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Loose Parts Play (Ideas, Material List & More!)

As a parent, you might have often found yourself musing about how some of the most useful toys that your child has loved playing with, are not toys at all. And that’s actually the idea behind loose parts play. 

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If you’re new to the concept, get this- this is not a new idea. This kind of play has been around for decades and is now being accepted with open arms. But what is loose parts play really all about? Keep reading to find out just that and more! 

What is Loose Parts Play?

Simply put, loose parts play is a term used to define the free and creative use of building materials. This form of play is often also known as open-ended play and has been found to help children practice their creativity, group social skills, and individual problem-solving skills.

Through loose parts play, children get an opportunity to develop their imagination. This happens because it is hard to predict what will happen when different objects get mixed together in a conglomeration. Within loose parts of play, children also get a chance to develop their ability to communicate and interact with others- whether it is their play date or a parent. 

Besides this loose parts, play stimulates teamwork which is an important skill in many professions later on in life.

In educational settings, loose parts play is mostly used in preschools and kindergartens though it is also being used in older ages to support a specific learning topic, for instance, by using 3D loose parts to design a building. 

In preschool and kindergarten, loose parts play helps establish the foundations of many academic subjects such as math and language. Another reason why loose parts play is important in pre-schools and kindergartens is that it supports social development, which becomes increasingly important during these early school years.

What Are the Benefits of Loose Parts Play in Children?

This form of open-ended play has many benefits- it allows children to take the lead and to create their own designs and structures without adult guidance. In general, loose parts play offers three significant benefits- 

  • It stimulates creativity 
  • It supports constructional thinking
  • It enhances spatial awareness. 

Because of these benefits, it can be beneficial for children, particularly those with functional impairments, to incorporate loose parts into play areas in order to promote multi-dimensional play opportunities.

Open-ended or non-traditional toys have been shown to encourage creative problem-solving skills in young children because they are not limited by the toy's intended purpose. Because young children are still learning concepts, open-ended play may offer an avenue for exploration and creativity.

That’s not all- loose parts also offer opportunities for children to practice their constructional thinking skills by offering the tools needed to create designs with physical materials. 

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Recent studies have found that constructive toys could be linked to the development of advanced cognitive skills, including spatial skills. This is because during constructional tasks it is common for children to use multiple types of tools simultaneously and combine different components into more complex structures or systems; this requires a level of cognitively advanced thinking.

Loose parts play is also great for floor time. All children need that open-ended time during the day where they have the opportunity to explore freely without limits- to just be themselves!

Best of all, it is also one of the most affordable forms of play and hardly needs any effort to set up. 

How to Incorporate Loose Parts in Your Child’s Playroom

Loose parts are now a fast-growing trend in early childhood education and child development. They are objects that can be used to inspire creative play, stimulate learning, and foster an environment of collaborative discovery.

They can also be integrated into your child’s playroom effortlessly. Here are a few ideas to help you do it the right way. 

You can set up a little basket filled with age-appropriate loose parts like Pom Pom balls, wooden items like spoons and bowls, large and medium-sized beads, wooden pegs, animal figurines, leaves, feathers, pinecones, and many other items, depending on your child’s age. 

You can place this basket on a low shelf so that it is easily accessible for your child. 

The Ultimate Loose Parts Material List

The best part about loose parts play is that the possibilities are literally endless. To get you inspired, here’s a quick list of some of the most common materials you might find in your house- that qualifies as a loose part. You will, of course, need to focus on them being age-appropriate for your child, and don’t limit yourself here- use as many parts of items as you can! 

  • Small rocks
  • Pieces of wood 
  • Corks
  • Pieces of textile
  • Tiny animal figurines
  • Large beads
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Seeds
  • Empty ice cream tubs
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Rope 
  • Hoops 
  • Plastic pots
  • Plastic bottles
  • Balls of wool
  • Marbles 
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Buttons 
  • Lids 
  • Wooden blocks
  • Dry pasta
  • Empty containers
  • Colander
  • Measuring spoons

How to Use Loose Parts For Directed Learning

The use of unstructured materials is all the rage in early childhood classrooms these days, but it is also important to note that there are different ways to understand what they are being used for. While their primary purpose is to be used for free play, they can also be doubled up as tools for directed learning. 

Loose Parts For Letter Practice

Let your child trace out a single letter on a large sheet of paper, and then place small loose parts on the letter, arranging them such that they form a proper shape. Ttheir simple activity can strengthen your child’s hand muscles and can polish their fine motor skills. 

Take Loose Parts Outside

Loose parts play can also double up as outdoor play! You can get your child outdoors and ask them to do a little scavenger hunt and gather some loose parts in a little basket. 

Then, he could use these parts to create a little art project or design a maze in the backyard or even work on a DIY project of sorts. 

Loose Parts Math 

Loose parts can also make for a wonderful foundation for your child’s early math learning skills. You can get them to write down numbers on empty cardboard boxes, and look for multiple pieces of a single object. Then, your child can add in the objects based on the number on the box. 

Loose Parts Art

This is one activity centered around loose parts that all children will love! Get your little one to create an artwork using the loose parts of their choice. It can be anything that inspires them, or better yet- if you’re focusing on a specific theme or holiday or a particular animal, you could encourage them to create an artwork following that theme. 

Loose Part Sensory Play

One of the best additions you can make to your child’s loose part play experience is to make it a sensory experience. This is of course, more relevant for younger children, but is definitely worth trying out. 

Use sand, clay, kinetic sand, or even just water along with loose parts to make the best of the sensory play experience. 

Loose Part Word Play

Get them to brainstorm and write down words that describe the loose part- it can be the color, the structure, the shape, and even its use. To support your kid’s writing lessons, you could provide a pencil or crayon along with any loose part before asking your child to write whatever they want to.

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Loose Parts Play Ideas For Children

Loose parts can be used in so many creative ways. Here are some fun play ideas for children that are centered around using them. 

Imaginative Play and Storytelling: Encourage your child to use loose parts for imaginative play, also known as open-ended play or free play. Let your child build a new world through their imagination and the loose parts they have access to. This can help them learn about the world around them by exploring what they already know, discovering new things, and thinking through the way their world works.

Manipulation: Encourage your child to manipulate and work with different loose parts and try out different activities such as sorting, stacking, nesting, and threading. Loose parts offer a great environment to work on these fine motor skills. There are many different objects that can help children learn how to pinch, rotate objects and do so much more. 

Creativity: Using loose parts as a creative outlet is also a great idea. Once loose parts have been introduced, they will be readily used up by your child, regardless of their age. This is great because it also offers your child the chance to express themself creatively through the use of loose parts to create structures and formations.

Dramatic Play: Using loose parts can also form a foundation for social interactions between peers. This can be used to encourage children to work together or provide opportunities for children to learn how to take on different roles and interact with others. 

Although there are no wrong ways to use loose parts, there are certain guidelines that should be followed in order to support children’s learning. 

Remind your child, that it is important to follow the rule of think before you touch.  Keep in mind your child’s perspective and explain why certain objects are off-limits or might not be safe for them to use. 

It also makes sense to plan out your child’s loose parts play sessions ahead of time. This can offer you a bit more clarity. Make sure you offer a variety of loose parts to get your child to enjoy unstructured and open-ended playtime. 

How Loose Parts Can Support Your Child’s Curriculum

Loose parts can actually be put to use to support your child’s learning experiences in more ways than one. There is no surprise that it is now being added to a lot of preschool and kindergarten curriculums.

So how do you work your way around that? Here are a few ideas to get started on. 

  • Let your child use loose parts to depict something about themself- a quality, something they like, or just something they enjoy doing. 
  • Playing with blocks is a great way to explore STEM concepts, and you can get your child to do the same with loose parts too. Empty cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, and a lot of other such items can be used as blocks to stack one over the other! 
  • Loose parts can also be used for pretend play- another unstructured and open-ended activity that is a must for growing children! To initiate this, you can create a small box full of appropriate loose parts, and get your child to be- for example- an ice-cream man or a teacher or even a scientist! 
  • You can use loose parts to deepen your child’s understanding of seasons and the weather too! Use the chance you have to get outdoors and help your child collect their choice of loose parts from the space around them (think twigs, rocks, leaves, moss, etc), and write down or narrate everything that they know about them. 
  • Sorting activities can be a lot of fun, and sometimes, it is as simple as collecting a bag full of stones in different sizes and using them as loose parts to categorize them based on their size, shape, or even color. 
  • Loose parts can also be a great way to encourage storytelling. Wooden pegs and animal figures can make it even more fun, and if you have your child’s playdate over, it can really take things up a notch! 

And that’s not all obviously! There’s so much more you can get your child to do with loose parts. 

Introducing loose parts play into your child’s playtime can have a more significant impact on their growth and development than you’d expect.

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