Benefits of loose parts play
There is a growing body of research which is demonstrating a wide range of benefits of Loose Parts Play. Children can use the loose parts to build, explore, create, role-play and apply their learning to their play. The open-ended nature of playing with loose parts allows children to experiment and try out new ways of doing things. There is growing evidence of the many benefits of loose parts play for children which include the opportunity to:
- be creative and imaginative
- practice concentration and focus
- enhance cognitive abilities
- develop fine and gross motor skills
- develop hand-eye coordination
- build vocabulary
- practice and develop language and literacy skills
- develop social and emotional skills
- develop and apply mathematical and scientific thinking
- practice negotiation and communication skills
Hyndman, Benson, Ullah and Telford (2014) found that the benefits of playing with loose parts include the following:
- increased levels of creativity in play
- enhancement of imaginative play
- Increase in children socialising
- children working cooperatively more in play
- increase in children’s physical activity
Loose parts play is self-directed (child-directed) so it is highly motivational (intrinsically motivated) with high levels of engagement. It gives children the chance to act out and process learning. They can practice and perfect skills that they are still learning as well as copy the behaviour of adults. Wells (2000) found that outdoor loose parts play enhanced children’s cognitive abilities. Loose parts bring excitement and adventure to children’s play. It can enable children’s ability to be imaginative and explore solutions (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015). Using loose parts in outdoor spaces have been found to facilitate children’s negotiation skills and increase communication between children (Maxwell, Mitchell and Evans, 2008). It also has been shown to help improve children’s physical coordination (Fjørtoft and Sageie, 2000).
How do children use loose parts?
Children can use loose parts in a wide range of different ways. They may use them to make art, build, engineer, tell a story, role play and more. An example would be children using rocks to represent spices, medicine or money in their play. Other possibilities are stacking them on top of each other to make towers or using them to create a picture or pattern. A stick is also very versatile and can be used as a spoon to stir a pot of soup, as a wand, as a flag pole on a sandcastle, and of course much more. Sticks can be used for a game of pick up sticks, to count, build a fort, make a fishing line, make shapes or to practice writing letters in the mud. A sheet can be a dress, a blanket for a baby, a tent and much, much more.
How can adults help?
Loose parts play is intended to be child-led learning through play. It is great for adults to let children explore on their own and play alongside children to extend their play. If children have used sticks as candles on a ‘birthday cake’, the adult can play along. They could also extend their learning by asking questions like, “How many candles are on your cake?” “Can you show me the numeral?” This is a way to engage in their play while also helping them to practice counting. Adults can also just ask children about what they are doing. For example, “Tell me about what you are doing” or “Tell me about what you are making”. They can also help introduce new vocabulary and support children to act out their stories.
Keep in mind it’s not the adults’ job to tell children how to play. It can be tempting to tell children how to build something and even do it for them. However, children will learn more by trying to do things for themselves, even if it doesn’t work the first, second or even third time. Making mistakes will allow children to test things and figure out what works, what doesn’t and why.
As we have discussed, loose parts and nature-based learning have many potential benefits for children. Using natural found objects is an easy way to enhance children’s learning experiences at home or school. The objects are gathered outdoors by the children and they are free!
For more information on loose parts play, you may want to see my post, What is Loose Parts Play.
Daly, L. and Beloglovsky, M. (2015) Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children. Redleaf Press: St Paul.
Fjørtoft, I. and Sageie, J. (2000). The natural environment as a playground for children: landscape description and analysis of a natural playspace. Landscape and Urban Planning. 48:83-97.
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.
Maxwell, L. E., M. R. Mitchell, and G. W. Evans. 2008. Effects of play equipment and loose parts on preschool children’s outdoor play behavior: An observational study and design intervention. Children, Youth and Environments, 18 (2), 36-63.
Wells, N.M. (2000) At Home with Nature: Effects of ‘Greenness’ on Children’s Cognitive Functioning. Environment and Behavior. Vol. 32, No. 6, 775-795