loose parts play wooden shapes

Loose parts. What are they and what’s all the fuss about?

Loose parts were first talked about back in the 70’s by Simon Nicholson, who believed in the ability to empower creativity.

So, what are loose parts?

Loose parts are items, materials and resources that have no pre-planned use, no defined use. They can be carried, moved, combined, redesigned. They can be natural resources or man-made, they can be deconstructed items (old clocks, scales etc. taken to pieces) or multipurpose items.

loose parts play wooden shapes

At nursery you will see loose parts both inside and outside. In the garden items may include; shells, stones, wooden rings, wooden slices, beads, bottle tops, buttons, lids, tubes, containers, trays, balls, pine cones, pipes, guttering, cable reels, boxes, cotton reels, baskets, tree stumps and stones as well as many more.

My children grew up in the era of Early Learning Centre play plastic pizza. Plastic cake that you could slice. Boxes of pretend food – you get the picture. Well a plastic pizza is a plastic pizza. It’s very hard to pretend it’s anything else and therefore doesn’t foster creativity and has very limited value in the development of new skills and language. I apologise to my three kids!! However they have all evolved into the most wonderful adults and have great creativity and life skills.

nursery school plastic pizza
Plastic Pizza Slices

If however, we have some loose parts – maybe some small wood slices? They can be pizza, they can be plates, they can be planets in the solar system. They can be stacked and counted and they can even be what they are – wooden slices. Vocabulary can be extended and new words and thoughts brought into the moment, whichever one of those or other uses the child decides that wooden slice is.

Children should be able to help themselves to loose parts. The loose parts need to be accessible.

Loose parts play is creative,  in the moment, children’s imaginations are sparked; they explore, children develop their own ideas and begin to explore the world.

Loose parts play helps children develop skills

  • Teamwork, resilience and negotiation
  • They can practice maths (counting – taking away, grouping items into colour and size)
  • Gaining confidence in trying new things

With loose parts play there is no wrong way so it reduces the fear of failure when creating. The children should know they can use the items whenever and however they choose. The possibilities are endless and there is no right way – just their way.  

The adult’s role during loose parts play is to observe, mediate and facilitate, offering support and introducing new language. Communication is especially enhanced during loose parts play, whether with their peers or adults.

Loose parts play can be messy! It generally results in a lot of tiding up and finding loose parts in places you would never have imagined (maybe a cotton reel inside the teapot- it was a teabag).

Parents may struggle with the mess. You may walk into nursery and think WOW there is stuff everywhere – what has happened? To us it’s a great sign of some brilliant creativity and amazing learning.

Static play or adult led play is tidier but nowhere near as much fun or as stimulating, engaging or offering as many developmental opportunities for the children.

So when you next walk into nursery and think: “What a messy room!” Take a step back and realise that some brilliant,creative play, some imaginative and exploratory learning has been happening. With loose parts play the possibilities are endless.

Children love loose parts play. I sometimes take a step back and listen to their chatter with friends as they are lost in the moment of imagination. Creativity, its one of the best parts of my work and makes my ‘Heartsparkle’

Finally, in using loose parts play we are reducing our impact on the planet. Reducing plastic (remember that pizza!) and recycling, reusing and learning. What’s not to love?

Hopefully you will have noticed we are slowly reducing our plastic as part of a wider conscious effort for nursery to become more environmentally aware. More of that another time …

So, if you have any loose parts that we can use please bring them into nursery. The children will be very grateful. Can you think of a toy that has so much variety as loose parts play?

Here at Children’s House Nursery we can’t!