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Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children

Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children

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Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children

4/5 (2 évaluations)
512 pages
1 heure
Oct 6, 2014


Use loose parts to spark children's creativity and innovation

Loose parts are natural or synthetic found, bought, or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. Alluring and captivating, they capture children's curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and motivate learning.

The hundreds of inspiring photographs showcase an array of loose parts in real early childhood settings. And the overviews of concepts children can learn when using loose parts provide the foundation for incorporating loose parts into your teaching to enhance play and empower children. The possibilities are truly endless.
Oct 6, 2014

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Loose Parts - Lisa Daly


Part 1

Introduction to Loose Parts

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.

We hope that Loose Parts will awaken your creativity and enhance your ability to develop exciting play opportunities for children. Why so many photographs? They’re meant to stimulate your imagination and increase your joy in finding loose parts for use in play-based learning.

The before and after photos throughout the book demonstrate loose parts in use throughout early childhood education settings (for example, dramatic play, block/construction, art, language and literacy, math, science, outdoors, sensory, music, and movement). Besides providing challenges, pleasures, and learning opportunities for children, loose parts can also awaken your own creativity. You’ll be delighted by finding the perfect loose parts to introduce to children.

As educators, we’ve certainly taken enormous pleasure in unearthing loose parts for our programs. Over the years, we’ve stumbled upon an almost limitless variety of treasures. In the aisles of a hardware store, we’ve found perforated pipes and vinyl gutters perfect for enhancing outdoor play. At a garage sale, we came across a box of old wooden spools that later found a place in our art and block areas. One of our favorite unexpected finds was the set of cow bones we found along a back road. Back at the center, we buried them in the sand of the play yard, where children screamed with excitement while they discovered what they called dinosaur bones.

What’s the source of the joy we experience as we search for these items, think about incorporating our finds into children’s play areas, and imagine what the children will do with them? Perhaps we’re taken back to our own childhood. We’re certain of this: our excitement is contagious, and it’s transmitted to the children. Provisioning your setting with loose parts, even though they are humble, can be momentous.

Safety Notes


PVC pipe is a useful, inexpensive material to add to your inventory of loose parts. Make sure that the children in your care do not inhale the dust produced by cutting the pipe or lick/mouth the pipe itself.


Children under the age of three years are likely to explore your collection of loose parts by putting them in their mouths. Please supervise young children closely to prevent choking.


Loose Parts

We have often marveled at the long hours children can spend playing with simple materials like boxes, rocks, shells, sand, or water. Our observations have led us to question the conventional wisdom of providing children with sophisticated toys. As you’ve probably noted yourself, children are often more interested in the packaging than in the toys themselves.

Children usually prefer play that stimulates their curiosity and gives free rein to their imaginations and creativity. We believe that one of the best ways to enhance their natural curiosity is to introduce a wide variety of materials we call loose parts into their play settings.

What Are Loose Parts?

In early childhood education (ECE) settings, loose parts mean alluring, beautiful found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play (Oxfordshire Play Association, accessed 2014). Children can carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart, and put loose parts back together in almost endless ways. The materials come with no specific set of directions, and they can be used alone or combined with other materials (Hewes 2006). Children can turn them into whatever they desire: a stone can become a character in a story; an acorn can become an ingredient in an imaginary soup. These objects invite conversations and interactions, and they encourage collaboration and cooperation. Put another way, loose parts promote social competence because they support creativity and innovation. All of these are highly valued skills in adult life today.

Loose Parts Are Captivating

Loose parts are magnets to children, who are naturally curious and gravitate toward novel objects like stones, pinecones, and driftwood. For example, Dylan watched irresistible loose parts spiral from the trees in helicopter fashion. He gathered up the brittle, winged maple seeds and watched them swirl downward when he dropped them from the top of a climbing structure. Later that afternoon, he stuck the seeds straight up like candles in his sand cake. Then he proclaimed them senshal (essential) ingredients in dragon brew.

Loose Parts Are Open-Ended

Loose parts possess infinite play possibilities. They offer multiple rather than single outcomes: no specific set of directions accompanies them; no single result is inevitable. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces are meant to be fitted together in a specific way to make a single picture, loose parts can be joined in many ways. A scarf, for example, can become a blanket to swaddle a baby, a platform for a picnic, a fishing pond, a cover for a fort, or a veil covering the face of a bride.

Loose parts can be taken apart and put back together, combined with other materials, morphed into whatever a child imagines. Blocks can become a tower, then taken apart and made into an enclosure. Stones can be added to the enclosure to serve as food for the farm animals in the block pasture. Next, that block can represent a car or a fish in a pond.

Loose Parts Are Mobile

Loose parts can be easily moved by children while they’re playing. For example, Aaron moved driftwood and logs across the play yard to make a fort. Meredith carried acorns from the nature area to the dramatic play area to serve as food for her imaginary puppy.

Origin of Loose Parts

For generations, children have used found materials in their play, from rocks and sticks to tin cans and wire. In his article How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts, the British architect Simon Nicholson coined the term loose parts to describe open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways (1971). Nicholson saw people of every age as potentially creative. Environments, he believed, offer many ways for children to interact with variables such as gravity, sounds, chemical reactions, concepts, words, and people. For Nicholson, the richness of an environment depended on the opportunities it provided for making connections: In any environment, he wrote, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it (30).

Take, for example, a beach: it is filled with loose parts—rocks, shells, beach glass, plants, feathers. When children play in such a setting, they can move around, making use of any or all of the found objects, devising spaces and structures that can entertain them for hours. This is not only fun but also instrumental in helping them develop higher levels of critical thinking and creativity.

When an environment is rich in loose parts, children are likely to discover multiple ways to manipulate them and new ways of thinking or processing the knowledge learned by playing with the materials. Children can use flat tree cookies to serve as a sturdy base for a tall tower, stepping stones to lead them safely across an imaginary river filled with hungry alligators, a steering wheel for their race car, or a lily pad to shelter frogs. They become more creative and flexible in their thinking while satisfying their ever-growing curiosity and love for learning.

The Value of Loose Parts

Children prefer loose parts.

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  • (3/5)
    Plenty of pictures to inspire ideas about how to create a loose-parts environment. Although I had to question the safety of some of the materials they used with their kids such as metal pipes, CDs, and glass stones. I guess you just need to know who your kids are and apportion the types of available materials appropriately.