Play is crucial for learning and essential to our children’s well-being, but play doesn’t just mean a living room full of plastic battery operated toys. Toys should be simple and minimal in order to allow a child’s authentic play style to unfold.
Open ended toys promote problem solving, encourage movement, and develop a sense of wonder. We want children to entertain themselves, not have a toy entertain them. So what kind of material teaches a child how to do all that? The answer is loose parts.
The idea of loose parts was created by architect Simon Nicholson. He said “All children love to interact with variables such as materials and shapes; smells and other physical phenomena. Children love to play, experiment, discover, invent and have fun.”
Loose parts are found or recycled. They are tactile, natural objects and materials. These interesting and diverse objects offer freedom and allow play to adapt each time the materials are used. They also growth with the child, at each age the materials will be used differently. They have no specific set of directions and are incredibly versatile. They are flexible to be used alone or combined with other materials. They can be used as visual representations for children’s imaginations. A wooden stump suddenly becomes a throne for a king, a play silk becomes a royal robe and a branch becomes a sceptre.
Loose parts can be:
- Put into patterns
- Carried around
- Lined up
- Taken apart
- Put back together
The possibilities are endless
Here are 10 things loose parts help your child achieve:
- With no defined purpose they empower the child’s creativity. Discovery and imagination are able to run free with the endless opportunities that loose parts offer.
- They are a way to bring the outdoors in. Nature inside your home is a good way to inspire children to reconnect with our beautiful Earth. Nature indoors brings a sense of calm serenity to play.
- Loose parts are eco-friendly, sustainable materials. By reusing materials that would have been thrown away we can teach our children about upcycling along with incorporating and embedding a recycling program in your home.
- They develop mathematical thinking. While the child uses the materials for sorting, patterning, counting, measuring and exploring shapes, they are beginning and expanding their math skills.
- They develop fine motor skills along with hand eye coordination while grasping, pinching, squeezing, tearing, cutting and stacking the various sized objects.
- They develop gross motor skills while going on nature hunts searching for objects. When the child is moving and building they are using those large muscles to lift, pull, push and carry.
- Engineering skill and experience grows while the objects are being combined or taken apart, stacked or threaded.
- Loose parts are an opportunity for language and vocabulary as the child learns the names of new and exciting objects that you find together.
- Social-emotional skills develop as you work together with the child to collect materials and build your creations as a team.
- Concentration, problem solving, abstract thinking and exploration of trial and error are all required when designing with loose parts. These are all excellent ways to enhance a child’s cognitive skills and help them become divergent thinkers.
Part of our unplugged play initiative is going on nature treasure hunts and searching for loose parts.
Here are some ideas of loose parts you can search for:
Open the door to the many wondrous learning opportunities that loose parts offer. “The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.” - Loris Malaguzzi
Check out Pt. 2 of Everything You Need to Know About Loose Parts where you can learn about a setting up an invitation to explore along with open ended prompts that encourage self directed play.