Category Archives: loose parts

First Contact

Loose parts play in public spaces is not yet commonplace in Halifax, Canada, PlayGroundology‘s home turf. When public play happenings, starring kid encounters with the bric à brac of ropes, tires, fabric, boxes, etc., do occur they’re awash in magical aha! moments at a somewhat more accelerated rate than in places where this form of play is more on the map.

Dragon alertDragon alert – Looseparts-apalooza, community led play from Adventure Play YHZ – Findlay Centre, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – Canada

Most kids here have never seen anything of the like, a conglomeration of matériels gathered with the express purpose of fueling child-led play. First contact moments – when kids meet loose parts play – run a range of reactions: bemusement, tentativeness, to full throttled exuberant exploration.

DSC06199Play Summit 2014, loose parts event presented by Assemble and Baltic Street Adventure Playground – Glasgow Green, Glasgow, Scotland

My evidence-based experience in this topsy-turvy, quasi-anarchic world is still squarely in the neophyte range and is more anecdotal in nature rooted as it is in personal observations and shared commentary. What does seem prevalent though is that kids, even those older ones who are developing a veneer of studied cynicism, are quickly shifting into gear and embracing an engaged abandon in landscapes of their own making.

DSCF8800Apprentices – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series – loose parts play at Think Pink Anti-Bullying Race – Sackville, Nova Scotia – Canada

The luminosity of loose parts kids is striking. Their intent is intense and light at the same time. Their inner space reaches out to the outer place refashioning it with laughter and ideas and anything else at hand. The simplicity calls out for experimentation, for daring, for kidcentricity.

Giant strawGirls with giant’s straw – Looseparts-apalooza, community led play from Adventure Play YHZ – Findlay Centre, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – Canada

There is a charge coursing through the air. Kids who don’t know each other are playing together and moving beyond individual age groups. Cooperative play is de rigueur even though no adults have requested, or suggested it. Kids are testing their own limits taking risks they are comfortable with. On the periphery, parents are witness to a new play dynamic. Some say they will get loose parts for home use.

DSC06230Swinging in the rain – Play Summit 2014, loose parts event presented by Assemble and Baltic Street Adventure Playground – Glasgow Green, Glasgow, Scotland

Loose parts spoke to the kids making a visceral connection. The kids in turn spoke back with their animated faces, their inventiveness, their thirst to make and build, their luminosity. In their actions with no prescribed outcomes and a touch of independence they embody a phenomenology of play.

DSCF8984Play crew – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series – loose parts play at Think Pink Anti-Bullying Race – Sackville, Nova Scotia – Canada

As I continue to participate with others in making loose parts play events available in public spaces, I will be paying more attention to documenting ‘first contact’ through photos and video. There is a lot of rich material there just waiting to be tapped.

In the interim, here are a few loose parts resources, listed alphabetically, for those looking for some ideas and inspiration.

Adventure Play YHZ

Children’s Scrapstore

Honk! Pop-up Play

Loose Parts Project

Oxfordshire Play Association

Playbox Scotland

Play Pods in Schools: An Independent Evaluation (2006-2009)

Pop-up Adventure Play

Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play

Smart Play Network

Stomping in the Mud

The Cardboard Collective

SCIENCEHidden velocity – Looseparts-apalooza, community led play from Adventure Play YHZ – Findlay Centre, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – Canada

I’m hoping to play the loose parts tunes for quite some time. We’d love to hear about your loose parts play…..

DSC06231Play it again Sam – Play Summit 2014, loose parts event presented by Assemble and Baltic Street Adventure Playground – Glasgow Green, Glasgow, Scotland

Hello CTV Morning Live Viewers

Thanks to Heidi and the Morning Live crew for profiling play on the show. If you tuned into the segment today and are interested in more background or resources, here are a couple of places to start. Click on the image, or all CAPS title to take you to Storify content.

Adventure and Loose Parts – Storify

Adventure and Loose Parts
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Talking about risk and play, here are a few resources.

A Greater Risk

A greater risk

More PlayGroundology content on Storify here.

Check Adventure PlayGround YHZ for adventure play info and upcoming events. Stay tuned for details on loose parts play on the October 24 weekend in Halifax.
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Adventureplaygroundyhz

Movement of Play People

Play shines a little brighter today as the Pop-Up Adventure Play team continues to shape its luminous dream. Since 2011, Morgan Leichter-Saxby and Suzanna Law have been bundling their passion, knowledge, love of kids and playwork into irresistible shared pop-up experiences in locations around the globe.

Loose parts rodeo - Parish SchoolLoose Parts Rodeo, Parish School, Houston, Texas

The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities Across the USA Are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood chronicles their whirlwind 2014 USA tour. Ten states, a shoestring budget, 10,000 plus compact-car-fuelled miles on a coast-to-coast odyssey that – insert drum roll here please – had over 2,000 participants come out to play.

Pop-Up Adventure Play
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The book is a great primer for those on the lookout for affordable, alternative, community building play opportunities. I suspect Suzanna and Morgan are secretly embarked on a plot of world domination and this is their introductory manifesto. With any luck, there will be more to come.

Their point of departure is quite straightforward.

We believe that every child knows how to play, and needs only time, space, opportunity and maybe a little support in order to do so. Climbing trees, making box forts, loitering in hammocks – these are the experiences every child needs and deserves.

The reader is introduced to key people and movements that influence the authors’ outlooks on play, children and the supportive roles of adults. This includes a quick sketch on adventure playgrounds where John Bertelesen, the first staff person at the original adventure playground founded in Emdrup, Denmark in 1943, is quoted.

I consider it most important that the leader not appear too clever but that he remain at the same experimental stage as the children. In this way the initiative is left, to a great extent, with the children themselves and it is thus far easier to avoid serious intrusion into their fantasy world.

And there’s the rub, how do we as adults do our best for kids in play environments? As students of playwork (both authors are pursuing doctoral programs in the subject), supplemented with on the ground experience in a variety of settings, Suzanna and Morgan share their perspectives on this very question in a practical way. It’s about giving kids space, supporting discovery, curiosity and exploration without dominating or directing what’s going on.

OpenBook1The book is full of images from their cross-country trek providing a visual inventory of loose parts materials

The story focuses on their visits with play enthusiasts and advocates across the USA who hosted workshops and pop-up play events and in many instances opened their homes to our erstwhile playworkers turned authors. Readers meet Jill Wood from the Parish School in Houston, Texas, Erin Marteal from Ithaca New York’s Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone and Craig Langlois from Pittsfield, Massachussets’ Berkshire Museum.

Left to their own devices, kids will take an unscripted, organic, meandering journey along the path of play. At pop-up play events overflowing with loose parts, there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. The atmosphere is charged with squeals of delight and eureka moments as the creative and sometimes anarchic machinations of kids at play lets loose. This kind of play, invaluable in and of itself, has broader reverberations as the authors point out.

Children playing outside are both the symptom and catalyst of a healthy society: their presence in public space demonstrates community networks while strengthening them.

There are plenty of gems in this compact volume including fun-filled and informative photos, personal stories, useful resources, playwork principles and references. The New Adventure Playground Movement: How Communities Across the USA Are Returning Risk and Freedom to Childhood is a manual, a roadmap and a gentle manifesto all rolled into one. The book is available in many bookstores but can also be purchased directly from the authors which will provide them with a little more zip for their ongoing activities which include – surprise, surprise Pop-Ups World Tour 2015.

Postcard 4 CRGet ready it’s #PopUpsWorldTour2015

Editor’s note – Suzanna has been very helpful to me over the years and did some excellent skype assisted hand-holding as we prepared for a loose parts event in Halifax last fall. I can attest that the Pop-Up Adventure Play course is full of excellent content and is creating a growing network of play people who are moving it for the kids. The kids had a blast at our loose parts play extravaganza and it was absolutely exhilarating for the the adults who helped pull it together.

Run Jump BuildClick here or on this pic to link to a photo riff of the Halifax loose parts event.

I’m forecasting intermittent, meteoric pop-up showers in the play world. This book by Morgan and Suzanna, pop-uppers extraordinaire, will be a great help to communities who want to explore the magical radiance of play.

I hope that during a future play tour Morgan and Suzanna will drop into Nova Scotia and share their spark. After all, we’re Canada’s Ocean Playground…

Bonne fête, Feliz navidad, Happy Birthday, Barka da sabon shekera, Rā Whānau ki a Koe!

It’s a little hard to believe that the first PlayGroundology post, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy, was published five years ago. Based on an interview with American artist Tom Otterness, it features his limited edition sculpture, Playground, which had caught my eye before the Colorado version of the piece adorned Google as a background image.

70179_600x357Playground by Tom Otterness – Google background image. Photo credit – Dick Jackson

Since then, play has become my volunteer vocation much to the delight of our three young kids aged 9, 7 and 5. Along the way, the PlayGroundology blog has won a couple of Canadian blogging awards and racked up readership from over 160 countries. More importantly though, I have had the opportunity to become long distance friends, and in some cases meet, with fine ‘play’ people from Scotland, England the US, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

DSC06210London’s Glamis Adventure Playground from Mark Halden’s presentation at Play Summit in Glasgow, Scotland – April, 2014.

Among the many things that continue to strike me is that this world of play is broad, deep and inter-connected. Passionate parents, educators, professionals in health services, public administration and child care, practitioners, researchers, designers, landscape architects and lay people are amongst the stewards and advocates for children’s inalienable right to play.

Also in that first year, who knew there would be an opportunity to be Going Philatelic in Singapore? Connecting with Justin Zhang for that post resulted in a follow up a couple of years later when his e-book with photography and writing on these culturally attuned playscapes were featured in the blog.

3991913517_4f4a2cf01f_bDragon playground, Singapore. Photo credit – Jerry Wong. License: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I continue to find joy in sharing public playspaces that break the mould, that boldly present alternatives, speak to place and do not shy away from risk. Early in year two, Alfio Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High) located on Copenhagen’s Amager Island came to my attention. It is a playspace of place, elemental in a natural setting even in its proximity to urban development.

Alfio Bonnano - CopenhagenThe Amager Ark. Photo courtesy of the artist, Alfio Bonanno

In year three, I discovered Pierre Szkéley and his love of cement. The architect used it to great effect in a number of sculpted playgrounds in France dating back to the 1950s. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the work, a sense of future forms creating a new physical narrative for kids to explore.

szekelyhay00Pierre Székely’s L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 1958. Photo credit – As-tu dèja oublié?

PlayGroundology’s fourth year continued to explore the intersection of art and play in posts that examined Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread and Jason Richardson’s Australian playground music – transforming playground equipment into instruments…

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

In PlayGroundology’s fifth year, I fell in love with ‘loose parts’ thanks to friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Brendon P. Hyndman’s research in an Australian primary school and the wonderful people at Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series who provided me with the chance to run my first public play event – oh it was intoxicating…..

loose partsLoose Parts – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series

The blog continues to afford an endless journey of discovery – meeting people, admiring design, becoming familiar with the rudiments of play theory, developing public play activities and of course, playing. I’ve learned that play is under duress in countries around the world including the post-industrial economies. I’ve met with great generosity of spirit and experienced passionate engagement on behalf of kids with play people players of many nationalities. It seems there is a renaissance of play underway with resilience and risk advancing in tandem. Play matters…

I want to thank PlayGroundology’s readers for your comments, kind words, story ideas. I plan to be sharing stories of great play happenings for another five years and hope you’ll be able to join in.

Many Hands Make Great Play

The kids are smiling, laughing, shouting, jumping, building, making, exploring, wondering. They’re active physically, mentally and socially as they create their own loose parts play zone at the ‘Wear Pink’ MET Track event.

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I’m not sure who is more exhilarated, the kids or we three amigos who pulled this together as a pilot project hosted by Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series. I think the kids have a leg up on us, just barely though as the perma press smiles are pretty equally distributed between them and us adult types.

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Our role is quite simple. Provide a space and ingredients – let the kids do the rest. It’s a wonderful recipe for spontaneity. The kids intuitively understand that permission is being given to play with the stuff – ‘loose parts’ in tech speak – in any manner that they can conceive. It’s a freewheeling, dynamic playscape fueled by the power of imagination. In short order we see cardboard castles, obstacle courses, balancing on planks and hula-hooping bike tires.

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Inanimate objects seem to come to life as they are re-purposed in a metamorphosis of play. Milk crates become pathways, steps, towers – bales of hay are launching pads into unforgiving gravity, tires and planks are transformed into a catapult’s working parts.

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On this day all paths are leading to play. By all accounts the event is a success. Kids have a blast, adults reminisce about childhood, PhysEd teachers there with students participating in the running series are enthusiastic, our hosts are eager to have us back. A sweet blast of euphoria courses through me as I watch the kids having fun with simple treasures, making their own worlds of play. The three of us – Dean, Luke and myself – check in with each other. We’re all in agreement, ‘it’s awesome’.

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Social media gives us the thumbs up too. I’m starting to think of what we can do next year. Where else can we take this traveling playshow? If you’re reading this in Halifax and have any suggestions, give us a shout, we’d love to hear from you….

Loose Parts Stats - Sept 23

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Thanks to all the folks who helped with and inspired this ‘loose parts’ play session. It would have never happened if I hadn’t crossed paths with Suzanna and Morgan and at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Sarah and crew at Stepping Up! Halifax, Robert at Glasgow’s Baltic Street Adventure Playground, the fine folks at London’s Assemble who along with Baltic put on a great outdoor play event on Glasgow Green during the Play Summit in April, Brendon P. Hyndman and his loose parts research in Australian schools and Mairi Ferris who brought me to a forest in Fife, Scotland in July to share an incredible play space where kids as young as six-years-old make their own dens with branches, learn to use tools, to make fires and are able to explore the woods in safety.

Run Jump Build

Thanks also to the businesses who helped us with materials for the day – Enterprise Car Rentals, Valleyfield Farms, Canadian Tire, M & R Enterprises, Farmer’s Dairy and Novabraid.

My biggest thanks to Luke and Dean the other playmakers on the team who helped make it all possible. Two weeks later the goofy grin comes back to my face along with a ripple of laughter every time I picture the kids making their own thing….

Pop-Ups On The Road 2014

Itinerant playmakers and PlayGroundology friends Pop-Up Adventure Play are on the road in a big way this year. PlayGroundology asked Suzanna Law if she could contribute a guest post to share some of her thoughts and experiences about the group’s recently concluded US tour. We’re happy she took us up on the offer. Stay tuned for future tour dates, perhaps you can organize to have them come to a community near you. I know we’ll be looking for an opportunity to bring them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Exactly two months and eleven days ago, I was a ball of anxiety. I was in a snow storm with my colleague Anna and her two children battling our way to Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA to meet Morgan, our other colleague. As the car fought its way through the thick blanket of snow, I started to wonder if a two-month tour of the USA was a good idea.

This then triggered a whole wave of other thoughts: Will the hosts be ready for us? Would the little yellow car we chose be able to complete the journey? Are we really ready for this? But really, my biggest question was this: Was I going to make it to the first stop of the tour? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Two months and six days on, after “sleeping for a thousand hours” (as Morgan put it) the tour is complete and I am ready to reflect on my adventure. And wow, was it incredible.

PopUp1Here is our little yellow car! It traveled through 28 States and did around 11,000 miles!

Let’s talk about some details first. Ever since Pop-Up Adventure Play was formed about 3 years ago, we have been invited to communities across the world but primarily in the USA. People have been wanting to find out more about playwork and to find out how they can bring more playful opportunities into their own homes. Above all, they wanted some people who have worked in the field before to come into their community to tell everyone that play is a good idea.

The biggest barrier to our visits has been the cost of travel which isn’t always an enormous amount, but is a stumbling block for many. Having mulled over this for a while, we decided to organise a tour! This would reduce travel costs as we’d already be on the road, and we would also be able to go where we would be invited. And that’s how we began the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014!

PopUp2Cardboard Sledding at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky

As the Tour Organizer, I had a personal aim of getting 7 locations on the tour. In my mind, it would be a success if I had one event every weekend. Morgan and I would form the core tour team and we would bring in our friends to be part of the tour. Using a combination of social media and reaching out to some of our existing contacts, we started the tour with 14 confirmed locations. Two weeks into the tour, we had somehow booked another 2 stops on the tour and had reached our limit: Pop-Ups Tour 2014 would be a 16 stop tour. I still can’t believe it.

PopUp3Chasing the robot at Manhattan Beach, CA

Oh goodness, and how could I not talk about our Special Guests? Grant Lambie, Andy Hinchcliffe and Erin Davis joined us for parts of the tour, bringing their expertise to communities who asked for a little extra; who wanted knowledge and experience that we didn’t have. They truly brought an extra spark to the tour, supporting us with their know-how, encouragement and car care.

Some really stand out moments of the trip have been with hosts at their locations. They have been absolutely amazing and inspirational, standing on the frontline of what feels like an American Adventure Play movement. They are brave and bold, and determined to create a playful, adventure-filled future for their children and for the communities in which their children live, all the while working within a society that isn’t all too familiar with play for it’s own sake. I have been blown away by their passion for play.

PopUp4Adventure Playground at the Parish School in Houston, TX

PopUp5An incredible place to play in Cary, NC

It may have been hard work driving a tiny yellow car across the US and stopping mostly to deliver workshops, run Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and to sleep, but it was totally worth the journey. Anxiety and tiredness aside, the Pop-Up Adventure Play and Special Guests Tour 2014 was a complete success. I’m so chuffed (British for “really pleased”) about this whole thing which you can read more about on our blog and am proud to announce that we’ll be doing this all again in 2015! If you want to be part of our next adventure, please email me on suzanna@popupadventureplay.org.

PopUp6Bouncing off the inflatable loose parts in Portland, OR

In Praise of Loose Parts

In play, ‘loose parts’ are skirting the edges of nirvana. Ask any kid. Now they probably won’t call them ‘loose parts’. They’re more likely to use the generic and all encompassing ‘stuff’ prefaced by cool, awesome, or great. It might even go the way of ‘this stuff is epic’.

Simple play is best for kidsStudents at Emmaus Primary Catholic School – Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Jay Town. Source: HeraldSun

Wood, rope, tarps, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes, fabrics and apparently hay bales too can make up a loose parts inventory. It’s what the kids do with it that’s a real blast. They create, they build up and pull down, they improvise, they move, groove and PLAY!

Now, thanks to Australian researcher Brendon P. Hyndman we have empirical evidence that loose parts in primary schools go way beyond a good thing. From the perspective of increasing physical activity, engaging a broad cross-section of kids and being light on constantly squeezed budgets, this study shouts out ‘Eureka!’ embrace loose parts play.

Here are selected comments from A Guide for Educators to Move Beyond Conventional School Playgrounds…. published in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education.

the way they interact with each other…it’ s lovely to listen to…the co-operative play has really increased…they do negotiations…interactions between levels has been fantastic

kids in my room have mixed with kids they wouldn’t normally hang out with…there’s not a…set number that can or can’t be involved

students became a lot more complex in what they did…it was a real journey…there was…dragging, pulling and moving…then came the building phase…then came the dramatic phase…but all of those remain there

Quantitative data, as the charts below demonstrate, also offer a compelling storyline – given the opportunity, kids will choose to build and play with a variety of loose parts so much so that it becomes the dominant play activity.

Ausie Journal of Teacher Education

Given that many kids in Australia and elsewhere are getting the bulk of their physical activity and play within the school setting, in excess of 50% in some instances as cited in Hyndman’s study, these findings are significant.

The effects of the loose parts intervention were measured at various stages over a 2 1/2 year period and engagement remained steady.

“…teachers’ perceptions were that student exhibited increased amounts of excitement, engagement, creativity, problem solving and physical activity during their play with the introduced movable/recycled materials.”

Loose parts are an important part of the playwork canon and have strong roots in the UK within adventure playgrounds and with groups such as Pop-Up Adventure Play. David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground has also a taken a page from the loose parts experience in the creation of the big blue block play environments.

Loose Parts

All hail loose parts. They are the jazz of play bebopping the kids along in a wonderfall of spontaneity. There are downsides though that can’t be dismissed. As more and more schools, neighbourhood groups and play schemes embrace loose parts, it just might start proving difficult to source the ingredients – milk crates, cardboard boxes and of course hay bales!

Here are the kids, subjects of the research study, in action at Emmaus Catholic Primary School in Ballarat, Australia as reported by WIN News Victoria.

We hope to get something on the go in Halifax this summer and we’ll let you know how it turns out. I have just started to put together a menu of ingredients and am wondering where I will be able to acquire some of them at little or no cost. If any readers have put together a loose parts play event, I’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Brendon Hyndman for his grand research. You can follow him @Dr_BPH.