To Glue or not to Glue

Loose parts are everywhere. I see them being used and featured in many posts, tweets, and articles. What I love about loose parts is the blank canvas opportunities they provide for children who engage with them. I am a big believer in loose parts and focused an entire school-age program around collecting and using loose parts and recycled materials. Our recycled materials are from the families who donate the items to our school instead of placing them in the trash.

The loose parts are sorted and displayed in small-curated batches each day for the children to explore. The materials change frequently depending on what is being donated to our school. The recycled materials are made of paper, wood, metal, plastic, foam, fabric and so much more. We accept any items families are willing to bring in. If we do not see a use for the material right away, the material is stored for use later.

What type of loose parts do you use in your school?

The loose parts are turned into new creations using hot glue, school glue, tacky glue or tape depending on the age and ability of the child. The children are free to try any of these methods and routinely experiment with the best way to construct their ideas.

During a recent professional development training I attended, there was a provocation based on loose parts. All the participants sat in groups at large round tables. On each table, a selection of loose parts was available to build and experiment with. During our work period all of the adults used the loose parts to create a representation of a fish. After our work period there was a discussion about the process, and our feelings of the process, with the other adults.

One topic that came up during the course of the discussion was an important question. Do we glue or not glue? In my experience that is a big question, since I have provided recycled materials for school age children to build with for many years. A majority of the materials we used were attached in some way, and most of the time by hot glue. On occasion we would have provocations where the loose parts were sorted or stacked or placed in a way to create an invitation for exploration, but a large percentage of the materials were made into something else using glue and tape.

Last year, I attended a workshop that asked the question, do materials have the rights to be other things? That is the question I think we were exploring while creating our fish. Since hearing that question I presented a few workshops with loose parts where we explored this very idea. The reactions from the school age world were hit and miss, since the general mode of operation is to create crafts and take home projects.

This year at our open house I placed different provocations with loose parts out for the parents and children to explore. The parents loved to experiment with the materials and many families sat together exploring different ways to create without glue or tape. The many different ways materials were used in the short amount of time we were together showed the potential of loose parts that are used over and over. I think having a wide selection of loose parts and the space to explore them can foster a new creativity. A creativity that becomes less about the end result and more about the potential of the parts themselves.

In what ways can loose parts be used to invite creativity in our spaces?