Have you ever heard yourself say any of the following?
- My classroom isn't equipped with enough play materials.
- What will I buy with this tiny budget?
- The children don't know how to play!
- There is no way the children will remain focused on free play for 45 minutes!
- The children don't seem engaged when they play.
- There is nothing for the children to do outside.
What are Loose Parts and what are the Benefits of Loose Parts Play?
Loose parts are materials found or collected (from stores, recycling bins, or gathered from nature) that spark imagination, creativity, experimentation, inquiry, and discovery, as the children use the materials to fit their purpose while they explore, investigate, manipulate, and invent their play. The open-ended items can be used over and over again in different ways for different play purposes. Loose parts provide sensory stimulation, as well as promote social interaction and problem solving.
Small loose parts include, but are not limited to, buttons, pompoms, beads, corks, stones, twigs, feathers, small blocks, popsicle sticks, clothespins, pipecleaners, modelling materials like clay. Play with small loose parts can take place indoors or out. Organized storage is essential and presenting the materials in attractive containers and in an inviting display can help pique interest.
Large loose parts are usually collected for outdoor play. Examples include tree stumps, boulders, branches, wooden planks, plastic tubing, old tires, tarp or cloth sheets, skipping ropes, etc. With large loose parts play, opportunites abound for gross motor development and risk-taking.
Physical and Motor Development:
Explores his/her sensory perceptions (handles various materials; agrees to touch a variety of textures; assembles, aligns, stacks, piles up and fits together objects during play)
Uses his/her gross motor skills (moves around in various ways; finds a balance point; slides, jumps, climbs, hops; adapts his/her movements to a task)
Uses his/her fine motor skills (manipulates various modelling materials; performs actions such as stringing beads, making towers; handles small objects)
Explores the concepts of space and time (moves around while avoiding obstacles; moves around to have more space)
Explores different ways of moving (spontaneously uses material designed for active play; repeats a newly learned action so as to consolidate it)
Learns about safety factors in his/her environment (moves around in the school and the classroom; pays attention to things that may be dangerous)
Regulates his/her emotions (is increasingly capable of dealing with failure or frustration; is able to wait a certain amount of time before having a need or want addressed)
Engages in positive experiences (is motivated to take up new challenges; selects an activity, game or project according to his/her interests; completes a game, activity or project)
Explores autonomy (selects activities that most appeal to him/her; tries or suggests new activities willingly; tries new ways of using materials)
Reacts with pride (shows things he/she has done, with a smile; draws appropriate attention to his/her achievements; describes ways in which he/she has succeeded)
Participates in group activities (plays with other children; participates in group activities; agrees to lend or share materials and toys; suggests games to play)
Makes contact with others (looks around, sees what is happening, turns toward someone; asks questions to another child)
Regulates his/her behaviour (can wait for an adult's help; verbally expresses his/her discontent, lack of understanding, joy; shows flexibility when undergoing transitions)
Interacts verbally and non-verbally (shows, through his/her actions, an interest in and openess to communication; expresses himself/herself with the other children during play)
Expresses himself/herself orally in different ways (produces statements spontaneously during play)
Uses his/her reasoning skills (watches carefully how another child does something before taking action himself/herself; looks for what he/she needs to carry out an activity or a small project; asks questions; explains in his/her own words why something happened)
Draws upon his/her capacity for attention and memory (follows a series of steps in order to accomplish a task; pays attention to an object or event and can ignore distrations)
Uses his/her imagination (creates characters and imaginary situations in his/her symbolic play; re-imagines an ordinary object as something different from what it normally is; makes something based on his/her original idea; proposes a solution to a problem)
Explores his/her environment by engaging in activities related to arts, science, technology, history and geography (recognizes the elements of his/her immediate environment; shows interest in new materials and activities; manipulates a variety of objects, materials, instruments, etc.; explores various techniques; builds something based on an idea; tries to find a solution to a problem)
Explores numerical and spatial skills ( manipulates various objects to group, count, classify, compare, organize, etc.; makes a construction with different objects; creates regular patterns and sequences)
Solves mathematical problems adapted to his/her level of development (tries to find a solution to a problem; proceeds by trial and error)
Using open-ended questions can challenge children and redirect their interest in Loose Parts
Sometimes we can push a child's thinking further by prompting them with a comment or question. When we first introduce loose parts, we want the children to freely explore them at their will, in the way they choose. It is a good time to observe how they use and interact with the materials. Eventually, we can add a component by asking an open-ended question which will focus their play and will usually target a subject skill or area of development. This kind of prompt is often called a provocation.
For example, notice when the glass beads were presented with a mirror work surface, the children initially made art creations and designs (left photo), but when prompted a few days later with the same materials and the question, "Can you make patterns?", the play turned to the mathematical skill of pattern making (right photo). Of course, even with a question presented, the children are still be encouraged to use the materials as they choose.
Here are a few interpretations of the question, "Can you make a structure that can hold a toy car?" Materials presented: popsicle sticks, clothespins, and small wooden cubes.
Daly, L. & Beloglovsky, M. (2015) Loose Parts: Inspiring play in young children. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Fairy Dust Teaching Blog Suggested ideas for finding, using, and storing Loose parts from an early childhood team that focuses on wonder-based learning in a Reggio inspired approach.
Bilton, H. (2014). Playing Outside: Activities, ideas and inspiration for the early years, Second edition. New York, NY: Routledge.
Playtime Revolution from Learning through Landscapes. This resource provides videos that illustrate the importance of playing outdoors, the role of adults and risk in play, and suggestions of materials for outdoor play.
The Ministère de l'Éducation et l'Enseignement Supérieur (MEES) is not responsible for the content of web sites that are external to this web site. Linking to a web site does not constitute endorsement of the sponsors or information presented there by MEES or KinderResourceGarden.