Loose Parts Play

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The Theory of Loose Parts

One of our favorite ways to encourage divergent thinking and play at camp is through the idea of loose parts play. The Theory of Loose Parts first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson, 

“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.” (The Theory of Loose Parts: An important principle for design methodology, 1972)

Basically the more kids can move stuff around and experiment the more they will have a chance to be creative.

Loose Parts at Camp

What that means for us at camp is giving kids loose parts and permission to play with them, might be the best way to build skills like creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. This can be accomplished with natural play areas, fort building, toys like Leggos or connects, arts and crafts projects, and other experiences where the kids have the autonomy to control aspects of the environment. Gary Forester calls this idea “Empty Box” thinking because often the best gift kids can get is a big empty box to play in and create magical new experiences. 


One simple loose parts activity all camps can do, Micheal Brandwine developed called FOTAY (Figure Out The Activity Yourself). FOTAY is a brilliantly simple. With a group of kids gather up a random bunch of program supplies, like fun noodles, balls, rope, and anything you have just lying around. Then let the kids make up a game or activity with the loose parts. Jason Smith at YMCA Camp Kitaki encourages his staff to begin the activity by giving the kids a bunch of those loose parts and pretending to have forgotten an old game.