Thursday, 6 August 2015

Loose Parts = Creativity. Road Trip to Lithuania Part 3

Sometimes, no matter how much we think we know something, we have to actually witness it ourselves to truly believe it! 
Last month, I was fortunate to spend a week in the company of other educators as passionate about getting children outdoors as I am. 4 of us from very different settings and countries (Martin from an outdoor preschool in Cornwall, Unnur from a traditional nursery in Iceland, Lesley from a cooperative nursery school in Washington, D.C. and myself from a nursery unit in a primary school) all came together to help share our practice and experiences with educators, parents and children at 2 newly established outdoor nurseries in Lithuania - one in Vilnius and one in Kaunas called Lauko Darželis.
On the two days we spent in the nurseries I was able to see just why schools need to have loose parts on offer in their playgrounds. Young children are so open to new ideas and have that self-belief that they can make anything they want to from whatever resources they have to hand but somehow as children get older they seem to lose this ability. 
As I teach in a nursery unit in a larger primary school, I get to see most of the children I have taught as they move on up through the school. It always makes me a little sad when I encounter those same children who believed they could make anything or draw anything as 3 year olds, tell me as 8 or 9 year olds that they can't draw or wouldn't know how to go about making an aeroplane with junk. I know something is happening in our education system to stifle their natural creativity but until last month I hadn't really connected the importance of loose parts and this creativity.
A load of pallets and within a few minutes an insect hotel is created.
On the day we were in the Vilnius nursery Martin & Unnur spied a pile of pallets and immediately thought 'insect hotel'! They were able to grab a load of pallets and quickly make a basic frame for it, then some of the children and staff from the nursery began to fill in the hotel; they were able to find all of the necessary elements in the playground - sticks, logs, pipes, long grasses etc. As I watched the take ownership of the hotel and begin to fill it in I realised that by having all those component loose parts close to hand the nursery was allowing the children and adults to be as creative as possible. How many times do children want to make something to enhance their play, only to look around a playground and only see fixed equipment?
The bare metal structure getting it's woven 'walls'.
Another day at the nursery in Kaunas, we initially decided to make a temporary den using a metal frame that was already in situ, we found long, leafy branches to weave around the frame and then added larger trees branches to the roof to create a cosy den for the children. They immediately moved in to this space - getting longer branches to make a 'door' and adding containers and pine cones to create a 'kitchen'.
The children take control of this den and begin to make it theirs.
But this wasn't enough for the really creative members of the team! Martin, Unnur and Lesley began to look about for another project and when a member of staff mentioned that they would ned a sleeping area for the following week when the children began to attend full time, Martin spied the potential of a clump of trees! All that as needed, that wasn't already on site were some tarps and ropes and hey presto, within a matter of hours a sleeping area had been created amongst the trees. As I watched this unfold, it again struck me that none of this could have happened without the necessary components being  readily available. This time, of course, it wasn't loose parts, strictly speaking, as they had to cut trees and branches to get the basic frame but this project showed what can be achieved in the right environment. If playgrounds have sticks, logs, crates, tyres and tarps readily available at playtime, then if/when they wanted to children could build shelters.
As I witnessed these projects I realised that children and adults can only be as creative as their environment allows them to be and that by letting children spend time in a natural environment like the woods or to be surrounded by loose parts, we can but only help them to become or remain creative.
The finished shelter getting an entrance!

Please read some more about our time in Lithuania here:

Martin teaches at Highway Farm Activity Centre
Unnur teaches at Leikskólinn Stekkjarás 

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