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Loose parts

By Guest Blogger Samantha Boyd

Updated 12/08/2022

Loose parts is a term that is becoming more and more popular within education but particularly in Early Years settings and if you are looking to be more environmentally friendly, is a great way to recycle and reuse. So, what are loose parts and what benefit do they have to children’s play and development?

Loose parts are not toys, in fact they are the exact opposite. A toy has one purpose, to be what it was built for. It cannot be anything else. A loose part however, with a little imagination can be absolutely anything.

Simon Nicholson created the theory of loose parts in 1971. He was an architect who believed that all children were creative, and that this creativity should be nurtured and encouraged, rather than suppressed by what adults believed children should be like. So, he tried giving open ended materials that could be used with imagination and become anything the child wanted it to become – they can become parts of construction, pattern forming, used in role play and social play, anything; and he was amazed by the imagination and creativity the children showed. Actively engaged children are resilient learners who can solve problems and think outside the box.

Some examples of loose parts:

Natural: shells, stones, wood chips, pine cones, leaves, feathers, seeds, flowers

Manufactured: buttons, boxes, fabric, ribbons, nuts and bolts, pegs, pipes, guttering, straws.

When using loose parts, children can follow their own agenda, their own learning. Set up invitations to play and see what the children can do. Trust the children to know. You may need to model how to use them. Many children are not sure what to do because they have not needed to use their imaginations in this way as toys and adults have told them what to do with things. So, allow the children to explore these objects.

Ask parents to support you by asking for donations. You will be surprised at how supportive parents are.

Here is an example of some artwork achieved with loose parts.


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