Category Archives: Loose Parts


The Absence Of Colour







What would happen if we created a space void of colour? Kim and I asked ourselves that one day as we contemplated what to do next with the provocation studio.  What would a space void of colour invite children to do? How would it affect their interactions, explorations and engagement with materials?

It took time for us to get to this question, this idea…… this provocation. We had spent the last year visiting many early childhood spaces. Often when entering these spaces we were overwhelmed with the colour and visual clutter of the spaces. Red, yellow and blue were prominent in almost all of these spaces. We often found ourselves wondering why…. Actually we wondered more who decided primary colours were what young children needed.

In November we visited the Reggio exhibit in Vancouver. We spent time examining how they used space. We noticed the use of empty space, the lack of primary colours and the intentionality of materials that were in the space.

In our search for inspiration we found artist Sakir Gökcebag who created an exhibit called Trans Layers made entirely of toilet paper. It was stunningly beautiful. We were struck by how he took an ordinary everyday object and transformed it.

Our idea for a provocation began to crystalize; we would create a space with the colour white. In researching colour theory we discovered white is actually not a colour, it is the absence of colour. We set out to find materials; we went to the dollar store, fabric store, thrift shop, Home Depot, Capital Iron and our backyards. We began to experiment with space and materials. We played with materials testing what they could do, continually trying for something new. We invited my daughter into the space and watched how she interacted with the materials. What ideas were sparked for her?  Documenting her explorations of the space we were able to look at the space through the eyes of a child and re-examine our ideas.WP_20130724_007

The provocation studio is meant to provoke. The ideas present in this space may make you uncomfortable or they may make you jump for joy. Either way we hope you are inspired to think differently about space. We would invite you to examine how a space void of colour makes you feel? What do the materials invite you to do? Finally we would encourage you to wonder with us; what would a space void of colour invite children to do?

The provocation studio is located at Victoria Child Care Resource and Referral. For more information about viewing times and the other wonderful resources at the Victoria ccrr please check out their site.



When my son was 4 he built a playground for caterpillars. He made it from cardboard and it was an enclosed space with a slide, some swings and some ramps for the caterpillars to crawl up and down. It took days to make, and many caterpillars were encouraged to play in it. Then one morning he discovered there were no caterpillars in the playground, only caterpillar fluff. Seems my 2 year old son had found the caterpillars and the scissors and……well, all that was left was the fluff.

 Cardboard continued to be an essential play item for my boys, from making a miniature city of ruined buildings for warhammer, (if you have preteen boys you likely know what that is) to a giant skate board park for finger boards (tiny skateboards).

 Parents and ECE’s have long recognized the value of cardboard: it’s free, accessible, and multi functional. Add materials from the recycling bin, some glue, tape and paint and the possibilities are limitless. But without two key elements all these great materials will never reach their potential: time and space. Kids need time to develop something out of cardboard, which means they need to work over a period of days or weeks. Which in turn means that the project needs a place to be stored.  ECE settings are notoriously short on space, and time is often chopped into small chunks for play, snack, outside time, nap etc. But look at what can be achieved when these barriers are overcome!

My good friend Sarah Hilliard at Lansdowne Preschool followed the children’s interest in robots……

boxes, egg cartons, fruit flats, paint….
and hours of collective work, became this….
a robot with a crown.

And the next year her kids were fascinated with castles so…..

became this!

 And if you still need more motivation check this:  an international cardboard challenge inspired by a 9 year old boy and his cardboard creation. 

Imagination, creativity, hands on learning, building community, sharing stories, inspiring wonder, possibility, and engagement……all this can be had with cardboard!

Share your cardboard stories with us!

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Problem? No Problem.

Four boys are building an intricate block house. They have created a small space between two shelves and a wall made of blocks. The roof is made with  blocks balanced from the  top of one shelf to the top of the block wall, and to my eyes, seems precarious. But three boys crawl happily inside and the building remains stable. The fourth boy however can’t fit.

 I want in!

You can’t come in, it’ll break.

But I want in! Starts to move inside.

No! No! No!  You can’t come in! You’re too big and it’ll break!

Me: What are you going to do? He really wants to come in.

Silence.  Arms crossed on chests, frowns all around.

More silence.

Ummmm…..I know! We could move this shelf! 

 They proceed to move a shelf that does not have blocks balanced on it, the roof stays put, and all four boys fit.

Smiles all round.

 Don’t you love kids?

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I had the great pleasure of going into the forest with a group of children last week. The educator led us all to a spot with dirt hills, big, dusty steep hills. The children whooped up and down as the dirt billowed around them. The climbed hand over hand on the steep parts, and the slid down on their bottoms.

Then she led us to a spot with a giant rope swing and more dirt hills with stumps and logs. Kids balanced on the tops of stumps, walked across the logs and poked sticks into all of them. They experimented with the rope swing, some highly skilled at standing on the knot at the bottom, others happy to hold it and walk in a circle.

We came back to the centre dirty, sweaty and with a few blackberry thorn scratches. It was marvellous.

All this leads me to think of a statistic I recently came across: outdoor play structures, you know the kind with bars and railings and a slide, are vacant 87% of the time when children play.  Of the 13% of the time children played there they:

•used loose parts together with the structure 5% of the time

•played underneath it 4% of the time

•used it as intended 3% of the time

•used it for prospect 1% of the time

And here’s another finding: aggression between children increases when no manipulable material was provided in their outdoor play space.

I am not surprised by these findings, are you? I think hearing the stats just confirms what we already knew. Kids want to mess around with the stuff on the ground. They want to dig, sift, sort, mix, move, pat, splat and plop.

Not all of us have access to a forest, but we can all get dirt!  Dusty, messy, malleable, ever-changing dirt.  And it’s dirt cheap. Where I live a cubic yard of dirt costs about $28……a bargain. What else could you buy for $28 that would  deliver that much play value? If it’s delivered by a dump truck, even better.

A yard of dirt in a corner of your yard….what do you think?


Lots of great big dirty blog inspiration is out there…..

Mud Play at Let the Children Play

Evidence that mud is good for you!

Stomping in the Mud

And the Grand Finale…..


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High Heels and All

The girls are intent on their project.  The blocks are cumbersome and heavy but they are determined. Despite the restrictions of the princess gowns some are wearing they stack the blocks higher and higher. “What are you building?” I ask. ” A princess tower” they respond. Of course, what else would princesses build?

Once the blocks are arranged to the mutual satisfaction of all the princesses, they begin to climb. But the blocks are unsteady, wobbly, and princess dresses get in the way. Princess shoes add to the challenge. As Kayla climbs she holds out her hand to me to steady herself …..but I keep my hands at my sides and back away.  It’s hard to back away from a kid asking for help, it doesn’t come naturally. I really do want to help, and I love holding kid’s hands and will usually grab the opportunity (pun intended!)

But  I have been watching kids take risks, riding bikes down a ramp, climbing up the slide, jumping to reach the overhead ladder on the outdoor climber, and I’ve observed that kids will judge risk pretty well when left on their own. Most kids will only try what they feel comfortable trying.

The oh-so-wise  Deb Curtis observes: ” I have discovered that the children usually pursue only the challenges that are within their abilities, using caution and remarkable problem-solving strategies. I have come to see that if I stay close to intervene if necessary, observe to get to know individual children’s dispositions and skills, I can make sure I keep them safe while supporting their instinctive drive to challenge themselves and gain new competence. There is great reward in watching the children’s unwavering determination and seeing their elated faces when they accomplish something they have worked so hard on.”


And the princesses made it to the top of their tower, high heels and all.