Hey Educator, What’s This Loose Parts Play You Keep Talking About? A Parent’s Guide to the Benefits of Loose Parts Play

Since the screen-obsessed child began to dominate much of western culture many parents have been struggling with how to foster the creative play they once experienced as children in the forest playing with sticks. In Kindergarten classrooms across Ontario, Canada, educators have begun connecting children with nature by bringing natural materials into the classroom for loose parts play. Now parents are asking, “Hey educator, what’s this loose parts play you keep talking about?”.

An architect by the name of Simon Nicholson developed the Theory of Loose Parts in the 1970’s. He believed that all children are creative and innovative and that this creativity and innovation should be nurtured in all. Loose parts are any kind of material (natural or synthetic) that can be moved, rotated, stacked, sorted, combined, taken apart and re-assembled in endless ways.

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

Simon Nicholson – The Theory of Loose Parts, 1971

Read more of Nicholson’s research: http://ojs.lboro.ac.uk/ojs/index.php/SDEC/article/view/1204/1171

Examples of Loose Parts

  • Rocks
  • Sticks
  • Buttons
  • Gems
  • Shells
  • Straws
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Keys
  • Bathroom and kitchen tiles
  • Wire
  • Shower rings
  • Milk tabs
  • Plastic Lids
  • Artificial or real leaves and flowers
  • Tires
  • Tree blocks
  • Tree cookies
  • Tin cans

The benefits of Loose Parts Play

  • Provide opportunities for children to explore their own creativity and innovation
  • Encourages children to design, plan, and build
  • Children can use materials in multiple ways
  • Children can use materials in open-ended ways without a prescribed plan
  • Promotes problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Encourages other children to extend creations
  • Encourages children to be critical and reflective thinkers
  • Encourages independent and collaborative learning
  • Fosters a growth mindset
  • Allows children opportunity to represent their learning in a variety of ways
  • Encourages children to persevere and take risks
  • Develops fine-motor control
  • Develops spatial reasoning and visualization
  • Provides opportunities for rich literacy learning (connecting to texts, building words, identifying letters, etc)
  • Provides opportunities for rich mathematical learning (counting, cardinality, sorting, patterning, etc)

In our classroom and outdoor learning environment we like to incorporate loose parts in a variety of centres like building, small-world, sensory, art, light table, magnet table, makerspace, mud kitchen, literacy, and math. Why limit loose parts to just one centre?

img_9521Loose parts in art.

woodland-forest-small-world-playLoose parts in sensory.
loose parts tableLoose parts in building.
IMG_7509Loose parts in literacy.

IMG_7502Loose parts in outdoor learning.

IMG_2031Loose parts in inquiry (nest building).

What loose parts materials have you introduced in your early years environment or home?

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