- Loose parts are open-ended materials without specific play purposes, which promote children’s imagination and exploration.
- Examples of loose parts materials include leaves, pinecones, stones, bottle caps, cardboard tubes, fabric scraps, and more.
- Loose parts play fosters creativity and supports the development of motor, social-emotional, and cognitive skills.
Loose parts are open-ended materials that hold no specific instructions or designated use in play. They are items that children can move, manipulate, and combine in countless ways, encouraging imaginative play and exploration.
I’ve already shared a comprehensive list of loose parts materials (check out that post for a FREE PDF download). But now, let’s explore the meaning and benefits behind loose parts.
What are Loose Parts?
So, what is the meaning of loose parts?
Loose parts are everyday items that children can use in countless ways. Unlike regular toys, they have no rules or fixed purposes, encouraging imaginative play.
Simon Nicholson identified and named the concept of loose parts in child development theory in the 1970s. But, children have always been engaging in loose parts play. It’s instinctual.
What Does Loose Parts Play Look Like?
During loose parts play, children investigate, experiment, and construct with various materials. They are exploring the characteristics of materials, including size, texture, weight, and sounds, which lead to sorting and classifying.
It can also look like a child observing other children playing with loose parts. While watching, children can find inspiration or curiosity for their own loose parts play.
Let’s explore what loose parts play looks like in different classroom centers.
Children construct structures with wooden blocks and cardboard tubes.
Nature objects are my favorite type of loose part. Children can use nature objects in block play, the art center, and the dramatic play center.
Funnels, measuring cups, tubes, and seashells are loose parts that can expand sensory play.
Loose parts can also be the foundation of a sensory table in the form of paper, stones, ribbons, and more.
Children can use loose parts (flyswatters, sticks, feathers) as innovative paint brushes. They can also use loose parts as 3D canvases or to design sculptures. Children can include loose parts in collages, bringing depth and texture to creations.
Example of Loose Parts Play
In ten years as an educator and developmental therapist, I’ve witnessed many moments of wonder during loose parts play. I’ll share three real-life examples of loose parts play for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Real Life Examples
- During my early childhood practicum, I observed babies exploring a metallic treasure basket of loose parts like bangle bracelets, jar lids, silver ribbons, and cookie cutters. The infants clapped the objects to explore sounds and investigated which objects they could wear on their wrists.
- At a home visit, I worked with a toddler to turn a box of sidewalk chalk into a rainbow road for his monster trucks. The idea was born out of his love of cars. Honestly, it was a way better activity than I had planned.
- In a preschool classroom, children brought a basket of scarves (used for scarf dancing) to the dramatic play center. They repurposed the scarves into headwraps, aprons, dresses, skirts, belts, and baby swaddles.
The Benefits of Loose Parts Play
You may be wondering, what is the purpose of loose parts play?
Loose parts play provides valuable support for children during each stage of play development, from the early stages of exploration and sensorimotor play to the later stages of constructive play and imaginative play.
Unlike screen-based or electronic toys, loose parts play provides a hands-on, open-ended learning experience. But loose parts play can still help children learn about technology, along with science, engineering, and math.
Children can use materials like magnifying glasses, gears, and connectors to conduct experiments, build structures, and design patterns. As children count, sort, measure, and construct, they build critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Ready to unlock the secrets of play? Explore my ultimate Types of Play post – your guide for fostering holistic child development through diverse play experiences!
Like heuristic play, loose parts play can be used to celebrate the culture and community of children in a classroom. Children can learn about their community and identities through curated collections of loose parts such as textiles, cooking and eating utensils, tiles, ornaments, game pieces, and more.
For guidance on creating a culturally-sensitive loose parts collection, check out Loose Parts 3: Inspiring Culturally Sustainable Environments by Lisa Daly & Miriam Beloglovsky.
Inclusivity and Loose Parts Play
Loose parts play offers an inclusive experience for children of all abilities. By nature, loose parts are adaptable to match each child’s interests, developmental level, and abilities. Loose parts also act as an activity to bring children together, fostering empathy and social connection.
Choking Hazard & Safety Tips
Loose parts are also great for babies and toddlers, but be mindful of choking hazards. If objects can easily pass through a toilet paper tube, they are a choking risk.
Check materials for wear and tear, ensuring they’re safe to use.
Loose Parts on a Budget
Don’t worry about the costs! Loose parts play is budget-friendly.
- NATURE TREASURES
- Take children on nature hunts for leaves, pinecones, and stones.
- RECYCLED GEMS
- Reuse bottle caps, cardboard tubes, and fabric scraps from everyday items.
- GIFTED & LENDED LOOSE PARTS
- Use the childcare center bulletin board, parent newsletters, or social media to request loose parts.
- Share an online wishlist.
- Create a loose parts library at your childcare center.
Loose parts play unlocks children’s imagination and exploration. Introducing these materials to your child’s play promotes a lifelong love for learning. It offers a cost-effective and engaging way to support your child’s development.
If you’re ready to add loose parts to your home or classroom, please check out The Ultimate Loose Parts Play Material List for Kids! Find tips and strategies to make loose parts play successful and download a free PDF.