Let Kids Be Kids!

Let Kids be Kids

It is a disappointing thing to see new playgrounds, developed in city spaces, sit there empty each day, or to walk in the park and hear no laughter. What is missing here is not the children per se, but materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that make children want to play outdoors. The absence of such play environments is not only influencing the quantity and quality of children’s play, but also affecting children’s health and well-being. As adults, we need to support children in learning to enjoy what free play in the outdoors has to offer. We need to inspire imaginations, creative minds, and capable bodies. To do this, we can look toward two simple things: nature and adventure.

These factors are placing a barrier between children and their right to play freely in the outdoors.

When we look at why this disappearance of free play is happening, we realize that there are many factors that contribute to the lack of play. There are increases in structured play activities, an emergence of technology-based play objects, higher concerns related to safety and risk, adult control over children’s play activities, academically oriented schools, and an overall disregard for the value of play. More often than not, we see children engaged in a summer filled with structured sports activities or stuck inside with gaming systems and cell phones. We hear adults saying “don’t pick up the sticks!” “don’t go too far!” and “be careful!”. We know that schools are decreasing recess time or taking it away all together.

Unfortunately, it is all too common that today’s society has an overall disregard for the value of play and how important it is for children of all ages. It is ultimately these factors that are placing a barrier between children and their right to play freely in the outdoors.

The inability to cross over this barrier is affecting children in many areas of development. For example, there are increases in anxiety and depression at younger ages as well as difficulties with emotional regulation and self-control. Increases in physical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and asthma are becoming more apparent in young children and childhood disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder are more frequently diagnosed. Children who do not have access to outdoor play will miss out on the many benefits that free play in the natural environment has to offer toward their growth.

The Importance of Free Play in the Outdoors

When children are engaged in free play in the outdoors, they are provided opportunities for freedom, choice, and fewer routines. In free play, there is no adult direction or control, so children can play how they want to play. When children are given such freedom to play, they are more likely to engage in higher levels of social interaction, cognitive skills such as decision-making and reasoning, empathy, and physical activity. In turn, they are less likely to become inattentive, anxious, or depressed and unhealthy.

The outdoor environment has many benefits. A natural green space allows children to continuously explore ways to use materials, discover the varied environment, and create their own play experiences. The outdoor environment is not a man-made area and, therefore, is diverse and timeless. Children who play outdoors have heightened senses and emotions from the ever-changing topography and the rich stimuli that a natural space affords. This is how children learn – through experience: by seeing, feeling, touching, and hearing. The outdoor environment is a blank canvas on which children are able to place their own thoughts, wonders, and creations. image 3

The Loose Parts Movement for Bringing Back Play

So what can be done now? After this discussion of the importance of free play in the outdoors you may be wondering how you can bring back play for children in your life. There are two things to support you in doing so: nature and adventure. What you are going to need to do is reintroduce adventure back into children’s outdoor play. To accomplish this, you can use loose parts.

Loose parts are play objects and materials that are open-ended, manipulative, moveable, and non-dictated. This means that children can use the materials in a variety of ways and there is no suggested way or “story” behind these materials. Loose parts allow children to act upon their environment the way that they want, rather than their imaginations and creativity being predetermined by the materials.

Examples of loose parts are items such as tires, logs, sticks, fabric, rope, and rocks. Loose parts can either be synthetic materials or materials that are commonly found in a natural outdoor environment. Loose parts spark children’s curiosity, which then leads to exploration and discovery. For example, if a child is provided with rope, tarp, and wooden pieces, she will become curious about what the materials are and how to use them. She will then begin to explore the materials in different ways through her imagination and creativity. This leads to discovering that the materials can do many things. This process of curiosity, exploration, and discovery is ultimately what leads to play and learning.

Where Can I Find Loose Parts?

You can find loose parts in many places, and they are often free!

  • Parks, forests, and natural spaces
  • Thrift stores
  • Yard sales
  • Hardware stores
  • Fabric stores
  • Local dairy suppliers
  • Grocery stores
  • Your own recycling bin

To support children in loving play again, it is important that we create environments and include materials that are fun, engaging, and challenging. If an environment or an object is too easy, children will view it as boring. To reintroduce adventure and free play to your children, consider using loose parts. When loose parts are paired with the outdoors, it will lift children’s spirits, make them love playing again, and ultimately make them happier and healthier.

Article courtesy of FIX

Join the conversation (2 comments)
About the Author Caileigh Flannigan

Caileigh Flannigan

Caileigh is a play practitioner who uses forms of play as a way to promote children’s development and emotional healing. She is an outdoor play and loose parts researcher who is spreading the word about the importance of free play in natural environments.
Also See
More Articles Share
View Comments 2
Close

Comments (2)

Leave a Comment
  • Darryl Connolly

    Thanks for this article. I teach kindergarten in a urban public school, so there are not a lot of opportunities to play with loose materials. However the case, I will try this week to use a large grass area no one else ever uses, along with bringing along some materials to add to the space to see how our children's curiosity soars above the mountains. I will let you know how things went in a later comment. All the best, Darryl Connolly, Kindergarten Teacher, Las Vegas, Nevada.

  • Debbie Collette-Cromp

    Darryl - Loose parts can be used anywhere. On days you can't go outside or use a green space, loose parts will lend to expanded imaginations, creations, & problem solving. When given loose parts children will stay on task for extended periods of time. think about the basic classroom set of wooden blocks, given enough blocks in the set, children will create for hours, add interesting props and loose parts and children will play for days!

View Comments 2
Close

Comments (2)

Leave a Comment
  • Darryl Connolly

    Thanks for this article. I teach kindergarten in a urban public school, so there are not a lot of opportunities to play with loose materials. However the case, I will try this week to use a large grass area no one else ever uses, along with bringing along some materials to add to the space to see how our children's curiosity soars above the mountains. I will let you know how things went in a later comment. All the best, Darryl Connolly, Kindergarten Teacher, Las Vegas, Nevada.

  • Debbie Collette-Cromp

    Darryl - Loose parts can be used anywhere. On days you can't go outside or use a green space, loose parts will lend to expanded imaginations, creations, & problem solving. When given loose parts children will stay on task for extended periods of time. think about the basic classroom set of wooden blocks, given enough blocks in the set, children will create for hours, add interesting props and loose parts and children will play for days!

Wintonbury verticle shot

Room Design

View our inspiring collection of classroom layouts.

Learn More

Products

Check out our selection of products for your classrooms!

A451 and Hollow Blocks in use Learn More