Parts loose?

What drives me is the urge to follow in the careful footsteps of Le Guin’s (1985) Eve and unname. We need to pull apart and critique the ways play is currently taken in the context of (Canadian) early childhood education practices and propose alternative ways. The terribly familiar yet critically-unexamined terms like “risky play”, “free play”, “loose parts”, “playability”, “play-rich”, “play value”, “nature play” must become suspects whose underlying agendas should be questioned and opposed.

In particular, since the phrase “loose parts” entered our vocabularies at the easy penmanship of British-American painter and sculptor Simon Hepworth Nicholson in the 1970s (1971; 1972), the concept has been warmly welcomed in the fields of early childhood education, playwork and design.

“Loose parts” are constituted in dominant discourses as objects without connections. They are free to be manipulated following children’s whims and desires. Thusly, the use of the term and the practice associated with these “parts” reinforce child-centered pedagogies and anthropocentric assumptions.

But there are, indeed no loose parts within assemblages (Berry, 2019).

This is not about a prohibition against a singular term (although I wouldn’t oppose such a measure), but rather a call to bring attention to the lines of flight and connection, to relationality between human and more-than-human worlds, to the pedagogical implications of acknowledging the entangled histories of materials which we invite into classrooms and playgrounds.


Berry, A. (2019). Sympoetics of place and the red dust of India. Journal of Childhood Studies, 13-27.

Le Guin, U.K. (1985, January 21). She Unnames Them. The New Yorker.

Nicholson, S. (1971). How not to cheat children, the theory of loose parts. Landscape architecture62(1), 30-34.

Nicholson, S. (1972). The Theory of Loose Parts, An important principle for design methodology. Studies in Design Education Craft & Technology4(2).