A checklist of points to think about.
There has been a lot written over the years about loose parts and the origins of the theory. From my practical experience in schools the key essentials for success are engaged play support staff, an “abundance” of resources and the “affordances” offered by a wide range of versatile items. These notions are explored in more detail during workshop discussions, when we support this new initiative.
Introducing loose parts, training for lunchtime supervisors, modelling play support and providing storage does not have to be a large financial commitment (several hundred, not thousands, as an up-front cost) and the only on-going task is refreshing the resources. This can be started by a keen parent team undertaking to do this though regular visits to the local scrap store (careful selection required), requests to parents for specific items, as well as keeping an eye open for suitable materials from local companies and charity shops. Parent tree surgeons are very valuable too! (given specific notes about sizes and lengths of logs etc) In time the refreshment of the resources becomes an everyday expectation as families bring in relevant items too, (eg after a weekend walk in the woods or on a beach).
The Best Loose Play Resources
We suggest that the best resources are largely natural materials, such as logs, sticks, stones, grasses, leaves, twigs, pine cones, plus other items such as old keys, etc and certainly items in neutral colours, and those that can be left outside in mud and rain without coming to harm.
A comprehensive list of resources would be developed in consultation with the school. Most resources do not need to be put away everyday, especially if the loose parts ‘zone’ is suitably located. Schools often are worried about their playgrounds looking like scruffy rubbish tips, and that the management of resources might become a burden for lunchtime supervisors. These points can all be overcome with forethought, planning and careful introduction with children and staff setting parameters and expectations.
The nine point checklist below is contains lots of top tips and things to consider when planning the introduction of loose parts to your school playground.
1. Sourcing resources
Abundance helps to ensure that there are fewer disagreements over resources. The need for having lots of natural, low/no cost items is an essential first discussion point when loose parts are introduced to schools, and being sure you can replenish the supply too. A comprehensive list of resources would be developed in consultation with the school. Schools are often surprised by how manageable this often is when you know where to search.
2. What about storage?
One of the first assessments we make with schools is where and what type of storage is appropriate, and sometimes, whether storage is actually needed at all! Self-managed, with the children taking responsibility, is ideal. A wide timber shed, or open fronted barn/shelter type structures can also double as dry and cosy places to play.
3. Risk/Benefit Assessment
Your school policies will give a degree of guidance as to how to plan for the introduction of new resources, but it is essential to have a well thought out written risk assessment. We always advocate that this should be a risk/benefit assessment. Looking at the opportunities for child development and learning is key to understanding where a hazard is a reasonable opportunity, and indeed, where NOT offering this opportunity could be a risk ‘by omission’!
4. Supporting play, and dynamic risk/benefit assessment.
The approach of the lunchtime supervisors is a hugely important feature of the success or otherwise of loose parts play. These resources can be very beneficially used both in colder/damp weather and hot days too when children can become fractious. For example, nets can be set up by the children in summer for shade and sit mats can be used in damp weather to facilitate the use of a wet deck for quieter activities. Wet Play and “risk/benefit” debates are always an essential and interesting conversation.
5. Learning how to move heavy and awkward objects
This is an essential gross motor skill that needs to be developed, and our training course looks at the positive outcomes for cognition, wellbeing, handwriting and physical development, that can result from the more active and cooperative play that loose parts can promote.
6. What to do if splinters etc. are found.
Splinters and other ‘hazards’ are sometimes given as reasons for being reluctant to introduce natural loose parts, but in reality, it is often the approach of the play support staff that can turn this potentially negative issue into a positive opportunity for children to learn self-reliance and their own attitude to ‘risk’.
When building with logs, small pallets and other materials that can be stacked, work out a set of ‘rules’ that are simple, easy to follow and can be monitored by staff and children too.
8. Pros and cons of ropes and hammocks
There has, quite rightly, been a lot of concern about the use of ropes in playgrounds. The potential hazards must be discussed fully and, again, simple rules put into place as to if and when these resources should be allowed to be used, and in what circumstances.
Children often find it hard to develop a play scenario and/or construction with loose parts and then have to leave it (to go to eat lunch for example) and allowing other children to adapt and change it.! This becomes less of an issue in time, especially if the resources are largely left out at all times, so things naturally evolve and change and are not ‘set up’ new at each play break. It is also interesting that smaller objects (like keys for example) can become lost and then found again and will become a new spring-board for the child’s imagination.
When planning to introduce loose parts schools generally think immediately of play, but less often do they think about the benefits of loose parts within the curriculum, especially for KS1 and KS2. If loose parts are used during lesson times, for example, space, shape, measure, ‘rune’ language, symmetry etc. then the same resources used at break times can spark some playful learning, showing others, becoming the ‘teachers’, setting challenges for other children and thus reinforcing their own learning.
Experimentation, and thinking scientifically can happen automatically, developing ideas about forces, for example, that will be encountered in science later.
I have also used loose parts to develop learning associated with maps, plans and coordinates, and even SPAG comes in to play at times! Here is just one anecdotal story to illustrate this. A Yr6 teacher had been working on ‘determiners’ the morning before my session. At the end of my loose parts workshop with the class I asked all the children in turn to describe what they had just done, using determiners. All bar one did this using a variety of determiners correctly. The teacher’s comment was “…Well, they could not do that this morning!” Was it the active application of theory that helped them to ‘get it’?
“Best play ever” …“Lots to do”…”the playground feels bigger now!”… “Fewer fights and trouble” These were just a few of the positive comments from children and staff when loose parts play resources were introduced to lunchbreak playtimes. The dynamic of play changed and even football reduced its negative impact!
So… over to your children now to take themselves to new places and experiences through their own fertile imagination and if you’d like my help, please get in touch!
Felicity Robinson is a teacher and landscape architect specialising in supporting schools to use their grounds more effectivity for learning as well as play. She provides tailored CPD to schools, day/half day, supported team teaching and ‘residencies’ over several days where every class works with her on a grounds related outdoor learning project, with specific curriculum outcomes bespoke to the school’s needs. She also has a good track record in supporting school bid writing for grants to make changes to the school grounds and works on large scale grounds development schemes too. You can contact Felicity about fundraising, CPD through Therese Hoyle Consultancies www.theresehoyle.com or by email email@example.com. and look on her website for further information www.landscapesnaturally.co.uk