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Loose Parts Play: What's it all about?

What are loose parts?

'Loose parts' is a term used in early childhood education settings to describe inviting and beautiful found objects, such as sticks, shells, leaves, seeds and pebbles. Loose parts can also be man made, out of natural or synthetic materials, such as bottle tops, corks, glass gems, paper cups and fabric pieces. Loose parts are not necessarily small parts. Provided that the materials can be moved and manipulated, and that children can control and change them while they play, then they may be described as loose parts.

What is loose parts play?

Have you ever sat on a beach and mindlessly rearranged shells and pebbles at your feet? This is loose parts play. Children of all ages (and in fact, adults too) are naturally drawn to loose parts play, and will often choose loose parts over modern toys because they are curious and gravitate toward the novel. Loose parts offer infinite play possibilities, as they come with no criteria for success. Children will carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart, and put loose parts back together in endless, creative ways. For example, a lowly wooden block can become a tower, or part of an enclosure, or a car, or a rocket, or a bed, or a stage... whatever the child imagines and creates.

What are the benefits of loose parts play?

"When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of ‘what if’ that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play".

Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015..

There is a growing body of evidence of the benefits of playing with loose parts:

Loose parts play promotes active learning

Loose parts encourage children to actively manipulate their environment, to experiment and to take risks. All important and highly valued skills in adult life.

Loose parts play deepens critical thinking

Loose parts introduce novelty and support cognitively high levels of play. Children are able to investigate, analyse, question and contest beliefs, facts and actions. They are able to challenge assumptions and devise solutions.

Loose parts play promotes creative thinking

Children become critical and creative thinkers, intelligent problem solvers and good communicators when they tinker with loose parts. Skills that children will need to succeed as adults in a workplace that we cannot even begin to imagine.

Loose parts support the curriculum

Loose parts offer many opportunities for open-ended learning. In maths; sorting and classifying, combining and separating, counting, pattern, measure, balance and spatial awareness. In language and literacy; storytelling, developing speech and language through describing their play, making connections, planning and negotiating, all improve memory, vocabulary and literacy. In physical science; through investigation, testing hypotheses, exploring concepts such as gravity, force, weight, distance, magnetism, light, sound etc. etc.

Loose parts are sustainable

Many loose parts can be found for free, in nature, in your recycling box or in your 'junk' drawer, and they encourage you to reuse, repurpose and recycle.

I will be writing another blog post soon about where to source loose parts, but in the meantime, if you can't wait, or don't have the time, then I have a few collections available to purchase in my online shop here...

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