Loose parts play: So many possibilities for learning.

Have you ever noticed how content your child is playing with stones in the garden, or gathering up daisies from the lawn? As adults, we have often admired just how long children can spend playing with simple materials like boxes, rocks or water. Children love playing with open-ended materials which spark their imagination and curiosity. 

So what are loose parts?

Loose parts are an increasingly popular concept, which many early childhood educators and parents alike are embracing. Initially floated by British architect Simon Nicholson who in his article “How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts” (1971), described loose parts as open-ended materials which can be used and manipulated in many ways. 

Nicolson saw all people as potentially creative, and he believed that environments should provide young children with many ways to test out variables such as gravity, sounds and smells.. The beach as an environment for learning is a perfect example, the beach is full of loose parts - sand, seaweed, shells, plants, feathers. When children play with loose parts they can be moved around, added to other parts, creating new spaces and exploring new concepts. This isn't just fun, it also supports creativity, cooperative learning and critical thinking. 

How can I provide loose parts?

Loose parts are all around us, they can be natural or man made.  The natural environment provides so many to us which children find just delightful. When gathering from nature, be aware not to disturb or displace any living creatures. When considering an item, it can be helpful to think of loose parts as items which will inspire imagination and creativity in children in their own unique way. 

Some examples of everyday materials which can be loose parts

From nature: 

water • sand • dirt • sticks • branches • logs • driftwood • grasses • leaves • flowers • pinecones • pine needles • seed pods • shells • bark • feathers • boulders • rocks • pebbles • bamboo 

Man made examples:

blocks • building materials • cotton wool• measuring items • pouring devices (cups, spoons, buckets, funnels) • dramatic play props • play cars, animals and people • blankets • materials • floor samples • recycled materials (paper tubes, papers, ribbons, caps, lids, wood scraps, wire, foam, cardboard) • plastic gutters •  tools • art materials (buttons, spools, natural and colored popsicle sticks, beads, straws, paints, brushes) • jars, cans, containers • jewelry, hair rollers

So how do I introduce loose parts into my environment? 

Loose parts are captivating in nature because of their open ended capabilities. When intentionally integrated into learning environments (whether an ECE setting or home) they provide so many possibilities for play. In our home, our loose parts are grouped together in “like” groups, using our sorting trays, baskets and containers. We have learnt to embrace the “spread” that inevitably comes with toddlers who love to transport, fill and dump things. 

We also try to select items which can be utilised together with a variety of our more traditional toys. For example, we have stones and pebbles alongside our play kitchen, which transform into all manner of foods with the imagination of my four year old. A plastic apple can only be a plastic apple, but a pine cone or stone can be used to represent all sorts of things. The same goes with our Ply Guys, they can transform into whoever our little ones want them to be, a mummy, daddy, fire fighter, super hero, the list goes on! 


I hope this inspires you to try some new ideas in your environment, let us know in the comments how you get on xx 

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