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My Loose Parts Play Enquiry – Update 1

My enquiry approach has been slightly delayed by my gathering of resources. As a school we are currently gathering donations of loose parts equipment which I intend to use to carry out my enquiry. This means that so far most of my enquiry has focused on literature.

A really useful reading that I have used to enhance my thinking has been the British Council document called ‘Unlocking a World of Potential: Core skills for learning, work and society’. This document has encouraged me to reflect on the importance of knowledge and skills as an intertwining core of education. Highlighting relevant skills in today’s world it looks at where these skills may develop in the future and why it is vital we equip pupils with these skills. From this document, I have questioned whether skills are something that should be taught, or learnt from within. My enquiring approach should help me to consider this question in more detail. If skills are learnt from within then there might not be a need for a visible progression but if they are to be taught then it is vital that a concrete progression is created.

The Education Scotland ‘Learning for Sustainability Self-evaluation and improvement framework’ has been a good tool for pulling my ideas back to why we are developing this area and how it should look when done well. Keeping this focus has given me grounding for the reasons behind my enquiry approach.

North Lanarkshire’s publication ‘This place is like a building site’ has given a good example of what loose parts play can look like when established. This has resulted in me examining more case studies through the Education Scotland website. This reading has cemented my opinion surrounding the benefits of loose parts play but still leaves me questioning more about how it differs depending on age, stage and experience.

My Plan

  • FOCUS: Using ‘loose parts play’ to develop problem solving and creativity across the primary school.


  • QUESTION: In what way does the format of ‘loose parts play’ need to change to provide progression of creativity and problem solving skills at P1, P4, P7?


  • WHO: 6 pupils at age stage, P1, P4, P7. The children will be of mixed ability and gender.


  • WHAT: I am going to use 3 different methods of ‘loose parts play’ at each stage to examine which methods provide the most appropriate challenge and chance to develop problem solving and creativity skills at that particular stage. I will provide opportunities for each group to experience a session of exploratory ‘loose parts play’, guided ‘loose parts play’, and set timed tasks using ‘loose parts play’. The materials provided for each stage and session will be the same to ensure the possible variables are reduced. I will analyse the evidence from these sessions to comment on the appropriateness of each method in order to provide suitable challenge for each stage


  • WHY:  As part of the school improvement plan I am rolling out ‘loose parts play’ opportunities across the school to develop skills for learning, life and work. I want to do this in a purposeful and challenging way for all pupils. I need to learn more about how to differentiate the use of ‘loose parts play’ in order to achieve challenging experiences for all involved to develop sustainable creativity and problem solving skills. The British Teaching Council explains that knowledge and skills at intertwined but this means that too often the skills that come with the knowledge are simply delivered by a teacher. This means that the environment for developing these skills are not challenging enough and therefore the skills are not fully developed at a sustainable level. Education Scotland states that problem solving and creativity are going to be vital skills for the future as technology will change society dramatically over the next 50 years. Therefore it is essential that when pupils develop the skills of creativity and problem solving it must be in a manner which is sustainable for learning, life and work.
  • EVIDENCE: I plan to use 2 forms of evidence to examine this qualitative research. I will create an observation grid that will be used for all sessions and stages to note down significant observation that are made into categories. I will also use semi-structured interviews with the groups of children to gather their views on the level of challenge at each session. These semi-structured interviews will not be identical to enable me to ask questions to suit the ages of the children.


  • WHEN:I need to spend the first fortnight collecting to resources for the ‘loose parts play’. I will then schedule the sessions over the following month and gather evidence at the same time. I will spend the next fortnight anaylsing and evaluating the evidence and collating results.

My Question


My focus is going to be on developing sustainable skills for school, life and work in a Primary 7 class.


To what extent does Loose Parts Play provide opportunity for Primary 7 pupils to develop creativity and problem solving skills for learning, life and work?

How I will evidence what happens

My enquiring approach aims to look at the development of certain core skills for learning, life and work through loose parts play. Whilst this is an area I am interested in and know I will learn from, I have found it really challenging to think about how I will evidence this in a useful, accurate and feasible way. It will be difficult to provide concrete, quantitative evidence from this form of enquiring approach however I still want my qualitative data to be easy to interpret and not too abstract or questionable.

I will be working with my class of Primary 7 pupils and want to evidence their development of certain skills. I think the skills I will focus on are related to solving the problems of the future which we are not yet aware of. I think too often we teach to suit the current problems in society and forget to look to the future and potential problems which may arise. To solve unknown problems of the future, pupils need critical thinking, creativity and problem solving skills. To measure the development of these skills I want to monitor pupil reflections of their development within a reflective journal as well as noting observations of these pupils myself. By combining the data from these two pieces of evidence I hope to be able to track whether or not the activities have developed these skills further.

Any advice on how to take this further would be much appreciated as this is still quite vague in my head.

What’s already known about my possible enquiring approach?

Last year I undertook an online course with the British Council and Edinburgh University that began to develop my thinking around Learning for Sustainability. This year I am leading the school improvement plan focus on Learning for Sustainability. I have done quite a bit of reading around theory and policy in this area in Scotland and further afield and have seen multiple themes arising which have created ‘my itch’. One of the key themes that arises within the literature surrounding Learning for Sustainability is the need to shift from a knowledge based method of Learning for Sustainability to a skills based method. Moray House’s Learning for Sustainability: Issues for Education Election Briefing (2016) emphasises the need to focus on skills as well as knowledge, values and attitudes. It is thought that by equipping pupils with flexible and sustainable knowledge, skills and values, they will be prepared for work and life in a future that cannot be fully predicted. The British Council document, Unlocking a World of Potential: Core skills for learning, work and society, breaks down some of the core skills that can be achieved through Learning for Sustainability and explores why they are important and how they might be achieved. It was through considering the importance of skill development that I came to the decision of focusing on techniques to develop these skills. As part of the SIP focus that I’m leading, I’m introducing Loose Parts Play across the school. Simon Nicholson’s Theory of Loose Parts explains that our structured environments for learning reduce the potential for flexible skills to be developed. With this in mind, I have decided to look at how Loose Parts Play can help to develop sustainable skills for life, learning and work.

‘My itch and what I might do about it’

Initially, during Task 2C, I had shared this diagram to highlight my understanding of Learning for Sustainability.

I had initially thought that I might focus on Outdoor Learning and integrating this into the curriculum as opposed to seeing it as an add on. Whilst I still think this has purpose and will endevour to develop this within my practice, my thinking has now developed to a further point of focus for my enquiry.

I recently shared my learning by leading a CAT session for colleagues on Learning for Sustainability and in my preparation for this came across this TedTalks Video that summed up my way of thinking perfectly. Whilst considering the task at the beginning of this video I reflected on the purpose of education and this linked me to the four capacities in Curriculum for Excellence and how they support the overall purpose of education. The four capacities sit at the heart of CfE and equally LfS link with these and support education from the core to provide our learners with the skills they need for a sustainable future.

In order to achieve LfS at the heart of the curriculum there needs to be a shift in mindset from seeing Sustainability as simple switching the light out and recycling some scrap paper. It needs to be ‘lived’ and pupils need to develop sustainable skills for life that can apply to jobs and problems in the future which currently don’t exist. I aim to focus my enquiry on creating a sustainable mindset for pupils to enable them to live in a way to attempt to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and beyond. This will link the Children’s Rights in the Sustainable Goals to their responsibilities in achieving them and look at how this develops their skills for life.

My Process for Enquiry

‘What is the purpose of enquiry and why is it worth doing?’

For me, enquiry is about what we do every day as teachers. We see a need, try to meet it, evaluate how effective our strategy was and then plan where to go next. It is about not settling for a certain standard but always striving to achieve more. Before teaching I trained as a high level athlete and even after a personal best, we would return to training the following week, evaluate our previous training and look at our next goals and how we were going to get there. I see enquiry in the same way, it is a way of working not a one off exercise to fill CPD hours. The more it is thought of in this way, the less daunting and scary it will seem to those using an enquiry approach. I have heard many teachers say “I did an enquiry last year” or “I have too much work to do an enquiry at the moment”. I don’t believe enquiry should be a thing we do, I think it should be a way we think that fits tightly with our ongoing evaluation, assessment and reflective practice.  I loved what Prof. Kate Wall said about the quest to find answers however, you more often then not end up coming out the other side with more questions and the cycle continues again. Questions keep us intrigued and motivated, answers help us to settle. The circle of enquiry keeps learning innovative, it keeps challenging us as teachers to improve ourselves and therefore the outcomes for our learners.

Exploring My Itch

Last year I undertook a Learning for Sustainability 10 week course through Edinburgh University and British Council. Having had time to reflect on my learning from this course over the summer and beginning follow up reading into this session, I have found that this course had a greater impact on me than initially expected. It has revealed ‘my itch’ however my itch is like one of those itches where you can’t actually find the source to scratch it. This ‘itch’ has taken my thinking beyond what was my initial interest of gaining some more ideas to support me with my role as the lead of our school’s eco-committee.

Following this course I re-read the Education Scotland Building the Curriculum Documents with a completely new perspective and outlook. With an improved understanding of Learning for Sustainability and the broad definition of the word ‘Sustainable’ I had the realisation that Sustainability, in various contexts, is at the heart of education in Scotland. The result of this new perspective has changed my role as a teacher. Never did I set out to be simply a ‘knowledge giver’ and always attempted to make my learners independent thinkers, responsible citizens, successful learners and confident individuals through the principles of CfE but I know there have been times when I have found it difficult to adopt this approach. I see myself now very much as a facilitator of sustainable skills and learning and aim to work more collaboratively with pupils to lead their learning. The beginnings of this have resulted in a higher retention rate with more sustainable learning.

I created this diagram to model my thinking of the key elements addressed with an understanding and focus on Learning for Sustainability. I want to explore these areas further with an aim to use Learning for Sustainability to promote the principles of CfE within my classroom.

I’m very much aware that Learning for Sustainability covers such a broad area of education and hope that with further reading I will be able to select and area to start with that will become the focus for my enquiry project.

‘What are the environmental, social or economic conditions of learners in your school and what are the implications for practice?’

During a lesson on fairness and equality which I could highly recommend (click here to view lesson plan), my class and I’s discussion led us to barriers to learning. I had asked the children how they would feel if a doctor treated each patient (no matter what they illness or symptoms) with the same treatment. The all agreed that this would be ridiculous. I then asked the children whether they thought it would be fair that a teacher should scribe for a pupil who struggled with handwriting during a literacy lesson to allow them to access the key learning. They strongly disagreed with this and said it would highly unfair for all the other children who had to write themselves. I was shocked by this response but it alerted me to the fact that as teachers we are trying to use an equitable approach to GIRFEC but for all children to feel included and to GIRFEC holistically, we need pupils to be in on the approach too. Something in my teaching needed to change to achieve this.

I showed my pupils this picture –

We discussed what kind of social, emotional, economic, learning and physical issues may create fences or barriers to stop pupils from accessing learning. Pupils started to become aware of the short-term and long-term barriers each and every one of them was experiencing or had experienced at some point recently. We linked this with resilience work that we have been covering as a whole school but also discussed examples of ‘boxes’ that we can provide linked with the wellbeing indicators to ensure each child is receiving the best chance to reduce/overcome their barriers. This has allowed me to provide more for the pupils in my care as they are also looking out for what can be done to support themselves and others so instead of one pair of teacher eyes trying to GIRFEC, I now have 32 pairs of eyes supporting the wellbeing of our classroom.

With an upper school class it has been evident to me through this learning process that pupils are very aware of wanting to be treated the same however they also need to know that they can receive equitable support in a discreet manner. Pupils have loved the concept of a ‘box’ to help them ‘see over the fence’ and if they are needing discreet support are now using the phrase ‘I need a box’ to ask for help or support.

As for the third of the pictures shown above, our class are undecided whether it is fully possible to remove all barriers in life but we are trying out best to achieve this in our classroom.

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