We have a slow but steady trickle of requests coming in from other organizations. They want to use Suzanna’s photographs of children at play, get a quote or opinion. It’s very rarely promoting something specific, and usually about creating shared content we all need to feed the ever-hungry great beast called Internet. Most recently, Playground Ideas asked for our list of the “10 Best Loose Parts”. They were asking several different folks and non-profits, and all would be gathered together into a bouquet of enthusiasm.
Now, we know that these lists are problematic. They can be simplistic and reductive, suggesting a 1:1 relationship of Thing and Play that dovetails with forces of commercialization and capitalism in ways that genuinely harm children. They also divorce object from context, ignoring the way an adult’s involvement around a loose part can prevent it from being loose in the first place. This contributes to the idea that adults managing a play environment in any way (for example, by using the playwork approach) have an absurdly easy time. All their skill and nuance of material selection and deployment, all of the complex ways in which good sites evolve in compensatory response to its larger context… all this is missing from that conversation.
When this email came in, though, we were feeling a little silly. It was a lot more fun than most other requests, and we have had wonderful conversations with folks new to the field of play which began by reminiscing over favorite objects. We’ve also pushed back our chairs to laugh, in conversation with colleagues over the years, when recalling particularly good dumpster dive or donation, those weeks that followed of spectacular richness through an abundance of house bricks, pine cones, odd plastic shapes, gold cloth, catering dish sets.
This list was never intended to be prescriptive, only an invitation to remember those moments for yourself. What stick did you find, and walk with tall through a muddy field? What berries did you forage, what twine did you collect into a careful little ball, which buttons have you turned into currency?
What loose parts, in short, have you held in your hand and thought “this thing is the best.”