As early childhood educators and parents, we are always looking for ways to stimulate and engage our toddlers in age-appropriate and active learning. Loose parts play is a wonderful ideology that allows toddlers and children of all ages to experience open-ended materials in a variety of ways, while promoting many learning experiences.

The theory of loose parts was originally developed by architect and artist, Simon Nicholson in 1972. The idea of loose parts is based on the ability to move, design, redesign and create using a variety of objects, allowing for greater creative experiences.

Nicholson believed the use of loose parts was strongly linked to creativity and critical thinking for later on in life. The concept has become widely popular in educational settings around the world. Loose parts can be described as any open-ended material, ranging from large objects (plastic stacking cups, blocks) for younger toddlers, to smaller objects (pompoms and beads) as they grow older. Examples of loose parts can be synthetic materials: boxes, pipes, logs, buckets, blocks, bottle tops, beads or buttons or natural materials: leaves, rocks, sticks, seeds.

 The benefits for loose parts play are endless and plays an important role in our toddlers learning and development.
Loose parts:

  1. Are moveable and allow children to have ownership over their play experience.
  2. They are open-ended and can be used in endless ways, sparking creativity.
  3. Are great for sensory purposes, learning about textures, patterns, weight, and shapes.
  4. Encourage imagination and creativity.
  5. Develop skills such as problem- solving, sharing, language and fine and gross motor skills.

Loose parts play is so versatile that, as parents, it encourages us to use everyday household, or natural items, to allow our children at any age the opportunity to engage in active and creative play, while being cost effective and keeping those little hands tinkering and busy.

By understanding the benefits of loose parts play, we as parents and educators, can encourage this type of play and know our children are engaging and learning – even if it means unpacking the entire kitchen cupboard!