Have you heard about loose parts play? If you've ever been to a playground like Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto, then you've seen how intensely kids play when they have the freedom to create their own spaces with wood, shovels and dirt. Messy? Oh yes. Risky? Debatable. Fun? Undeniably. Having loose parts in a school playground would basically be a (traditional) principal's nightmare!
Perspectives on outdoor play are changing. There is a re-emerging field of research called playwork, which links free outdoor play, child development and creativity. You may have seen glimpses of it in The Land movie, or read about it on Playgroundology, or even here and here. One facet of playwork is based on the theory of loose parts, described by architect Simon Nicholson in the seventies. He believed that creativity was intrinsic to each child and wanted to developed ways to make play spaces more engaging for children. My kinda guy! Nicholson wrote:
"In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it" - Simon Nicholson (click here to read it yourself)
Scrappy toys like these fit well into playwork. They combine re-use of scrap building materials, outdoor play, risk (danger + play I will get to another time), gross and fine motor skill mastery, and result in engrossing creative play. It works for a range of ages because the complexity of the creations develop along with the child. At first, kids cobble things together without much planning. Maybe your kid ends up nailing a million nails into one end of a plank (ta da!) - just for the fun of banging - and maybe next time nailing is easier and another skill can be tested, and so the creation evolves. It takes time without parents hovering over kids to see a creation unfold, perhaps into WWII war ships like the passionate builder of some of the models here, or discard ideas completely and start anew. My in-laws were at the head of the pack in the seventies letting their kids do this (many of these boats were made by my spouse at age 9). No surprise there as they were educators and highly creative people themselves.
The next time you have a few scrap two-by-fours around from a home reno, try it out. A few hammers, lots and lots of nails of different sizes - and submitting to the fear of a bashed thumb- is all it takes. If it's not for you or your kids, donate your materials to Pop-Up Adventure Play or your nearest Habitat re-store.
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