Loose parts and unstructured game. A valuable learning opportunity.
It happens more and more often that parents ask me for advice on games for the little ones to play: which toys, which materials and which activities to propose in order to capture their attention and their interest for as long as possible.
Especially during the lockdown, parents' interest in the topic play has grown, both for the amount of time spent in direct contact with their children, and for being able to engage children in activities to be carried out mainly within the four walls of the house.
Because of my incurable optimism, I find that staying at home is an opportunity to rediscover authentic family relationships and above all to better understand the needs of our little ones. Responsibilities that often, due to the daily grind, we delegate to educators, teachers, babysitters, etc.
I start by saying that I don't have a single pedagogical approach: I don't like schemes with no escape route, so I won't talk about a particular method, but I will try to concentrate on the expected result. And this because is educated in the complexity of the present, in the diversity and singularity of each person (adult or child), in the particularity of the relationship, in the specificity of the context.
What games do children like? What should they play with?
Can a "classic" toy (that has a well-defined use and purpose) provide a child with the stimuli he needs? And are we sure that a traditional toy can be equally beneficial for all children?
The most important tool we possess is the imagination, and we must feed on this and allow our children to feed on it.
Children like to experiment, change the use of things, invent, turn upside down, move, test. And the real answer to this whirlwind of skills are materials that don't have a specific purpose or rules.
The ludic pedagogist Antonio Di Pietro argues that manipulating, disassembling, binding, breaking, juxtaposing, pouring, filling, aligning, building, observing, feeling and listening are skills that unstructured materials encourage by making children grow to Better. They help them think and imagine playing an "imperfect game so important in our high-definition reality", a way that accompanies them in the poetry and beauty of the world.
The importance of Loose Parts and unstructured play
The answer is therefore the loose parts (literally loose parts) or unstructured materials and games that increase the child's exploration opportunities , which therefore allow him to be curious and creative but above all to direct independently his own games. On the contrary, therefore of an electronic game or any other structured toy, it is the child who is the actor and can decide how to manipulate the materials and build his own game.
They are all open games to be used in activities without rules, without specific sequences, objectives and expectations. There is no right or wrong way to go about stimulating imagination, language, problem solving, cooperation, role-playing, creativity and experimentation, curiosity and wonder. They are all precious learning opportunities that are always tailored to the interests and psychophysical development of the child. In fact, therefore, no material becomes useless after a certain age, but can always offer new opportunities based on the use that the child will make of it with his creativity.
In this way, complex reasoning and learning mechanisms are activated in the child's game which are long-lasting starting from the first sensory and sensory-motor experiences, and then amplified in the complexity of the symbolic game.
The unstructured game allows in the first two years of life to know the physical properties of objects and to experience and learn about them through the five senses. It helps to understand their reactions to certain actions and to develop fine dexterity.
Loose Parts in evolution
After the age of two and up to six, the child approaches experimentation and the discovery of the surrounding world that becomes more complex every day. The symbolism becomes the fulcrum of the game and the child begins to reproduce small fragments of scenes from everyday real life and uses and transforms them according to his needs and fears. This will allow him to develop his subjectivity, to mature in relationships, to understand and manage his emotions.
Materials for the unstructured game
It is possible to use recycled objects and materials or those collected in nature, fabrics, jars, caps, stones, sticks, shells, etc.
Every single object can have a thousand singular uses or be included in complex activities: a medium-small sized box will be a house, a container, a drum, a hat and who knows... the "symbolic thinking" will do the rest of the work!! “Treating things thinking they are something else is the beginning of this important skill, and being able to use objects symbolically, representing something other than what they really are, is related to the evolution of language in children". (Hirsh Pasek and Golikoff 2003)
We can choose from the thousands of resources that the house and nature offer us, or we can rely on skilful creations and wonderful materials on the market designed specifically to support the invention of children. For example, all the wooden toys of the Grapat brand are perfect, and in particular the Mandala line allows you to create real wonders!
Finally, let yourself be involved in the magical and creative world of children and observe them: they will show you the wonder of their inner world and will be able to communicate feelings, fears, anxieties, needs not yet translatable into words, but urgent to receive and manage.
Edited by Selenia D'asaro
Mother, educator and babywearing consultant