Loose Parts in Environmental Education: Rethinking Nicholson’s Intent
For a recent workshop, I shared 10 principles on applying Nicholson's intent of the theory of loose parts in our play and learning spaces. A podcast episode on Loose Parts Nature Play will be ready soon!
All quotes are from Nicholson's original work. Read it here.
1. Limit the restrictions—how can we have a “yes” mentality in outdoor learning?
"Young children (often) find the world incredibly restricted--a world where they cannot play with building and making things, or play with fluids, water, fire or living objects, and all the things that satisfy one's curiosity and give us the pleasure that results from discovery and invention."
2. Involve children in using, planning, and building of our spaces and learning.
“Most environments that do not work such as schools, playgrounds, day-care centers, and museums, do not do so because they do not meet the “loose parts” requirement. . . . The adults (artists, landscape architects, planners) have had all the fun play with their own materials, concepts and planning-alternatives, and then the builders have had all the fun building the environments out of real materials; and thus has all the fun and creativity been stolen.”
3. Blur lines between inside and outside.
"By allowing learning to take place outdoors, and fun and games to occur indoors, the distinction between education and recreation began to disappear."
4. Create a lab-like environment.
"Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves."
5. Solve real life environmental problems.
“Environmental education means the total study of the ecosystem, i.e.: man, his institutions, and his structural, chemical, etc., additions, included. The subject of human ecology, our values and concepts, the environmental alternatives and choices open to us, in the fullest sense, has recently become a dominant factor in some education programs. In the simplest possible terms, the most interesting and vital loose parts are those that we have around us every day in the wilderness, the countryside, the city, and the ghetto.”
“Children greatly enjoy playing a part in the design process. This includes the study of the nature of the problem; thinking about their requirements and needs; considering planning alternatives; measuring, drawing, model-making and mathematics; construction and building; experiment, evaluation, modification and destruction.”
6. Allow children to be part of their learning process through experimentation.
"The study of children and cave-type environments only becomes meaningful when we consider children not only being in a given cave but also when children have the opportunity to play with space-forming materials in order that they may invent, construct, evaluate and modify their own caves. When this happens we have a perfect example of variables and loose parts in action."
7. Use a variety of approaches to loose parts play!
“All children love to interact with variables such as materials and shapes; smells and other physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism and gravity; media such as gases and fluids; sounds, music and motion; chemical interactions, cooking and fire; and other people, and animals, plants, words, concepts and ideas. With all these things all children love to play, experiment, discover and invent and have fun. All these things have one thing in common, which is variables or 'loose parts'."
8. Just add water.
"Loose parts at work--water, ripples, reflections, slush, floating and living objects. Many curriculum units are based on experiments with water; here is the quickest, cheapest way to introduce variables into an asphalt/chain-link environment."
"Human interaction and involvement with water--its refraction, beading, noise. Liquids, gases (waterfall, wind tunnel) afford classic examples of how loose parts permit experimentation, creativity."
9. Use what we have naturally.
"The most interesting and vital loose parts are those that we have around us every day in the wilderness, the countryside, the city and the ghetto."
10. Play! However, play is not the only verb Nicholson used. What actions happen in your program?
VERBS: build, construct, play, experiment, invent, explore, discover, evaluate, modify, study, think, consider, measure, draw, model-making, calculate, destruct, slide, fold, hide, paint, bounce
"In early childhood there is no important difference between play and work, art and science, recreation and education-the either/or classification normally applied by adults to a child's environment."
Please share how you have implemented these principles! I look forward to how you use them.