In general, mothers and fathers are concerned that our children learn a lot and quickly to be able to function in the world. But the reality is that the world is no longer stable and predictable as in other times, but it is changing and it does so more and more quickly.

In all likelihood, 20 years from now we will have new technologies at our fingertips that we don’t even imagine now, new professions will have emerged that now don’t even exist and who knows how many other novelties we will have.

So… what should children learn? Well, more than concrete knowledge, some basic skills such as creative thinking, the resolution of future and unpredictable situations and the entrepreneurial spirit. Because these skills will be the ones that will allow them to function in the world, whatever the circumstances.

I really like a phrase by John Holt to illustrate this issue that says: ” The true intelligence test is not how much we know what to do, but how we cope when we do not know what to do .”

That is the key. Replicating what you have learned is relatively easy. The interesting or useful thing is to be able to use what we have at our disposal (the information and knowledge itself, the materials …) to create new scenarios, to solve unforeseen or novel situations.

And how can we promote these skills in childhood? How can we encourage your creative thinking? Well, an excellent option is through play, since it arouses such interest in the child that it is a powerful learning tool .


The game has many facets or functions. One of them is to be a simulation, a real life essay in which children can test, explore, destroy, rebuild … And in these simulations they put more emphasis on the process than on the final result. Because it is a way of learning in which they dominate the situation, in which it does not matter to make mistakes (it does not have the consequences that it could have in real life) and, in this sense, the game offers an excellent framework for children to create and solve problems, so that they can, in short, exercise that creative and decisive thinking of novel circumstances .

For this it is important that they play without interrupting with instructions. Do we see that the tower they are building will fall? What difference does it make! That’s what they are playing for. It is there, in his game, where the towers can collapse without posing a risk to anyone.

In general, adults, who have already discovered how many things work and experienced many others, tend to want children to do things in a specific way, for us the most efficient of course … But with this we are directing them towards a single thought, atrophying the minds of the little ones and, therefore, nullifying creative thinking and critical spirit.

So let’s let them try and try in their own way, even if their towers fall, even if they dress the dolls upside down. As I have already said, in the game the result does not matter, but the process .


As we have seen, play is an excellent medium for creative thinking to begin to be trained. But what materials and toys should they have at their fingertips? Are they all equally stimulating? The reality is, no.

It is very difficult to imagine that toys with a very defined shape and with great detail can be used for something other than what they were created for. Can anyone imagine that a police car can be used for something other than “being a car”? Or that a doll can mean something other than a human being? It’s almost impossible to reason, right? The toy itself dictates its use and function (practically unique).

That is why loose parts and unstructured material (all those pieces with no concrete or little elaborate end) are a great support to play with, exercising imagination and creative thinking. Let me tell you why.

BECAUSE nothing is given by the toy itself , we do not have an ambulance that will go to rescue its “dolls” in distress, we do not have a fire hose that will put out the fires … we have all that, and much more, with the unstructured material. Is any doll at risk? Do our little ones need to imagine this situation to foresee possible solutions? No problem, with wood, with reels, with goblets, with materials from nature … with all this, your imagination and creative thinking will be able to solve how much is necessary.

BECAUSE they encourage children to consider a wide range of uses and meanings for these materials.

Children generally use a material or toy in the same way for hours, days or weeks of play … and when the situation they were working on has been resolved or learned … they just abandon it, just like that. This is something that I am convinced that you often live with many toys. When someone is new they exploit it non-stop and suddenly it falls into oblivion (usually, forever and ever).

But with unstructured material something fantastic happens. When they have exhausted their possibilities in a way … they abandon it yes. But after a while, stuck in another story or situation … that material is transformed and reorganized for another game or purpose.

This is so because the child may fail to see the literalness of the material. You can stop seeing, for example, a stone (the symbol) and turn it into an airplane. You can stop looking at some reels and turn them into chairs … In short, you can empty them of meaning and fill them over and over again with whatever you want or need to solve or work on.

When we are in front of a toy or material, let us ask ourselves … how much does this object allow to create, invent or imagine a child? Or on the contrary, is it the result of someone else’s creativity and no longer allows children to do anything new with it?

BECAUSE they allow the environment to be manipulated.

Simon Nicholson said that in any environment the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibility of discovery were directly proportional to the number and type of variables in it (in the environment).

That is why Nicholson, who used the term “loose parts” for the first time, defended that children develop in environments rich in unstructured materials (stones, sticks, pinecones, wood, reels, etc.), since these promote multiple ways of manipulating their environment and new ways of thinking and processing knowledge, learning by playing with their surroundings.

This is so because the loose parts provide them with opportunities to manipulate, build, rebuild, establish relationships between the different materials and recreate their ideas and experiences, thus developing creative thinking.

Note: I understand loose parts as different small parts of an environment or environment, that is why I prefer this translation to that of loose pieces (more common). But in order not to deviate too much from the subject, we talked another day in more detail about the “loose parts”, okay?


For all that I have been telling you, I consider that the loose parts provide the ideal framework to promote creativity through play.

And it is that with this type of toys or play material, as Joguines Grapat calls it , it is the child who determines how to use them, it is the child who must do the exercise of giving them meaning, who modifies them within their game, who change the destination according to your needs.

This type of material is put at the service of the imagination of the little ones to give a physical support to what they need to solve . Something frankly unthinkable with highly defined and elaborate toys, which leave little room for the imagination and which offer the solution to the child so quickly that it gets used to playing without making any creative effort.

When children have access to loose parts, their creativity and imagination are unleashed to change the world around them in a thousand different ways. The more flexible and open the materials, the higher the level of creativity and inventiveness of the little ones .

So when you think that children are doing nothing while playing with sticks, stones and woods … do not doubt that they are training skills much more necessary for their future life than some technical concepts that they are forced to memorize and that they quickly forget.

They will be recreating new scenarios over and over again, solving conflicts in an imaginary world, using the materials at their disposal to be able to succeed in their purposes. What better way to “prepare” for life?

To illustrate this article, I have had the collaboration of Joguines Grapat , a family business that works to develop open play materials that are poorly defined and that, precisely, allow children to develop creative thinking and free play. Have you seen how many different things can be created with them?

They are materials made of wood, with natural dyes and with an exquisite smell that make young and old alike fall in love, because it shows when things are made by hand, by people who are passionate about their work and who put their energy and heart in each piece.