6 Advantages of Loose Parts Play

Posted on Feb 6, 2016

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6 Advantages of Loose Parts Play - FB post | Loose Parts Play What Is It? Why is it important? See list of loose parts and 6 advantages. You'll want to engage in loose parts play after reading this!


Loose Parts Play, What Is It?


Apparently loose parts play was a term coined decades ago. Most if not all of us have engaged in it at one time or another. It is a theory of play in which moveable, unattached materials are used in active play. An architect by the name of Simon Nicholson proposed the term back in the 1970’s. He strongly believed that “loose parts” within our environment form connections and discovering those connections fuels creativity. It aids in brain development and utilizes the factors now referred to as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). And it helps children with gross motor development which in turn tends to lend more success to physical activity and sports.


He was quoted as saying in How Not To Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts, Landscape Architecture, 1971.


Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires [sic], bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junkyard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don’t try and direct the kids in their play, just let them get on with it.



Loose Parts, Where To Find Them?


The criteria for loose parts is pretty loose in itself. Think moveable, unstructured materials. When I say unstructured, I mean as opposed to store bought toys. These materials may be bought but not structured or assembled for the purpose of a defined play-time and with no specific set of directions.


You want the child to be able to use the parts as they see fit, either individually, in combination with other parts, designed, assembled, and rearranged in multiple configurations. 


Think natural objects from nature or synthetic materials such as recycled items or odds and ends out of a craft bin.


Below is a visual list of materials that are excellent for use in loose play along with a description at the bottom of the visual aid. This, of course, does not represent all materials that can be used as loose parts play; think of the endless possibilities of materials such as water, wrapping paper, straws, boxes, paper towel rolls, blankets, pool noodles…the list goes on!



Loose Play visual aid 1

From Left to Right: rope, driftwood, nuts, basket, textured balls, bamboo, tire, marbles, leaves


Loose Parts Visual Aid 2

From Left to Right: jute, shells & sand, acorns, pallets, wood log, ball of yarn, bucket, feather, pine cone


Loose Parts, What Are The Advantages?


There are many advantages to loose parts play.  For the most part, loose parts play dictated my entire childhood, and I credit my ability to think outside the box to that fact. The beauty in using loose parts over traditional toys is that the intent is left up to each child, providing greater flexibility, and minimizing disagreements over toys.


There are documented advantages to loose play; I’ve listed 6:


  1. Encourages children to think of cause and effect

  2. Encourages children to create and invent and explore

  3. Encourages children to explore possibilities

  4. Encourages children to problem solve

  5. Encourages children to engage in more complex play

  6. Encourages children to develop motor skill competence


Choking Hazard Cautions


Babies and children under three years of age are especially vulnerable to the dangers of choking.  Any object used in loose parts play with these children should be at least 1 1/4 inch in diameter and between 1 and 2 1/4 inches in length.  Oval shaped objects should be at least 1 3/4 inches in diameter. 


And of course, there are other hidden dangers in certain materials that should not be accessible to children under three. These same materials should be used only in adult supervision in children over three.  These materials include but are not limited to:

  • buttons

  • batteries of any size or shape

  • magnets

  • plastic bags

  • styrofoam objects

  • coins

  • balloons

  • latex gloves

  • glitter


6 Advantages of Loose Parts Play | Loose Parts Play What Is It? Why is it important? See list of loose parts and 6 advantages. You'll want to engage in loose parts play after reading this!



P.S.  Do Your Kids Like Loose Parts Play?


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