On the opening day, I had a small briefing with the lunchtime staff, where I tried to inspire confidence and excitement within the team… which was difficult in the circumstances… but I think it went well and everyone seemed excited about the prospect. Just before the children arrived on the playground we removed all the large loose parts from the Scrapstore PlayPod leaving the floor clear so children could run into the structure. Not knowing what was about to happen created some a range of feelings for me at this point.. an unusual mixture of giddy excitement, dread of something going wrong leading to anticipation/nervousness of being the one responsible or the notion of being dramatically under whelmed.
I heard the children before I saw them then in what seemed like a stampede about 100 children ran past me with obvious excitement, shouting and screaming. Some children appeared to be clutching almost waving pieces of paper, which I later learned were design plans for the structures they wanted to build! The effect for the first few minutes was quite mesmerising, almost unbelievable… More and more children kept streaming from the lunch hall and then proceeded to literally clear every item of “scrap” out of the structure onto the field with the adults, (myself included)… just stood still almost rooted to the spot watching in amazement. Quite redundant.
To the observer it looked like 210 children had just unwrapped their presents on Christmas Day in the playground, a powerful assault on the senses….lots of bright colours, movement in every direction and plenty more noise. It was chaotic to observe in the first instance. Once the ‘Great Scrap Rush’ subsided the play morphed into a hive of frenzied building activity. Large and small groups of children were making dens, offices, hammocks and swings building off anything and everything available to them. There was small groups combating with cardboard tubes, others pulling children around in crates and banging drums or making as much noise with scrap as possible. As all of this unfolded I started to relax and then found myself smiling… The children weren’t enjoying this, they were loving it, which was an enjoyable spectacle to observe.
The lunch time was over as quick as it started. I wasn’t sure how all the stuff was going to fit back inside the box…but the children collaborated brilliantly. As the playground became clean and silent again I had an epiphany:
Maybe I am a loose part?
Just yesterday, I had been the new and exciting loose part/person, bringing novelty and interest into the environment.
Today not one child spoke to me or even seemed to acknowledge me being there.. It was like I had become invisible or hidden from sight. Because of the loose parts I had become redundant to the children’s play needs.
What if I am a loose part?
Whether I am a loose part or not… what this experience demonstrated to me was the super powers loose parts possess. They are an amazing enabler in play and offer potential to build, create, transform, destroy, build resilience, learn about, stimulate imagination, support group collaboration and build friendships.
The description ‘loose parts’ was first explained by Simon Nicholson in 1971. His theory was based on the idea that children will play more imaginatively and flexibly with loose parts that are lying around than specifically designed play equipment.
‘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.’
The Value of Play: Perry Else 2009