The Arts, Loose Parts and Conversations


  • Sheryl Smith-Gilman McGill University


loose parts, loose-part mindset, open-ended curriculum, arts-based education, early childhood education, preservice teacher education


Educators today are being asked to design curricula whereby learners’ abilities to analyze, question, problem-solve, evaluate and reflect are being provoked. The quest lies in uncovering suitable teaching approaches that will allow critical thinking skills to emerge organically and meaningfully. I argue that an integration of loose parts can offer a methodology and a provocation that makes way for open-ended, divergent and creative thinking skills to be activated. “Loose parts” can be open-ended materials that are manipulated, designed, dismantled and reconstructed in multiple ways. I also see “loose parts” as a mindset, a process-oriented approach whereby meaningful conversations emerge unexpectedly and add significantly to learning. This article presents two stories to show how arts-based approaches and mindfulness to loose parts can unearth thought-filled and caring conversations. The discussion is inspired and written via a reflective lens of personal encounters, first, in a longitudinal research project with young children in an Indigenous First Nations Community, and, second, with preservice teachers in a university class. It is within these periods that students, teachers and families were impacted by loose parts whereby materials and conversations made way for new perspectives in understanding the world.

Author Biography

Sheryl Smith-Gilman, McGill University

Assistant Director Undergraduate Teacher Education Programs and Faculty Lecturer




How to Cite

Smith-Gilman, S. (2018). The Arts, Loose Parts and Conversations. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 16(1), 90–103. Retrieved from



Aesthetics, Embodiment and Well-Being