What is it? Loose Parts Play…
What is loose parts play? Loose parts play is open-ended play where children can create and explore with a range of different objects and parts. They provide a rich learning environment which gives children resources to explore and to create with in countless ways. Loose parts play isn’t prescriptive, but rather open-ended. Instead of an adult-directed activity, it is self-directed (child-directed) and allows children to explore and create for themselves. For example, a child can use a stick for any of these creative purposes: as a spoon in their play kitchen, a sword for a fight, to tidy up, as a magic wand, ‘candles’ in a ‘cake’, to bang pots, float it in water, or perhaps it can be broken into pieces, made into a pile, and much more.
Using loose parts has become a popular tool for teaching young children. It is partially inspired by the Reggio Emilia teachings that focuses on child-centred and experiential learning. It is also inspired by Simon Nicholson (1972) who discussed how children use objects that are lying around to explore, create, play and make things. He called this the ‘Theory of Loose Parts’. He based the need for interactive environments for children on research which demonstrates that children learn best in “laboratory-type environments where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves,” (Nicholson, 1972, p.8).
During loose parts play, children can use objects in open-ended ways, giving them autonomy in the way they explore, play, and learn. Loose parts play can involve a wide range of objects for children to use in self-directed ways. This means that children choose how they use objects to create, experiment, construct, invent, manipulate, interact, discover and explore. It is also an opportunity for them to role-play and practice skills experiences from their lives.
What is loose parts play- Examples
Loose parts are objects that children can select and then use around them in open-ended play. This could be at home, in school or out in nature. The natural world provides wonderful opportunities for loose parts play. Found objects in nature are fantastic to use. The best part is that they are free! These are things that teachers, parents and children can gather outside for themselves. They can include but are not limited to, sticks, rocks, nuts, flowers, leaves, wood slices and wood chips, dried seeds, dried pods, pinecones, shells, dirt, sand, logs, feathers and anise stars.
Loose parts can include objects found inside. They can be many different things such as blocks, dominos, bottle tops, marbles, pipes, dried beans, flat glass beads, or washers. They could also include cups, pipe cleaners, beads, buttons, corks, pasta, scrabble letters, baskets, and more. There are endless possibilities. You may even enhance loose parts such as rocks by marking them with numbers or letters. Provide some objects and then give the children freedom and agency in their play.
Examples in everday play
As an example, on a short walk today, my boys found sticks that they used for drawing in the dirt, to sweep like a broom and for tapping a rhythm. They used pebbles as ‘biscuits’ (and also enjoyed feeling and throwing them). My kids also found and picked flowers which they made into a small bouquet and subsequently used to mash and make potions. They saw some raised patches on the path which they used as a ‘ferry boat’ to launch themselves.
As you can see, there is a huge range of things that can be used for loose parts and created with them. There are many benefits for children. If you would find out more, see my post Benefits of Loose Parts Play.
Hyndman, B., Benson, A., Ullah, S. & Telford, A. (2014). Evaluating the effects of the Lunchtime Enjoyment Activity and Play (LEAP) school playground intervention on children’s quality of life, enjoyment and participation in physical activity. BMC Public Health, 2014; 14 (1): 164.
Nicholson, S. (1972). The theory of loose parts, an important principle for design methodology. Stud. Des. Educ. Craft Technol. 4, 5–14.