Loose Parts

OK, I’m going out on a limb here.

I really don’t think a playground has much real “play” unless it has loose parts.  And yes, sand, especially wet sand, counts as loose parts and makes for a much better play space than any that don’t feature loose parts or wet sand.

As I’m sure you know Imagination Playgrounds have come up with a wonderful solution for loose parts.  They have hit on exactly the right combination of price, complexity and durability.  I love this stuff.  If you agree then let me ask you this.

Look, the Imagination stuff is “soft” enough that you could almost get away with putting it in the fall zone o a play structure, no?  If so, then what shapes would you suggest that could be used in and around existing play structures????  Maybe the standard ones work OK but then I’d like to play with this technology some before I gave up on shapes that could enhance the play structure.

There are something like 350,000 existing playgrounds in the USA alone.  Most of which are less than optimal.  Set aside for the moment the issues of securing and storing the parts; we’ll come back to that in later posts.  But I’m getting excited by the vision of all this stuff in COMBINATION with a play structure.  And don’t get me started on how this could greatly enhance inclusive play.

What do you think?

Imagination image 1http://community.imaginationplayground.com/archives/category/play-events/page/2/

4 thoughts on “Loose Parts

  1. Jay, I’m sure you are aware that in the UK and Europe loose parts are a common part of good play provision?
    Here’s some UK examples –
    1) The Imagination Playground is very similar in conception to the UK company Snug and Outdoor.
    2) At OPAL http://www.outdoorplayandlearning.org we use loose parts as one important element in our work to improve the understanding and management of play by teachers and play supervisors within schools.
    3) The Scrapstore PlayPods product (jointly developed by Michael Follett who now runs OPAL) http://www.playpods.co.uk is a great way to bring the concept of loose parts into schools and other play environments once teachers and play supervisors have been trained in their application.

    Out on a limb? In the US perhaps.
    Although to be fair much of the UK has still to wake up to the huge benefits of loose play!


    • Jim and Neil your comments are spot on AND I think we can get outside the box a bit to look at possible solutions.

      I believe the whole issue of loose parts hinges on supervision. It has been my experience that Adventure Playgrounds failed in the US not so much from the safety side, which was the cop-out at the time, but because they require a bit of supervision … they were held up to be playgrounds when in fact they are recreation programs. There is proof of this contention in that there is a direct relationship between the strength of the social contract within a society and the success of Adventure Playgrounds; communities with strong support for social services have them, in the US where its mostly “pay-for-play”, we don’t.

      The fact is that many parents already bring loose parts; pails, shovels, balls, etc. when they trek to the playground. When I visit playgrounds in gated and other “secure” communities I often see these toys being left in place for anyone to use, so at least some parents “get it”. I think that if we had a secure storage box right at the playground for really neat apparatus that many parents would be happy to take the stuff out and be responsible for putting in away, or handing that responsibility to a another parent. These days with all of the capability of smartphones and the internet it is absolutely technically possible to have the lock on the storage open with a smartphone. It is also possible, using RFID tags, for the box to “know” which loose parts have been checked out. With the advent of social networks such as Facebook or Nextdoor it is easy to have well vetted volunteers who can “supervise” the program. Even indemnification of the volunteers is not an insurmountable obstacle. Look, unless we start getting creative and using the tools that have been developed over the past couple of decades, playgrounds will continue to be mired in their current moribund state.

      I remember the first time I visited Japan and saw the “Saturday” clean up crew of neighbors who came out to take care of their playground. It was a group of ladies most of whom had houses very near the playground. They were all dressed in Kimonos and had great straw brooms. They chatted and groomed for over an hour. The playground was “theirs” in a way that I found wondrous. Fostering a sense of local ownership is possible. When we begin to build it, then the sky is the limit in terms of what playgrounds can become.


  2. Terrific concept, and incredible play value, no question at all.
    However (always a however), the play environment itself is the limiting factor with regards to risk management and user safety.
    An unsupervised, open-play, municipal park setting, or even a schoolyard setting with staff supervisions ratios exceeding 1:200 is just not realistic for this.
    Where I do see this type of unstructured play working is (ironically) within a structured setting. Say a day or two in a park “festival”, or special event, with volunteer or paid staff present at all times. Or in a pay-for-play enclosed environment with similar play-staff. Or in a fence-enclosed highly-supervised childcare environment.
    Still plenty of opportunity for kids to be kids (staff should just sit back and let them play for the most part) however, once the climbing tower get’s too high for the ground surface impact, or once little-Billy starts throwing pieces at others, then someone should be able to step-in with authority.
    That and security from parts simply walking-away in the night become part of the reality.


  3. Conceptually it seems pretty cool. I could see this appealing to a wide range of kids and even adults.

    I’m inclined to agree with Jim above that it would be limited to Day Care, Kindergarten, etc. Structured play settings. As a landscape architect I’m not sure how/where I could professionally apply this (which may be besides the point, but it’s my first frame of reference).

    I’m also wondering if it is precariously close to being a scaled up game of Lincoln Logs, Legos and Erector Sets? Which is not necessarily a bad thing mind you.

    The idea of integrating something like this into existing formal play areas is brilliant. A logical and efficient first step in rethinking these spaces.


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