More Loose Parts Play
As Montessorians, many of us continue to feel that the children in our environments should work with the materials solely as we have decided they are intended to be worked with, and should not work with activities that have not yet been presented to them. Working with the Montessori materials as they were intended, develops the child’s sense of order, their concentration, and the ability to follow logical steps: important skills for children to develop. As Barbara suggests in her blog post, “the idea of mixing things up sends shivers of disapproval from not only the adults (sometimes also myself) but also the older children attending our settings who have already learned this one very important rule – one at a time, putting away before choosing another and never leaving things unfinished or incomplete on the shelves!”
In her article, Maria Montessori and the Postmodern World, Marlene Barron sets out that we live in a time of uncertainty and a time of simultaneity where everything happens at once and where there are several truths. Are we preparing our children sufficiently if we only let them work with the materials in one particular way, as presented by the adult? Marlene invites us to consider that there are many ways in which the materials in our Montessori classrooms can be used and to encourage children to explore them, allowing them to figure out their way of using the material before showing them our (another) way to work with them.
Marlene’s approach at Westside Montessori School is supported by research conducted by Professor Laura Schulz, MIT, who discovered that “Explicit instruction makes children less likely to engage in spontaneous exploration and discovery.” In other words, if you demonstrate to a child how a new gadget might be used, the child is unlikely to explore other ways the gadget might work.
“Loose Parts Play” is gaining in popularity in the early years environment, and there is often debate on what materials should be included in the “loose parts play” area. Loose Parts Play, as this article in Nursery World sets out, is, however, less about the materials and more about what the children do (and are permitted to do!) with them. Life is never wholly ordered and sequential and creative, “outside the box” thinking is more often than not required to bring about a significant change. Loose Parts Play allows children to access resources … that offers multiple possibilities (or variables)… [offering an] intrinsically greater play value and … [contributing] more to the development of creativity and imagination” (Nursery World).
The foundation for thinking divergently can be laid in early childhood, as long as we as educators embrace that the activities in our environments can be used in various ways with different outcomes. As long as we let go of the end goal and enjoy the journey, letting the child find their way of working with the resources in the classroom.
Barron, M. (2002), ‘Maria Montessori and the Postmodern World’ in Montessori Life, Summer, 2002
Isaacs, B. (2021), ‘Loose Parts Play’, Montessori Musings, Sept. 2021
Kingston-Hughes, B. (2022), ‘Loose Parts Play, Think Out of the Box’ in Nursery World, March 2022
Nicholson, S. (1971) ‘How NOT to Cheat Children – The Theory of Loose Parts’, in Landscape Architecture, Volume 62
Schulz, L. (2011) ‘Don’t Show Don’t Tell’ in MIT News, June 2011
Loose Parts Play with Alice Sharp