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Outdoor Loose Parts Play

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Playing outdoors is absolutely vital to a young child's development. Many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve - exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge- can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. It provides a chance for children become aware of the environment around them and provide endless amounts of uninterrupted intellectual stimulation.

An area that is often overlooked within outdoor play is integrating loose parts. If you think about it loose parts play essentially has always been an integral part of outdoor play since nature (rocks, pine cones, sticks, flowers, logs, etc.) provides so many open ended materials. For this post specifically I will shed light on out of the ordinary loose parts versus natural.

Open ended materials on the playground such as gutters, pool noodles, cans, bottles, tires, crates, boxes, buckets, cones, pipes, and more provide children with never ending ways to transform things into whatever they can imagine. They allow the freedom to be messy, make noise, move, tote and construct. When loose parts are added, children can create or change a structure to manipulate it in order to meet their play needs. Complexity holds children’s interest and adds to their development as well as their enjoyment. Therefore outdoor loose parts serve as springboards for play and provide essential elements for intense, child-centered play.

There is endless imaginative play that occurs with outdoor loose parts. When children are role playing by creating a car to drive or building a skyscraper cities, they are acting out various experiences they may have had or something that is of some interest to them. They are experimenting with decision making on how to behave and are also practicing their social skills. Children learn from experience: from what happens around them, from what they see, hear, smell, taste and touch. To absorb those experiences and make sense of the world, they need to be engaged in play. These cars, robots, ramps, spaceships created with loose parts provide limitless imaginative play while building their brains.

One of the outdoor loose parts play workshops I attended at a past CAEYC conference called Playing It Up: With Loose Parts, Playpods, and Adventure Playgrounds by Joan Almon was the inspiration behind all of this.

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