What are loose parts?
Loose parts is another word for open ended, multi-functional objects that can be adapted for play in many different ways. In other words, loose parts are “junk” that we usually wouldn’t class as a traditional toy. They are items or objects that can represent whatever the child wishes them to represent. They can be put together, taken apart, mixed, stacked or bent in any way the child sees fit. Sometimes they can be objects from the recycling bin such as kitchen roll tubes, boxes or empty yogurt pots. Other examples are scarves, pieces of rug or carpet, pipes and storage crates. Many loose parts come from nature such as pine cones, rocks, pebbles, shells and sticks or logs.
Benefits of Loose Parts
In many cases, children’s toys can only serve one purpose. A fire truck can only be a fire truck. A princess castle can only be a princess castle. Toys like these can limit the child’s imagination in how to play with these toys. When we take a cardboard box, for example, this can be transformed into anything within the child’s imagination and grow with the child as they learn and grasp new ideas and concepts. One day this box can be a pirate ship sailing on the ocean, the next it can be a shop selling their favourite treats, another day it can be used to transport their favourite teddies.
When you incorporate more loose parts, problem solving and logical thinking skills are put to work as well as independence, freedom and genuine and authentic play. Loose parts can also be a fantastic sensory experience, bringing in sounds and elements from nature, different textures from the recycling bin and teaching children that objects can have many more than just one predetermined use and function.
One of the major benefits of Loose Parts is the cost. Most of the time, Loose Parts are completely free! Charity shops, junk shops, recycling centres and your own recycling bin are great sources for Loose Parts. Have an open mind and involve your child in selecting some new Loose Parts for the play area. Children love to have a say in their play and will benefit more when they have chosen the items themselves.
Even babies can benefit greatly from loose parts! Avoiding obvious choking hazards, and things you wouldn’t want your baby to chew on, you can still incorporate loose parts into your playtime! Scooping, pouring and touching rice or sand is an experience that will engage your baby as they discover how they can manipulate the rice to produce different outcomes. It is important to always be watchful over babies and young toddlers who still like to put things in their mouth.
How to begin to integrate Loose Parts into your play area
One of the general rules I follow when collecting loose parts is “do I mind if this gets broken, changed or used in a way it is not intended for?” if the answer is no then it makes a perfect loose part!
Start small, don’t move out any of their old toys just yet but rather provide a basket or two of simple loose parts like rocks, sticks or a water tray (yes, water is a loose part!) Stand back and observe your child use the loose parts in their play. Don’t worry if there is no interest in them yet, it can take some time for kids to process and explore so leave them for a few days or even weeks and see what your child can come up with! Loose Parts isn’t an activity or a part of your daily schedule, it is a state of mind for you and your child. As your child grows you can incorporate more loose parts while slowly moving away from traditional toys.
As parents we must stand back and observe the amazing things our children can do with their hands and their minds, you will truly be blown away by the things they can accomplish and the ideas they can come up with! It is important that we allow our children the trust and freedom to explore and create with minimal interruption from adults so they can become free-thinking problem solvers.
Some of our favourite Loose Parts to get you started:
Water, sand, mud and play dough. Wooden or plastic crates/boxes Plastic piping and funnels Wrapping paper, kitchen roll or toilet paper tubes Curtain rings Carpet or rug pieces or fake grass Rocks, stones, pebbles or shells Wooden (or plastic!) figures, animals, cars and objects are great loose parts for small world imaginative play.
Loose parts will feature at our messy play and music and movement workshops! There are just so many ways to use them and they provide so many wonderful open ended opportunities!
Do you use loose parts in play? Let me know in the comments!