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.