As the firestorms of public education start up again, there are just two words which might offer some relief. No, not “core curriculum”. Try “Loose Parts.”
It’s a catch phrase in my world of Nature Play for something very old and very common: Just make a pile of interesting stuff; or better yet, let children hunt and gather the piles of stones, sticks, dirt, sand and random man-made things. Humans are basically hunters and builders; we collect, organize, order, re-order. We artists are just more obsessive and obvious about spending time making patterns with stuff. But everybody has to do it. It is the original core curriculum.
So create real places and times for play, unstructured, profoundly aimless play as a balance to the school day, the video games and cell phones. Loose Parts is a needed meditation. It is the best way to start this school year. Here’s some help:
1. Many of the area sawmills have a scrap pile for the taking. Try the one on Bellvale Road in Chester just off County Route 13. You can burn what you don’t play with!
2. I use these in a public school K-1 class I’ve been volunteering in. I drill a few holes in wood and offer some found twigs, vines, yarn or even dryer lint. It’s the start of a wondrous and sometimes scary world of troll and fairy houses. Sometimes they turn into odd boats to sail in a local pond or stream. There’s an important unpredictability to this whole thing.
3. Visit a Loose Parts area, Grasshopper Grove, at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum.
You’ll get ideas on how to make your version, at home or at a local community area.
4. Finally, Nature Play is a growing movement in the world of concerned parents. Google it.
Learn more about the importance of play; how play is different from recreation and sports and how all of us, adults and children NEED play. Writer Brian Sutton-Smith describes it this way: “The opposite of play is not work. It is depression.”