Nature offers children and adults a rich sensory environment with free spaces and open-ended materials to explore. Nature is a world of loose parts: a wide range of parts that children can assemble, disassemble, move, attach, manipulate, and wonder about. The possibilities are infinite with no script but chances for discoveries.
Free spaces and opened-ended parts are the key qualities that invite children’s body, mind, and intellects to engage creatively, to imagine and discover, to invent and re-invent.
Hands and eyes of children don’t miss any of these loose parts They find and taste the fresh snow flakes. They play with their foot and body print on snow. They make snowman and snow balls.
While adults may miss a crawling caterpillar or not show any interest assuming they already know everything about them, children are fascinated by them. They sit beside them, pick them up, watch them crawling on their arms, turn them upside down, put them on a tree and watch them crawling up, (and sometimes may squish them too).
Don’t give up if you go out and you and your child feel bored the first time. Our indoorized and wired life style may make us to forget how to listen and talk with nature. To re-connect time is a key; you need to slow down, sit, lie down, or stop and listen. You need to find out what amazes you and your child most and where your comfort level and space are.
Some may argue that other environments and materials may share these qualities with nature. That is true. In his theory of loose parts, Simon Nicholson suggests that “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”. Anything less will ignore children’s rich and amazing competencies. So, when you buy the next toy for a child or choose your next trip think about how much they are scripted and pre-determined and how much they leave room for the child, and you, to repeatedly make different things with different meanings.
But remember, nature gives it for free.