Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in a range of ways. They are items with no instructions or directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials.
A few examples of loose parts are listed below:
For further loose parts ideas and inspiration, see Michelle Thornhill’s ‘Loose Parts and Intelligent Playthings Categorized By Schema’
The theory of loose parts was proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970’s who believed that it is the ‘loose parts’ in our environment that will empower our creativity.
“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” – Simon Nicholson
- Natural loose parts can be collected from your backyard or a short stroll in Australian bushland, why not take the opportunity to connect with nature as you collect twigs, leaves, bark, rocks, feathers, or seedpods.
- Loose parts naturally found in the environment have minimal to no harm on the environment.
- Items found in the natural environment invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, exploration, discovery, and connection with nature.
- Natural resources provide a sensory benefit to children’s learning. Different sizes, colours, smells and even sounds when tapped or scrunched.
- They provide tactile stimulation enabling children to explore the different textures and increase their fine motor strength and control.
- Natural elements can assist children in developing numeracy skills, these resources can be used to make patterns and shapes, they can be sorted by size and weight, categorised by similarities and differences, and used for counting.
Engagement with and collection of natural loose parts enable children to connect with and learn from nature. “Experiences in nature are positively associated with stronger pro-environmentalism, such as emotional affinity toward nature (Kals et al., 1999), willingness to conserve biodiversity (Soga et al., 2016), willingness to pay for the conservation of urban green spaces (Lo and Jim, 2010), and pro-environmental behaviours (Evans et al., 2018). Overall, researchers have found a positive link between environmental attitudes and environmental behaviours (Bamberg and Möser, 2007).” – Frontiers in Psychology
Loose parts promote children’s sense of agency, it enables them to strengthen their independence and sense of self as they learn and explore. Children can turn loose parts into whatever they desire, loose parts provide limitless opportunities compared to ‘toys’ such as cars and dolls, which are some of children’s favourite play items, but have one predictable use or outcome.
When providing loose parts in the early learning environment they inspire children’s creativity, boosts imagination, critical thinking skills and curiosity. Teachers should enable children to integrate play materials and areas, this provides children with quality open-ended learning which has emerged from their own ideas.
Having resources sufficient in number provides opportunities for collaboration, learning from others and further develops children’s social skills.
Things to remember when implementing ‘Loose parts’ theory in the classroom
- Children need to be able to direct and resource their own learning.
- Loose parts should be stored where children are able to access them independently.
- Replenish, added to or change loose parts regularly.
- Loose parts should always be available, allowing children to extend on previous experiences.
- Educators provide no direction when providing loose parts.
- Educators support children if they decide to move or change the use of loose parts.
The best learning and play are experienced when one is working from their own ideas and interests, effective stimuli and engagement is achieved when children choose and influence their own learning pathways.