There’s a minimalist thing that has been going on in the open play spaces at Villa di Maria for years, and it’s not from lack of resources. The logs, buckets, wood chips, stumps, chalk, sticks, stones, and naturally moveable pieces that litter the school grounds are not junk; rather, they are the evidence of the children’s collective creativity. What architect Simon Nicholson proposed as “loose parts” in 1972, they are the materials that can be moved around, carried, redesigned, repurposed, and reimagined to become anything a child can imagine. Nicholson believed that the loose parts in our environment are what inspire and empower our creativity (read his original paper from 1972 here).
The open-ended play that results from loose parts — the sticks and logs and things found in nature, provided by nature itself, allows for deep creative experimentation: the crucial element being the children’s freedom to adapt the materials in a large variety of ways. These logs can become structures, machines, vehicles, absolutely anything a child (or group of children) decides.
The power of loose parts lies in its infinite possibilities. It does not dictate a story or purpose; the child does so.
If you are interested in creating more loose parts play for your child, consider the following in your back yard: stones of varying size, slices of wood rounds, sticks, pinecones, sand, wood chips, chalk, gravel, acorns, planks, tubes, and wheels.
For indoors: popsicle sticks, dominos, wood blocks, felt balls, yarn, pipe cleaners, marbles, cardboard tubes, washers, buttons, shells, magnetic building tiles, strips of fabric (silk, wool, cotton), and even dried seeds or beans!