Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Learning to Play with Loose Parts

Just a shadow of myself, near the Thompson River.
Yesterday on National Public Radio I had a chance to hear part of a presentation by Richard Louv on the value of being outside in nature, especially for children. In his books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle he explains the how our psychological, and even physical, health and happiness are improved through interactions with nature.

At one point during the hour a statement was made about how essential it is for children to have periods of unsupervised play. Playing develops imagination and creativity. Having every activity in a child's life regulated and defined counters this natural development. Being outside opens us up, as opposed to sitting in front of a video game with its structured world.

It immediately brought to mind my own experiences growing up, the play-acting we did with our stuffed animals, the games we created out of thin air. Our imaginations ran rampant, without "parental guidance." We pretended we were baseball stars, football heroes and sometimes pretended we were saving the world from destruction. Little did we know how invaluable these experiences were.

At another point in the conversation reference was made to some research by S. Nicholson on how "loose parts" instigate imaginative play. I did a Google search and here was one site from many that references Nicholson's research:

“Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires [sic], bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junkyard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don't try and direct the kids in their play, just let them get on with it.” Nicholson, S, "How Not To Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts", Landscape Architecture 1971.

It reminded me of an old Dave Berg cartoon in Mad Magazine where the little boy opens his expensive Christmas present and immediately climbs into the box, driving it as if it were the cockpit of a car.

In August 2008 I touched on this theme in a blog entry titled Coloring Outside the Lines. In it I dealt with ways in which our freedom is squashed, and how it can sap our joy. Sometimes kids, and adults, need to learn how to make their own rules.

This is not to say that chaos is the secret of happiness. Finding balance is key, but if we are always creating "safe" environments and games with rules, kids will never learn how to create their own games or their own identities.

Imagination isn't just for kids. Imagination is useful for problem solving in business, in sales negotiations, in new product development, in creating advertising that will engage a viewer, content that will engage a reader. Imagination is as important in the boardroom and the courtroom as it is on the playground.

Something to think about as you glide through your day today. 

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