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Loose Parts #1 [What are Loose Parts?]

Updated: Jan 6


Have you been hearing about Loose Parts? What are they anyways? The short answer is: nearly anything can be a loose part! Introducing Loose Parts into your child’s play can seem daunting at first. But inviting your child to engage with loose parts can be a rewarding, relaxing, and inspiring addition to their learning.


So, what are loose parts?

Educators from around the world describe loose parts as something that can be:

1. Moved

2. Manipulated

3. Combined


Seems pretty open-ended, doesn’t it? And that’s the point! Loose parts are inherently open-ended, meaning that the playing child determines how to use it, when to use it, and where to use it. Open-ended and child-driven are the two guiding principles behind loose parts. What does this mean? The purpose of a material is not predetermined and the purpose of play belongs to the child.


Simon Nicholson, who first introduced the term “loose parts”, reminds us that children love to interact with variables. These variables could be:


Materials, shapes, smells, liquids, sounds, motion, people, animals, plants, words, concepts


Based on this description alone, the list of possible loose parts could be quite long! In general, loose parts are everyday materials that can be found in the home, in nature, and in our everyday environments. Here’s a (very) small list of commonly used loose parts:


Pinecones, rocks, yarn, cardboard, CDs, buttons, paper towel rolls …


Pieces like this can be used in an endless number of ways, allowing children to attach their own meanings and uses to them as they play.


Think about discarded pieces of plastic, like lids from milk cartons or the inside of a tape roll. Think about natural materials that are native to your area: like pinecones, leaves, sticks, rocks (more on environmental considerations with loose parts later!).


Loose parts are catalysts for play and learning. They inspire experimentation, questioning, and problem-solving. They foster creativity, imagination, and connection. They nurture language, math and science skills, and social skills like empathy and understanding. The child is the inventor, the experimenter, and the creator, using the materials in ways that speak to them.


They sound pretty magical, right?!


Remember: If we as the adult have a predetermined idea about how our child should be playing with something, then it is not a loose part. Take some time to really think about the materials you are offering and whether you can gift your child the opportunity to use them how they want.


Stay tuned to learn how to introduce loose parts to your child’s play at home!


*Download our FREE Collecting Loose Parts Guide to start collecting at home today!

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