Learning without Limits with Nature’s Loose Parts

By Heather Fox, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation

26402 Arbor Day FoundationImagine a shoreline after high tide speckled with seashells, kelp and driftwood. The beach, filled with treasures more tantalizing than anything found in a department store, encourages children—and adults—to explore, create and imagine.

With no specific set of directions—and powered only by a child’s imagination—an assortment of conch shells might be gathered and classified, or used to transport water and mold the archway of a sand castle. Nature’s collections can be harnessed to create infinite play possibilities. Architect Simon Nicholson refers to items that are moveable and adaptable as “loose parts,” and encourages educators to provide children with a variety of these kinds of materials. He contends that, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” Sand, water, rocks and shells provide variability and intrigue, which is why we can play for hours by the seashore.

Parents, grandparents and educators want children to grow up exploring, creating and imagining. We know that these play activities lead to independent, creative thinking, adaptability and empathy—the exact skills we hope to foster in future generations. Nature’s loose parts can be found in any region, during any season. Just look around for seedpods, pinecones, sticks, rocks or flowers.  It’s learning without limits, brought to you by nature. Read  more from Simone Nicholson’s The Theory of Loose Parts, then post your own ideas and comments here.

Posted on: 2 Comments

2 Responses

  1. Carla says:

    We love loose parts! They recycle easy and can be found anywhere as you mention above. Here are a few ways we’ve used loose parts in the past:

    Collecting natural treasures:

    Nature play at the library:

    Making Nature Faces:

    Rock Collections and my thoughts on loose parts:

    Creating Environmental Art:

    In our nature preschool programs:

    While passing the time at soccer practice:

  2. Suzanne Holt says:

    I am an independent sales rep for a chemical-free cleaning company which just happens to be planting 20,000 trees across the nation to celebrate their 20th anniversary. In honor of this I am starting a Pinterest board on trees. I am proud to include this post because you do such a wonderful job of teaching children to enjoy nature. Thank you for your efforts!

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