Blog Posts

NS Childcare Association Conference

Last weekend I attended the annual conference of the NS Childcare Association, both as an educator and a trade show participant.

The keynote speaker on Saturday morning, Anne Marie Coughlin, is the Educational Director at London Bridge Child Care Services in London, Ontario, Canada. She spoke about the many different gifts we bring as educators, and to make sure we value those, not try to fit ourselves into some stereotype of what an education ‘should’ look like. She also emphasized the importance of language when working with children, to make sure we are not de-valuing their learning or skills or autonomy by assigning labels like ‘cute’ when in fact so much of what child do and say and learn every day is more like ‘awesome’!

The break-out sessions focused on topics like looking ourselves, knowing who we are as educators, and providing information about the new NS Early Learning Framework that is being developed and piloted in many centres across the province.

It was an excellent event and I met many new people in the field. My trade show booth had plenty of visitors, and I have lots of follow-up to do in booking visits for the upcoming summer. If you are planning to book, do it soon!  🙂

Creative Kids Education Centre

For the 2016-17 school year I am working with the after-school program at Creative Kids Education Centre. When I first started in September they had a fabulous outdoor space, but the kids weren’t keen to play in it because “there was nothing to do”. Well, there was a big pile of tires, and lots of milk crates, but admittedly not much else.

In October a work party anchored most of the tires into the ground in a big circle to make a great space for jumping and leaping and hopping on one foot from hole to hole. This has greatly improved the functionality of what was a big empty space and is now ‘the tire area’.

Further to the back of the yard, behind the school, we have create a loose parts area that we call ‘the shady area’. Students have access to buckets full of sheets, tarps, and pieces of rope, a bunch of old wooden palettes, a bin full of pieces of plastic pipe, and a heap of wood in various shapes, sizes and lengths. A large fort made of palettes has also been constructed and makes a great climbing apparatus.

To reach the ‘shady area’ from the ‘tire area’ there is a small wooded space full of tree roots and dips in the ground, which collects water just perfectly in damp weather, and now in the winter is a perfect little slippery spot for playing ‘hockey’ with pipes, for bashing and smashing ice, and just generally practicing how to walk (and fall!) on ice.

We encourage parents to bring us their old and unused pots, pans, kitchen utensils, pipes and wood to continue to expand our collection. Old kitchen stuff is great fun for mixing ‘potions’ from natural materials such as dirt, sand, rocks, tree leaves & needles, and all manner of interesting stuff they find lying around.

For the more adventurous, the back section of the property is heavily wooded, with a variety of wide and narrow paths. The children often play games of tag and hide & seek in the woods, improving their balance and coordination along with listening and observation skills. Several students who seemed very clumsy and uncomfortable in the woods are now, six months later, very comfortable in the woods, and not falling nearly as often if at all.

Although there was initially some concern from a few staff members about sending kids home filthy and often damp (if not soaked), parent feedback has been very positive, often saying the dirt and wet is a clear indicator that their child had a good day, and they are always pleased to hear what adventure we’ve been up to now.

Our after-school program’s reputation is growing, as parents hear from their kids and kids’ friends that this is a great place to get lots of outdoor play after school!


Windsor Junction Community Centre

Today we hosted loose parts adventure play at Windsor Junction Community Centre. We spent the morning, so some groups could spend time with us while others were having swimming lessons. There were about six groups in all, with 12-15 children in each group, plus two leaders per group.

The space was a baseball field surrounded by chain link fence, so the kids had lots of fun connecting various materials to the fence to see what would stay up. Each new set of children spent a few minutes experimenting with different materials, but since it was a very hot, sunny day, everyone tried a fort at some point, to create some shade!

There were several digging groups, working in the outfield (they filled in the holes before we left), and a few experiments with whether the pipes could be ‘convinced’ the stay upright in the very hard, dry ground….

The group leaders had at least as much fun as the kids with building forts, and they assured me that they will have us back next year earlier in the summer so they can get inspired to start their own loose parts collection!

Halifax Developmental Centre for Early Learning

Our team had a grand adventure at Halifax Developmental Centre for Early Learning this morning. This early learning centre has a particular expertise in “the delivery of individualized early intervention programs for children with a broad variety of special needs”. Despite a wide variety of challenges and other abilities, the kids there had as much fun with our loose parts as any kids anywhere. 🙂

The play space was a fairly typical school playground with a sand box, a metal climbing structure with slides, and a few other odds and ends. The chain link fence around the outside made for a good way to tie up sheets to make forts, although the largest structure ended up being over top of the climbing structure, so the kids could ‘hide out’ and get some shade.

The two truck tie-down straps that we use to create a place to bounce while holding on (see Photo Gallery) were particularly popular with this group!

One small boy was utterly engrossed in putting various items through a set of tubes that were propped up on a milk crate. It took lots of experimenting for him to figure out what went down the fastest, rolled the farthest when it came out, etc…

The two members of my own team who came with me were delighted to realize that our stuff is as accessible to children with various challenges as it is for ‘regular kids’ (their words). We hope to get back there next year to see if they are developing their own collection!

Family SOS Healthy Kidz program

This morning we took our collection of loose parts to the Healthy Kidz program at Family SOS in the Greystone area of Halifax. There were about 25 kids participating in our two hour session, ranging in age from 7-12.

Their play space is a grassy area enclosed by a picket fence, which was just the right size to spread out the ‘stuff’ and have a fort-building competition. It was a lovely hot summer day, so the shade created by the sheets and tarps was most welcome!  And a good place to hang out while putting on extra sunscreen, too…

Although an older group of kids, the appeal of forts and pipes is just as strong, although the level of complexity in what gets built is higher. Taller forts, more complicated things built with pipes. We brought the bungee cords for this group, and they had a great time making bows with a bungee cord and a bendy-pipe. We set up a target on the fence so a small group could experiment with what made the best kind of ‘arrow’.

The staff particularly remarked that a few of the older kids who are normally too ‘cool’ to want to play structured games were deeply involved in the fort-building and much more engaged than usual. Always good to hear!

We hear they might be considering their own collection of loose parts, so we’ll check back in with them next summer…

Excel Loose Parts Visits – Final Report

<Modified somewhat to protect confidentiality

Schools visited: 18

Students who participated (approx.): 900

Kilometres travelled: 1023

At the request of Head Office, I undertook a visiting program in the spring of 2016 to introduce the Loose Parts philosophy to a sub-set of Excel programs across HRM. The visits took six weeks, and included 18 schools that had self-identified as not having yet introduced Loose Parts to their program. A survey had been distributed by Excel Head Office to check on the status of “loose parts” implementation and barriers. Team Leaders in many of the programs I visited had indicated in a survey response that lack of storage space was their primary reason for not starting Loose Parts yet.

The loose parts that I took on my visits included:

  • Queen-sized sheets and brightly-coloured pieces of fabric
  • Rope in a variety of lengths (4’ – 100’) and widths (1/8” – 1/2”)
  • Bungee cords
  • 2-3 foot lengths of 2-2.5” PVC pipe
  • A variety of small things that fit through the pipes (balls, cars, etc…)
  • Two 15ft ratcheting truck die-downs (1000lb weight limit)
  • Six empty 10gallon ice cream containers
  • Half a dozen sand pails with shovels, wooden spoons, funnels, and measuring cups
  • A grocery bag of 2-3ft’ pieces of 1”-wide flexible pipe.
  • Some plastic connectors called ‘stick-lets’ for connecting the flexible pipes.

These items were transported in the back of my car, stored in two ‘Rubbermaid’  tubs (18”x18”x24”) and four milk crates (not including the pipes).

My visits started out well at Site 1, with a staff group that was very keen to see how the session would go. They set the pattern for the rest of the visits, whereby I spoke briefly with the staff on arrival, then did my setup in the outdoor play space while P-2 students had snack. Upon completing snack, the P-2 students joined me outside for a brief introduction to the session and the materials. Once the Gr 3-6 students had been dismissed and had snack, they joined us outside, receiving their own introduction to the session.

In the larger programs, sometimes there were two sessions of 30-40 minutes for younger students before the older students came out for their own session. In the smaller programs, the older students just joined right in with the younger ones. The largest group using the materials at one time was about 60, although this was only in one place where they had a particularly large, open outdoor space that accommodated the numbers. Usually the maximum was 30-35.

At most sites the staff had lots of questions, ranging from safety concerns to where various items had come from. The safety questions tended to answer themselves over the course of the sessions, as there were no accidents or behaviour-related incidents during any of the sessions. At least two Team Leaders remarked as I was leaving that the day had been the quietest one they’d had all year, with regard to behaviour issues and disruptions. Staff members at multiple sites confirmed one of our key observations at my own school: loose parts is an activity in which Gr 4-6 girls get particularly engaged; they do not spend the session moping around and not wanting to participate, as often happens with sports-related activities. This ‘sold’ many staff on getting loose parts started as soon as possible!

There were at least three sites where in fact they had already been doing loose parts, but just calling it something else and not connecting that to what they thought ‘loose parts’ meant. This was quite obvious once I setup the materials, as the kids took to it very readily and I didn’t get any ‘what is this for?’ questions. [To which the answer always was ‘What do you think it’s for?”]

It was interesting to watch how the uses of the materials varied across the programs. At some schools the fabric was entirely for building forts. At others, a group of students turned some of them into clothes for role-playing activities and protected them fiercely from the ‘building’ group. Similarly, the pipes were used at some places for building complex systems for transporting items from one place to another; at others, they became just another building material for the forts. For a third group they became musical instruments in combination with containers and spoons that at other programs were used for digging.

Much to my astonishment, I only got a rainy day for only one site! It was foggy and damp when I arrived at Site 17, but I set up outside anyway, and the kids had a great time for about 30 minutes before suddenly it was pouring rain. We moved everything inside to an empty classroom beside their regular Excel room, and the kids continued their fun with forts and pipes for the rest of the session. Their enthusiasm confirmed what I had been telling staff members at other sites – many of the materials work just as well inside as out. Tables on a side and some chairs work perfectly well for holding up forts! There were a few sites where I arrived the day or afternoon following a heavy rain, and the puddles in the play space provided an unexpected loose part that made for lots of extra fun.

Most of the Team Leaders were surprised at how small the storage requirements were for the materials I was transporting. Although there were a couple of sites where the staff were less enthused than most others, no one specifically said they were not planning to implement loose parts. Having seen the level of engagement and enjoyment by the kids, almost all of the staff members were enthused and energized at the prospect of starting a loose parts collection for their program. Some were already talking about items they had at home or in storage at the Excel site that could be used. Many commented wryly that loose parts is really just a return to what most of us over age thirty-five grew up with – a collection of junk in somebody’s yard or the empty lot down the road that engaged a large multi-age group of children quite safely for hours and days at a time.

In conclusion I want to thank Head Office for the opportunity to make these visits. I learned as much as the staff and kids at the sites I visited, modifying my materials a bit along the way based on their use. The feedback I received was very positive!