A Canberra teacher has encouraged parents to give the toy shop a miss and find some loose parts for their children to play with.
Lyons Early Childhood School (LECS) teacher Jackie Neill runs Loose Parts Play, a program which substitutes traditional toys with items such as old steering wheels, letter boxes, tiles, timber and bicycle parts.
“The kids love it, and the main thing is that it’s their choice what they do with it and what they create, what they’re curious about,” she told Philip Clark on 666 ABC Canberra.
“We give them a few safety precautions and we talk through what they can and can’t do and then it’s about actually letting them have the choice to do with it what they want.”
Explore the world
Developed in 1972 by architect Simon Nicholson, the Theory of Loose Parts promoted the use of everyday materials that children could tinker with.
“This type of play encourages creative thinking, open-ended learning and personal and social growth,” Ms Neill said.
“It also allows children to make their own choices, develop their own ideas, solve problems and explore the world and how they relate to themselves and others.”
Ms Neill said it was fascinating to watch her students come up with new ideas for the parts or even just discover what different items could do.
“The Millennium Falcon might be getting an upgrade and so a whole load of parts come out and they’re just creating and imagining themselves in that spot,” she said.
“Or it might be someone just exploring what a wheel does.
“It’s pure chaos really in that you have maybe 15 or 20 kids just interacting with these parts, deconstructing, reconstructing in whatever way they want.”
Rummage through the garage
Most of the loose parts used in the program came from recycling centre shop The Green Shed, charity op shops and donations.
Ms Neill encouraged parents to look for loose parts rather than toys for their children to play with at home.
“It’s really important that we allow children the time to work with items, play with items that are not fixed in what you can and can’t do with them,” she said.
“That doesn’t encourage what we’re looking for which is ‘what’s your big idea’ and supporting that in children.”
Making learning fun
The LECS is the only school in the ACT Education Directorate running a Loose Parts Play program.
Principal Mary Hutchinson said the program helped prepare students for the transition to a traditional primary school in Year 3.
“Children, while they believe they’re just having fun and they’re playing, we as teachers know that all the time we’re observing and assessing how children are actually developing those dispositions,” she said.
“What we want to see happen is that at age eight, when the children actually leave the early childhood school, they are collaborative creatures, they’re curious and creative because we’ve developed that in the Loose Parts.
“If you do that really well in an early childhood school then they’re very well prepared for primary school which will always be a little bit different in its formality.”
The school will give a hands-on public presentation at Questacon on April 6.