Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Loose Parts Indoors

Yesterday, I was sitting outdoors on the damp ground with some kids and a couple of our Pre-3 parent-teachers. We were digging around in the thick layer of cedar chips with which much of our outdoor surface is paved, when one of them remarked, "I never realized how much stuff there is out here," as she picked up a florist marble.

The proper word at this point, I suppose, is "bestrewn." You can pretty much drop to your knees anywhere and with minimal effort uncover something -- a wine cork, a fairy finger puppet, a sea shell, a  3-wheeled race car, a pipe cleaner. If you really want to dig, there's much more. I often imagine the archeological dig that will occur in this place 1000 years in the future will raise lots of questions. This is how the idea of "loose parts" is interpreted at Woodland Park, what we originally called Little World. Naturally, there's still a lot of large motor play outdoors, but this, these loose parts that we combine with natural elements like sticks, rocks and pine cones, have become the "tools" of fine motor work outdoors.

Hardly a day goes by in our 3-5's class when a child doesn't say, "Let's play a story," a process that begins with a hunt for a collection of storytelling items, which can really be anything you pick up off the ground. We then bring our objects and gather around a stump or a circle of vines or sit in the sand pit row boat and start spinning tales, "Once upon a time . . ."

Hardly a day goes by when I don't come across a collection of these loose parts tucked away in a bucket or basket up amongst the laurels or down behind the work bench or over near the music instruments, evidence of someone having been interrupted in a game they plan to continue on another day.

Hardly a day goes by when something that was once long lost gets re-discovered in the sand pit, becoming a treasure or a mysterious object about which there is much speculation and dramatic storytelling.

You don't always notice all of this unless you're low to the ground, like a kid, or willing to let the dampness soak through the knees of your jeans or seat of your pants.

I've been trying for several years to figure out how to bring "loose part" play indoors, but it loses a lot of it's charm once there are floors and ceilings and walls, with no wood chips to hide things. I find it very annoying, grating even, to have lots of things underfoot in there, crunching and cracking and scattering as I walk. I really don't know how the kids feel about it, but the kind of loose part set up we have outside just doesn't work indoors. It makes me feel tense, for instance, when I make my way into our "kitchen" area and find cups and plates and cookie cutters and cutlery and play dough all over the floor. Maybe it's just because, being indoors, I know it'll all have to be cleaned up. I really don't know why, but indoors it makes me feel crazy while outdoors it makes me feel playful. 

And let's be clear, I've not made a study of the kids in this case. This is about how it makes me feel and it's such a strong reaction on my part that I really can't do anything else until I've at least cleared a path for myself.

I always put one of these boxes near the sensory table so the kids can try out things like tops and vehicles without having to use the floor.

That said, we still try to bring elements of loose parts play indoors, although instead of being bestrewn, there are proper places for them. The devil duckies have a box of their own under the loft. Same with the stuffed animals, although their's is a fabric basket. There's a collection of grocery item containers in a cabinet near the toy stove. And on any given day there will be hamster wheels or laminated charts of Pacific Northwest wildlife or kaleidoscopes or magnifying glasses or empty boxes tucked into corners or on top of low cabinets, loose parts available to any hand that takes them. I guess the big thing is that they just don't live underfoot like they do outdoors . . . And they get put away at the end of each day.

But sometimes we really blow things out and our magnificent sensory table becomes home to the motherlode of loose parts. We call it, "The Bottom of the Toy Box," a large assortment of what is properly termed "junk." Frankly, much of this is the stuff that if it wasn't in our sensory table would be eddying around in that spiral of plastic debris in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Most of it came from my own daughter's toddler-hood, comprised mostly of those things that came in stockings or Easter baskets or adults who didn't want to show up at the house empty handed. Some of it comes from my own childhood, there being a toy monster with a wheel on the bottom that to this day can still shoot sparks from its mouth if you race it fast enough. There are joy buzzers and dollies and wind up toys and containers and Magic 8 Balls and all manner of gadgets and parts of gadgets. When The Bottom of the Toy Box is in the room, I might as well not plan anything else.

Every time we play with these loose parts in this way, at least one parent will peer into the sensory table and remark, "I'm glad this isn't at my house." I know exactly how she feels, but as long as these toys stay up off the floor, I'm cool with it in the classroom. And I suspect she would feel the same way at her home, you know, as long as it stayed in the toy box. 

Inside does weird things to people.

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1 comment:

polly said...

I was captivated when i saw the title "Loose parts inside" because I have a Pinterest board with the identical title. it occurred to me that loose parts was not a theory that should be limited to the outdoors. Our loose parts are more often things from outside or from our local "Scrap Box." We've adopted something like your "let's play a story" called "Story Cans" adapted from singer, Julie Austin, that involves a small selection of loose parts in a can and then creating a story around it. Anyway, I have to write an article on Loose parts and I would like to cite your blog - it's ideal!