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Objective: To establish a service learning project that will inform the design of a study examining effects of a loose parts playground intervention on the play of elementary school children. Methods: A loose parts intervention was introduced into a school playground that consisted of an enclosed empty space containing one fixed climbing structure and a picnic table, and a larger attached enclosed lot with four picnic tables, two basketball hoops and balls. The service project was divided into three major phases: planning, acquisition of appropriate loose parts play materials, and observation of these materials being used by four groups of children during four separate lunch recesses. In the planning phase, the school faculty and administration agreed to host the service learning project, help gather play materials, and make these materials available during recess times. Discussions with school personnel included issues of storage, logistics, and safety. In the acquisition phase, recycled items were gathered from several sources, including the school staff. In the observation phase, four separate groups of students were observed during a typical lunchtime recess period with loose parts available. Observation of recess activity was designed to determine whether the combination and amount of play materials elicited play engagement from the students. Results: The loose parts play materials were actively used by members of each grade level of elementary school children. Observations showed that some loose parts materials, were more popular than others, and as the age of the children increased, certain items were not used as often. Some play items, such as a large tarp and an open-ended cardboard barrel, were popular across all age groups and elicited active play involving gross motor movements. Other items such as tires and the large tarp were used in constructive play evoking socio-dramatic use. For example, the tarp was observed draped over a picnic bench creating a hideout.' All of the introduced items were used at least once during the observation phase. Conclusions: This project demonstrated that a future loose parts intervention study is feasible. The project indicated that children spontaneously play actively with items not normally intended for play, and it provided information that will guide the selection of materials for a future study. Future research on effects of a loose parts playground intervention might focus on outcomes that measure the quality, quantity, and types of play initiated by elementary school-aged children, for example, physically active play, constructive play, and socio-dramatic play.'


Poster presented at the University of New Mexico Occupational Therapy Research Day, April 20th, 2016, Albuquerque, NM.