As we are winding down another year (good grief!) I am in my usual state of review, reflect and project for the coming year. What worked, what didn’t? What did the kids surprise us with? How should we move forward? It’s the big-picture version of the constant reflection and review that the teachers do with the kids and one another all year.
One of the things that has me transfixed is the explosion of “loose parts” project work happening at both schools. It is so exciting to witness the kids approach to materials with no preconceived purpose or designated use. There are collaborative relationships that spring from the work, incredible problem solving taking place and connections being made as the kids experiment with different purposes and representations.
The theory of loose parts was originally suggested in the 70s by a British architect named Simon Nicholson. He was interested in the ideas that kids had when involved in the design and planning of play spaces and quickly realized that “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.” (Nicholson,S.1971)
Offering more undefined variables is an infinitely enticing and exciting concept for me. It operates on the assumption that everyone is creatively gifted and the only way to realize one’s unique potential is to be able to take those creative risks. I have been watching a few projects using found objects, loose parts and natural materials evolve over this year. There is so much going on, but the recurring themes are of creative experimentation, persistence and welcoming unexpected results. With such limitless possibilities, there is this incredibly opportunity for true possibility thinking.
A simple box, dropped off by a parent one morning, was the genesis of weeks of (mostly) joyful work. That first day or two, it was spontaneously pressed into service as a dozen different things. Once the novelty began to wear off, there was a more focused interest in making modifications to transform it in a more literal way. As you can imagine, different people had differing ideas about that. A teacher posed a few questions and then let the kids work through a democratic process that involved narrowing down the possibilities, an initial vote and ultimately a run-off. There was a tie and so, in the end, the box was carefully worked into a rocketship at one end and a pirate ship at the other. It was a success on so many levels it still makes me smile when I think about it.