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Loose Parts: Sensory Tables & Creativity for All

Loose parts: creativity for all

What seems to be the buzz-word in early childhood education? Loose parts! I was fascinated to learn more about this theory, developed by architect Simon Nicholson in 1972.

The theory of loose parts, in sum:

‘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.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect (The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle for design methodology, 1972)

Basically, the more materials in a space that people can tinker with, move around, and design, the more creativity and interaction there will be. For kids, this means they learn more, and all the latest brain development research supports this. Sensory play – or playing with loose parts – encourages kids to discover, learn, and build skills and confidence.

Take a museum for instance…what parts of the museum are most popular? Usually the ones where there are some sort of loose parts involved. Maybe an interactive exhibit where you can manipulate objects, or walk under them or, do something that interacts with the space.

Anyone who has ever been in a preschool classroom can attest that the post popular activities are the water or sand table, finger painting, and building blocks…all of these are sensory play using loose parts! Kids are just naturally drawn to the very activities that will be most beneficial for their learning!

This doesn’t affect just kids, by the way. As adults, we might have bought into the myth that creating and having a direct relationship with our space is for some sort of creativity elite – the architects, the artists, the ‘professionally creative ones.’ Nicholson reminds us that loose parts should be an important principle of design in spaces for all humans. It’s in our nature to tinker, innovate and create.

Now, what are some specific examples of loose parts? Here are some simple ones that you can find in nature:

  • Pinecones
  • Sticks
  • Rocks
  • Pebbles
  • Leaves
  • Seashells
  • Dirt
  • Sand

And others that I know kids love:

  • Water beads
  • Rice
  • Crinkle paper
  • Straws
  • Bingo chips & magnet wands
  • Pom poms

What loose parts are you using in your sensory tables this week? Happy playing!