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Curious About Loose Parts Play?

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Do you keep hearing about loose parts play and wondering what on earth it is? Are you curious as to why people are giving their children baskets of 'junk'? Want to find out the method behind the madness? Learn more with this short inspiring read...

The Benefits of Loose Parts Play

Loose parts (or tinker trays) are ideal for developing children's creativity in the early years (EYFS). Essentially, they are just that - 'loose parts' - a collection of resources or materials with varied properties that can be used in many different ways. The idea of loose parts was introduced by Simon Nicholson in the 1970s. He presented his idea in an article, 'The Theory of Loose Parts, An important principle for design methodology.'

Loose parts allow children's imaginations to run wild, with endless opportunities for open-ended play! Instead of giving a child a toy doll or car, which can be used in a limited number of ways, loose parts are open ended. A cardboard box can be a shelter, a car, a boat and more! Ideally, the child will lead the activity whilst you are on hand to help them to develop their problem solving, counting, fine motor skills and more. Let them explore their own ideas at home, in your setting or outdoors. When children are left to explore, a collection of loose parts might become a face, a dinosaur or a tractor!

natural loose parts

Loose Parts Resources and Materials

To begin with, look around your home or setting, outdoors, in charity shops, online market places, craft shops, home improvement stores and at scrap centres for items which you think might be useful for your collection. Small items can be used anywhere at any time! Large items are ideal resources for large scale tinkering. They may be better used outdoors, or you could set up a corner of your home or setting as a 'deconstructed role play area', where only open-ended loose parts are provided. Here's a useful list of resources which you can gather together. If you are an early years educator, you can ask parents to help you with this task! Feel free to add any more resources that you can think of in the comments section below.

Small Items

Leaves, twigs, pine cones, conkers, corks, peg dolls, wooden dolly pegs, feathers, shells, flowers, cardboard tubes, wooden curtain rings, cork tiles, natural loofah, buttons, bamboo products, brushes, wooden balls, keys, metal measuring cups, spoons, locks, napkin rings, bangles, paint sample cards, colourful gems, hair curlers, foam shapes, scarves, felt, ribbons, lolly pop sticks, make up brushes, sponges, empty picture frames, plastic tubs, empty jars, funnels, sieves, colanders, tweezers, chopsticks, golf tees, etc.

Large Items

Plastic guttering, tyres, buckets, pallets, planks, poles, tubing, plastic crates, logs, cardboard boxes, balls, bricks, etc.

colourful loose parts

When you have gathered together your collection, you'll need something to store it in - a box or a lidded tray with compartments is ideal. This will help to keep the items at their best and protect them from the elements if outside. Now everything is ready for your little explorer!

autumn loose parts

Next Steps with Loose Parts Play

Over time, you should try to add to your loose parts set. You will start to notice treasures everywhere! Adding to your collection will help to stimulate and engage children in their play and hold their interest.

You might want to create themed boxes, which can be rotated throughout the year:

  • Seasonal

  • Colour/Black and White

  • Floating and Sinking

  • Sound

  • Celebrations

  • Light

  • Construction

  • Art and Design

  • Storytelling

  • Small World

  • Maths

  • Playdough

Visit my Etsy shop to buy this beautiful loose parts set!

Remember to take care when introducing loose parts to little ones. Some smaller items are unsuitable for children under 36 months or older children who put things in their mouths). Adult supervision is always recommended.

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