All Hail Loose Parts: Guest Post by Alex Smith of Playgroundology

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Our guest blogger today is Alex Smith, a father of five who makes his home in Eastern Passage. Alex is the founder of the CanadaPlays Association and the award winning blog PlayGroundology. He has been writing about play for international audiences for seven years. More recently, he has been an occasional organizer of play events in Halifax and Dartmouth. Alex has been working with a small team of volunteers over the last 3 months to prepare Pop-Up Adventure Play’s visit to Halifax.

‘Loose parts’ skirt the edges of nirvana. Ask any kid. Now they probably won’t call them ‘loose parts’. They’re more likely to use the generic and all encompassing ‘stuff’ prefaced by cool, awesome, or great. It might even go the way of ‘this stuff is epic’.

Wood, rope, tarps, tires, milk crates, cardboard boxes, fabrics. PVC pipes, pallets and all manner of scrap materials can make up a loose parts inventory. Kids take them and create. They build up and pull down. They improvise, they move, groove and PLAY!

Australian researcher Brendon P. Hyndman spent 2.5 years researching loose parts in a primary school. In short order, kids selected loose parts over a variety of other outdoor recess activities and they became the dominant and favoured form of play.

Hyndman’s conclusion is that loose parts go way beyond a good thing. Teachers at the Australian school noted more egalitarian participation in play not segregated by age or gender. In addition, it fostered increased physical activity, engagement of a broad cross-section of kids and good value for money on constantly squeezed budgets.

My personal experience at events I have helped organize is that kids who don’t know each other are playing together and moving beyond individual age groups. Cooperative play is de rigueur even though no adults have requested, or suggested it. Kids are testing their own limits taking risks they are comfortable with. On the periphery, parents are witness to a new play dynamic. Some say they will get loose parts for home use.

The adult role at a loose parts event is quite simple. Provide a space and ingredients – step back and let the kids do the rest. It’s a wonderful recipe for spontaneity. The kids intuitively understand that permission is being given to play with the stuff – ‘loose parts’ in tech speak – in any manner that they can conceive. It’s a freewheeling, dynamic playscape fueled by the power of imagination. Sometimes you just cannot believe what they’ll come up with. In short order you might see cardboard castles, obstacle courses, balancing on planks and hula-hooping bike tires.

Come find out more about loose parts at The Wonderful World of Adventurous Play a public presentation by Pop-Up Adventure Play on July 23 at 2 pm. Or, drop by the Halifax South Common for a little pop-up play between 1 :30 and 4 pm on July 24.


CanadaPlays has set aside ten seats for Itsy Bitsy Haligonians readers in a limited enolment workshop presented by CanadaPlays! It is being held in Halifax on Monday, July 24 from 9:30-11:30 and is called "Play, Playwork and Adventure Playgrounds: A Story About Risk and Play." If you'd like to claim one of these seats (or just get more info on the workshop), please email for more information. First come, first served...