What are loose parts?

What are loose parts?

What are loose parts?

Tiffany Ross is a mother to two beautiful children, and with her Master in Education, she has worked in large child care centers, primary schools and in leadership positions within high schools. Her passion lies with supporting parents, to help build their own toolkit of ideas about learning through play.  Based in Queensland, Australia, she runs her successful online business Inspire-Learn-Teach. Here she shares her thoughts loose parts for children's play.


The term “loose parts” is well … loose and that’s for a reason. Loose parts encompass a wide range of materials that can be moved and manipulated in play. This theory was developed in the 1970s by an architect, Simon Nicholson who described loose parts as all open ended materials that facilitated and encourage creativity and exploration while, Penny Groen describes loose parts as versatile materials that children can turn into anything their imagination allows. What does this mean in your home or learning environment? It means the wooden bowls, cups, pegs and scraps of fabric are all valuable learning materials for play. 


The wider the variety of loose parts the more inventive and creative children can be. This isn’t just a fad either, there is growing evidence for this sort of play and its benefits for children:

  • Children are more physically active
  • Children play more socially and cooperatively, with loose parts facilitating communication and negotiation skills (Maxwell, Mitchell and Evans, 2008)
  • Curriculum outcomes can be meet through loose parts play (Wagland, 2015)
  • Increases child autotomy over their play as children interact with them in ways that are developmentally appropriate for them as an individual (Nature Play SA)
  • Increased the variety of play within the environment, social, constructive, symbolic, dramatic, exploratory (Nature Play SA).

‘Cheap items like crates and buckets encourage children to be more active and creative than expensive play equipment, researchers have found … Introducing simple, everyday objects ... can cut sedentary behaviour by half, improve creativity and boost social and problem-solving skills.’ (Science Daily, 2016)


Inherently open-ended loose parts are materials that are able to be used in a wide range of ways and the biggest limitation is our imagination. As the adult it can be hard to see a spoon as anything other than a spoon, but when we look through the eyes of a child this could be a microphone, a wand, a tree, a pen. For loose parts to be truly open, our job as the adult is to sit back, not interrupt and say yes.

When seeing the world through the child’s eyes, consider how you can place these items within the space, is it in baskets or on a shelf? If you are at home, is it as simple as saying yes when you child asks to raid the cutlery drawer? You don’t need to over think here or try and predict how children may play with the resource, rather place it out and see what magic happens on its own. Throw in random items that don’t seem to go together, add in something you have no idea how you would play with it. Then sit back and watch the magic happen.

For our wide selection of loose parts, head here to check out our wooden, metal and tactile range!

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