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Jim Stallman, the president of Eco Global Manufacturing, provides insights on how youth benefit from creative learning. 

Even before the popularization of the toy industry, children have always found ways to play. Sticks, rocks and pinecones became the fuel for imaginations to run wild. While toys have certainly evolved, the core need to play has stayed the same. Children continue to seek out the enjoyment of play, but its importance goes much further.

The benefits of play have been proven through countless studies. Child psychologists and early learning specialists agree play forms a lifelong pattern of learning, problem solving and social skills. Unfortunately, not all play is equal and the type of play is critical to the quality of learning. Highly programmed play with rules and social norms does not satisfy what the studies were looking for. A game of kickball does not provide the same high-level learning experience as a Lego club where kids build their own creations. The key ingredient to fostering opportunities for imagination and creative learning is loose parts.

When playing with large loose parts — such as blocks — children benefit intellectually, physically, mentally and socially. Furthermore, when a group of children play together with loose parts, it encourages collaboration, problem solving skills, negotiation and communication. When a child must use their imagination to create their desired outcome, their mind is motivated to test their judgement skills, creativity and spatial awareness.  

So how can loose-part play be implemented more vastly in this age of screentime and electronic toys and games? The answer is simple — make it widely available and engaging. Data shows communities with public playgrounds available have students with better test scores, improved self-discipline and fewer behavioral issues. In fact, studies show the square footage of playground space per child is positively correlated with test scores. Additionally, communities that have loose-part play systems available see more community outreach engagement, whole family participation and lower obesity rates. The best part is pop-up, loose-part play systems can turn any lot, park or street corner into a playground space.  

The impact of open-ended, loose-part play extends beyond the threshold of adolescence. The power of adult play is often forgotten and overlooked, especially in this fast-paced society with never ending to-do lists. In adults, loose-part play decompression has shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality and memory strength, and stimulate creativity. The National Institute of Play has found a life deficient of play creates a heightened major public health risk factor. Prolonged deprivation of play – even in adults – is linked to depression, addictions and stress-related diseases. 

Every person has a unique play personality, which is why loose-part play is appealing to all generations, cultures and lifestyles. Having pieces of various shapes and sizes allows each person to create their own playground.

Want to learn about USA-made, life-size Big Blue Blocks? Reach out to the Imagination Playground team at contactus@imaginationplayground.org.

Jim Stallman

Jim Stallman is president of Eco Global Manufacturing – a 75-year-old family-run business and B Corporation in Providence, Rhode Island. Dedicated to U.S. manufacturing, Eco Global produces industrial-grade educational toys for more than 45 countries worldwide.

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