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  • Writer's pictureBrian VanDongen

Playing Inside The Box

It’s early on Christmas morning. Little Timmy is awake early because of the excitement to see what Santa left for him under the tree. As Timmy opens a present, his eyes light up. It is the perfect gift: a toy that he has always wanted. Timmy loves it, but after playing with the toy for about five minutes, he seems more interested in playing with the box. Mom and dad get frustrated because they were finally able to get him the toy he always wanted. And now, he’s playing with the box.

But here’s the thing: it’s okay to play with the box. And there are benefits of playing with the box.

Loose Parts of Play

The great thing about play is that play doesn’t require expensive toys or intricate materials. Sometimes, all you need is a cardboard box.

A cardboard box is an example of a loose part. A rock, water, sand, and logs are others. A loose part is a moveable and adaptable material that can be used for play.

The loose parts theory is not new. The term was coined in 1971 by British architect Simon Nicholson.

It Can Be Anything

What makes loose parts great? A loose part can be anything and everything a child can imagine it to be.

They can be adapted and easily changed. That cardboard box might become a boat. Later on, that same cardboard box might be a spaceship.

Pots and pans can be a drum set one minute and gladiator helmets and shields the next.

A child will never bore of a loose part. A loose part can go as far as the child’s imagination will let it.

Better Than Toys

Chuldren don’t always play the way adults expect them to. One a child masters a toy, he or she will quickly lose interest in that toy. A loose part has no specific directions, expected outcome, or desired result. Playing with loose parts is a very pure way to play.

There is no right way or wrong way to play with a loose part: they can be used on their own or with other loose parts.

They foster a child’s creativity and imagination. They encourage innovation. When a child plays with other children, lose parts support collaboration and teamwork. All of these skills are highly coveted and valued in the adult world.

Adults should introduce loose parts to a child’s play environment while limiting their own intervention on how the child plays. Remember: there is no wrong way to play with a loose part.  While adults love to give toys to children, and toy companies market their latest and greatest toys to hit the shelves to kids, some all little Timmy needs is to the play inside the box.

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