Open Ended Creativity

In researching theories that aligned with the practical suggestions on this blog, I rediscovered Simon Nicholson’s theory of “loose parts.”

 “In any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it.” – Simon Nicholson

The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s has begun to influence child-play experts. Nicholson believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that empower our creativity.

Loose parts are materials with no definite direction; they can be used alone or combined with other materials, natural or synthetic. Loose parts inspire children to use materials as they choose, encouraging imagination and originality, which provides a wide range of opportunity, one that is not purely adult led. Children playing with loose parts are developing more skill and competence than they would by playing with most man-made toys.

To read the complete version of this article in which the above statements and information have been pulled from please Click here.

Looking around my Expressive Arts room with drawers of open-ended materials, I am reminded of the unlimited nature of children’s art-making. All they need is to combine their chosen materials, or “loose parts,” with their imagination, skills, creativity and ideas.

Inside one bin, the plastic numbers and letters fascinated a 3-year-old. He was able to pick out and order numerically with ease. When his search for a “2’ was unsuccessful, he made his own out of colored tape. Image


He did the same, on another day, with the letters, constructing a difficult “h” quite skillfully with tape as well, as drawing a missing “M.”


Another 3-year-old, was using the rainbow crayons to draw on one of the large boxes recently brought in by a parent.

“They don’t work,” she told me, holding up the crayon. Upon looking, I noticed that the colors were not as vivid as she wanted on the brown cardboard.

“You could try these bright colors,” I offered, presenting theColorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack. She took them and began to draw inside the box. I watched her place the colors next to each other and realized she was creating her own rainbow.


As she happily sat inside the box she began expanding her rainbow into a very sophisticated and beautiful expression. For the next 45 minutes she sat quietly creating her own rainbow.


At the end of our time together, I found her curled up inside the box taking a well-deserved rest.


Concentration and focus are greatly enhanced when children are self-motivated to create from what’s available.

*For more information on setting up an Expressive Arts center at school or home, see the blog post from April 8, 2013 and October 11, 2012.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels Classpack (Item # COPACK)

Colorations® Extra Large Crayons – Set of 200 (Item # CRXLG)

Colored Masking Tape – 1 Roll (Item # 34CMT)

Uppercase and Lowercase Magnetic Letters (Item # LETSET)

Magnetic Numbers – 162 Pieces (Item # MAGNUMB)

Please share your favorite “loose parts” around the classroom.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A B C D: Fostering interest in reading and writing through the expressive arts | Teaching Peace With Elyse
  2. Trackback: Intrinsic Motivation, Resourcefulness and Open-Ended Materials | Teaching Peace With Elyse

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