we would consider recyclable trash, she saved throughout the year and she put it in this huge box and then she let the kids open it up at Christmas. And that was one of their favorite things because they got to use that all throughout the year, and it didn’t cost her anything. And it was the biggest present under the tree, and they had more fun with all the boxes and filling and things and being creative with what they wanted. But let’s just name, what are some materials that parents can use for loose parts?
What Materials Qualify as Loose Parts?
Connie: You’ve already mentioned a few and one of the best things about this type of play is you don’t need to buy expensive toys. Never feel like you have to spend a lot of money to start a collection of loose parts.
You can find a lot of loose parts around your house or even out in the backyard or in nature. Of course, if you want a little more variety, you can go to garage sales and thrift shops to find more loose parts materials, but I’m going to give you three categories to kind of spark your thinking about loose parts. This is not a comprehensive list, just a brief list to get you through.
One is think about natural materials– things like pine cones, sticks, rocks, pebbles, shells, and leaves.
Then think about craft items you might have like pipe cleaners, glass beads, button, sequence, ribbon, pompoms, cotton balls, Popsicle sticks, and feathers.
And my third category is household items– things like egg cartons, bottle caps, lids, cupcake liners, foil, string, paper towel rolls, and toilet paper tubes. This is not a comprehensive list, but just some ideas to get you started thinking.
Kathy: I remember whenever we were talking about this series and we were talking about loose parts in particular, we were talking about the book Roxaboxen and, and for those you, if you haven’t heard of the book Roxaboxen I encourage you to go check it out, to read it to your kids of all ages. But it is a story about these kids that lived in this neighborhood, and they turn this abandoned field into an imaginative town using loose parts. And, of course, you know, they didn’t call it loose parts, but this is one way to introduce your kids to loose parts. What are some other ways that parents can encourage creative play with loose parts?
How Can Parents Encourage Loose Parts Play?
Connie: After you’ve collected some loose parts, you can introduce them in a number of different ways. A simple way to start is just what you said your friend did that Christmas– put together a box or any kind of container of loose parts filled with recycled items from your every day life, and then share them with your kids.
You can define a space if you want for them to use the material. You can even add some design tools like scissors, tape and glue. Just let them design and construct their own creations and manipulate the materials however they want to. Also, think about maybe an activity or an area where your child really likes to play.
If your child likes to play with construction toys, like Legos, Magna-Tiles Lincoln Logs, maybe just wooden blocks. Think about some materials that you could add to that play. If your child maybe likes to engage in imaginative or pretend, play, think of some ways you could add different loose parts to your child’s dress-up box.
And if your child enjoys art activities, think about some ways you could add loose parts to artistic play. After all, craft materials are a great source of loose parts in themselves. So the possibilities of play with loose parts are endless. Just collect a few, set them out and then let your child be the creator of their own play.
Kathy: I love it. My daughters have decided that Kleenex is the best dress up for their dolls because they can get so creative with them. We actually had to ration out our Kleenexes, especially during the pandemic because they liked create different outfits with Kleenexes. And again, that’s something simple, loose parts, that they can get creative with.
This has been great today. Thank you so much for joining us again for this mini series. You’re giving us some great resources. And this is a cheap idea for fostering creativity. And we’ve talked about how people in the workforce are really looking for creative employees in that is so hard to find these days.
Everybody is being taught to stay inside the box and do exactly what they’re supposed to do. And when it comes into the workforce, they want a lot of creativity. So you can foster that early on, and these are just some fun ways to do that.
Encouraging Loose Parts Play in Preschool
Just a reminder that if you are planning to homeschool your preschooler next year, I encourage you to check out my Encompass Preschool Curriculum. It’s one fat notebook filled with everything you need to teach preschool. Booklists, reinforcement worksheets, and lots of enrichment activity ideas like the ones we talked about today, and you can find it in my store at CornerstoneConfessions.Com or on Amazon. Also tune in next week. As we finish our series on fostering creativity in our children, we’re going to be talking about open ended outdoor play. So see you then.