All You Need To Know About Loose Parts
When my first daughter was a toddler she was forever emptying out the crayons and using them for things other than drawing. Straws for imaginary drinks, spoons for mixing imaginary meals, birthday candles! I was always picking up crayons. And clothes pegs! They were everywhere. Meanwhile, she was hardly interested in the actual toys she had. Instead, she preferred to make ‘collections’. This usually meant filling bags and boxes with various bits and pieces, carrying them around, and using them in whatever game she was playing.
This was when I first began to realise that typical children’s toys were overrated. This was my first introduction to the theory of loose parts, though I didn’t know it had a name at the time.
“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.” -Simon Nicholoson
Even now, my children are still the same. We visit a playground and after 5 minutes they’re done with the equipment and happily playing with sticks and leaves. They want to play with things that can become whatever their imaginations want them to be. They spend most of their time playing with loose parts.
What are loose parts?
Loose parts are pretty much ‘bits and pieces’. They can be anything! They are things children can collect, move around, combine with other materials, create with, carry, make into other things, and more. They are totally open ended and can be natural materials or man-made.
Some of my kid’s favourites are rocks, sticks, Spielgaben pieces, shells, blocks, pom poms, match sticks, beads, glass gems, small mirrors, sequins, crystals, recycled materials, fabric scraps, and marbles.
The Benefits of Loose Parts Play
Loose parts are completely open-ended and there is no right or wrong way to use them, so children never get bored! They are able to invent infinite numbers of games and creations. Loose parts play encourages:
- problem solving
- child-led learning and play
- appreciation of nature
- fine motor development
- dramatic play
- constructive play
- scientific thinking
How else can they be used?
Loose parts are the perfect play material on their own. Often my children will combine a few different things they need for whatever they are playing. They love to use them with containers or bags for sorting. They can also be used with other materials to encourage more play. For example:
Combined with art/craft materials.
On the light table.
With books for inspiration.
Outside using nature’s loose parts. Or take some out with you onto the grass, into the sandpit or water table.
There are loads of ways to use them!
How do you store them?
I love baskets! I store ours on shelves in the playroom in open baskets so the contents can be easily seen. If everything has a place it’s also easier to clean up! The older girls have free access to them.
With little ones around I have the smallest things out of reach. I do try to let them explore with me watching closely though to make sure nothing goes in mouths. I have found that once they have been thoroughly explored the need to upend everything passes quicker. By 18 months they were no longer tipping everything out or putting things in mouths. But still keep a close eye just in case!
Where do you get them?
The best thing is they can be free or pretty cheap! Nature is a great place to collect loose parts: sticks, stones, sand, shells, pinecones, leaves, feathers, pebbles. You can also find bits and pieces cheaply at a craft store. We have also invested in a Spielgaben set which is used for loose parts play a lot here. My kids love it so much it was worth it for us and it is of a quality that will last for all of my children and then is able to be sold when we are done. It is often used for creating elaborate fairy worlds.
I remember wondering what to get for my first daughter for her birthday and thinking she’d be happy with a box full of sticks. I didn’t think that was a good enough present at the time but I would have saved myself some money if I’d realised it was! A few baskets of loose parts provide much more entertainment than something from a toy shop.
Loose parts would have to be my number one toy recommendation! Do you have any yet?
An 11% discount is available from Spielgaben for all Happiness is here readers! All you need to do to claim your discount is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org mentioning Happiness is here and you will be provided with a discount coupon.
Wonderful, informative post! Love loose parts and love to see kids imaginations roam free with them 🙂
Thank you Kate! 🙂
What is that lovely looking book you show for inspiration, please? Great post, thank you!
Hi Jen, it’s this one: http://amzn.to/1cwJBx7 🙂
Great post, thank you. We love loose parts but I have been struggling with them since my 10 month old was born, I just can’t get my three year old to keep small parts out of reach, so far my 10 month old has choked on a shell and some foil.. Any tips?
I just have to supervise carefully. I let my 10 month old explore them but not put them in her mouth. I’ve found if I let them do this enough then the novelty wears off quicker. By 18 months they were no longer trying to eat things or tipping them everywhere lol
Interesting and inspiring post! My daughter love bead-tablets, but I am trying to stay away from plastics so I will take inspiration from your post!
My daughter’s all time favourite toy!! She loves rocks, shells, leaves, flowers and sticks. She much prefers playing in the bush, beach & mud rather than those boring, plastic playgrounds. I don’t blame her either. The cost of spielgaben has always put me off buying it but I’m wondering whether it’s worth getting even though she’s six years old and goes to school. What do you think Sara?
Such a lot of possibilities! my kids love playing with loose parts too, they particularly love our recyclables stash that we hoard for craft projects.
We have boxes of loose parts which our boys love playing with. I love how it inspires creativity.
Can I ask about cleanup? Who is usually responsible and how has that worked for your family? When I have provided small parts, I end up frustrated by the task of re-sorting them into containers constantly. My kids are a lot younger – maybe you were doing things differently at younger ages? Maybe I have too many? Maybe the frustration is my own issue? Would love to hear!
This is my big concern, too!
Yes, it gets messy! They do get better with it as they get older. If everything’s sorted and they can see easily where it goes then they’re more likely to put it back right. Like with Spielgaben for example, everything has a place. My toddler quite enjoys sorting that. But not always!
We have been making snails and ammonites with pebbles and bits of ribbon, blocks and nature in our studio. I thought the value of loose parts was in early childhood, but my nine year old and eleven year old still prefer bits and pieces for play, creation and investigation, to most bought toys or games ( some of the bits and pieces they use are bigger and sharper these days! ). There are so many concepts to explore from a basket of ‘stuff’. Love this post, thank you.
OMG the loose parts make me nuts because I’m organizing challenged! But yes, the kids do amazing things with them!!
My 3 year old ADORES loose parts! She has a box full of little animals she likes to use with them too (she is OBSESSED with dogs). What is your advice for maintaining freedom of loose parts with stopping a baby mouthing them? We try to get the eldest to use them on her table to its a little less accessible.
How does the packing up of all those small loose parts go??
I have a Mr 4 who doesn’t pack up anything ever, a miss 3 who does well and a miss 1 (whom I haven’t let play with many really small loose parts yet).
Amy advice appreciated