Promoting Creativity with Loose Parts

One day we set up a provocation for the children to explore play dough and loose parts on the light table.

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Incorporating loose parts such as neon pasta, pipe cleaners, and play dough physically engaged the children to experiment, construct, and invent; we used these materials so that they would glow with the black light. Loose parts play falls under the Reggio Emilia philosophy and is encouraged at Little Wonders. This type of play is a part of active learning because it is open-ended, promotes freedom and creativity for the children and serves as a catalyst for engaging in conversation.

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The children used the neon pasta and pipe cleaners to place in the play dough. Before doing this, the children used a small slab of play dough and used their hands to manipulate the material into a circular base for the pasta and pipe cleaners. Some toddlers directly placed these materials into the play dough while others poked a hole or two before placing the pasta and pipe cleaners. This demonstrates that the toddlers thought about their actions, formed an idea and took certain steps to execute that idea — some of them said they were making flowers!

Using the neon pasta, pipe cleaners and play dough served as open-ended materials that promoted freedom and creativity. These materials did not come with a set of instructions telling the children how to play or what to do. This gave the children freedom to manipulate and engage with the materials because there was no right or wrong way to play without an expected outcome. We wanted the children to have the freedom to create while being able to engage in conversation about color, size, shape, and the number of materials they used.

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According to Sam Nicholson, an architect who wrote about the loose-parts theory said, “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.” This project promoted a great deal of creativity because of the various loose parts that were utilized while allowing the children to interact with the materials freely as they discussed the material’s attributes with the teachers.

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Playing with loose parts materials benefited the children in several ways. The children learned how to manipulate materials with different physical qualities such as play dough, that has a soft and flexible quality; pipe cleaners that have a fuzzy texture but are flexible along with neon pasta that are colorful with rigged lines and hard. By manipulating these loose parts the children were not only engaged, they were able to explore these characteristics and build upon their observations to construct and invent new things. Incorporating loose parts into play also develops more skill and competence than playing with a plastic doll, in this provocation the toddlers understood the properties of their materials and thoughtfully planned out how to carry out their idea through their own process. At first glance these loose parts were not connected literally and metaphorically but once the children engaged with them the toddlers connected the parts to create a unique outcome symbolic of each student’s individuality.

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”

                                                                          -William Plower


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