What are they?
Loose parts are open ended resources that encourage children to use their imagination and innate curiosity to explore materials that don’t have a fixed purpose. Anything that can be transported, lined up or moved can be classified as a loose part. These can be objects as big as a box or as small as a button. How often do you find, especially with younger children, that the box the toy came in is more fascinating that the toy itself? Let’s use a stick for an example. To a child, a stick isn’t just a stick. It’s a sword, a telephone, a walking aid, a balancing beam, a light sabre or a wand. The possibilities are endless!
The benefits of loose parts
Children have such vivid and wild imaginations that should ne nurtured, encouraged and celebrated every single day. Plastic toys do have their purpose in play, they’re easy to clean and store away and the technological ones do have learning potential. Some plastic toys are what can be described as ‘closed resources’ meaning they only have one purpose on one scale. Loose parts contribute to a child’s development across the five domains, the characteristics of effective learning and beyond.
· Me – using and developing their own ideas and strengthening the core critical thinking skills
· Us - taking turns and listening to the ideas of others.
· Challenge – encouraging children to measure out the space and explore the shape and sizes of the materials.
· Communication - listening to the ideas expressed by others and using their own breadth of vocabulary to share their own ideas.
· Imagination - using their existing skills to build and create something creative and wonderful with their peers.
Not all loose parts have to be on such a large scale. Buttons and beads are another firm favourite, encouraging transient art as the children make patterns and categorise them according to their properties. Loose parts are non-restrictive, with no instructions and no rules – what’s not to love? This type of play encourages risk taking and supports a child’s intellectual development as they risk assess their own play, deeming which resources are suitable to climb on, balance or stack and in turn, makes their play more purposeful. The opportunity to explore a variety of resources in this way is naturally suited to their own abilities and interests however they may differ to others involved.
Loose parts in practice
Children at Banana Moon Rothwell voted the marble run as their favourite resource. Resources such as this are fantastic for critical thinking as the children work together to join the pieces, problem solving when their ideas don’t always go to plan and actively learning along the way. However, as practitioners we have recognised that yes they achieve these goals and can make a successful run, but how can we move this level of interest and learning on? This is where we turn to loose parts. We gathered up planks of wood, cardboard tubes, cable reels and wooden blocks. These materials were then given to the children along with a tub of marbles of different sizes. Without any adult prompt or support, the children quickly worked together to form a large scale run for the marbles using the resources. This encouraged them to incorporate cars, vehicles and other objects, thus widening their own ideas and encouraging the ideas of others during play.
Loose parts contribute to a child’s development across the five domains and beyond. Me, with my own ideas, Us taking turns and listening to the ideas of others, challenge measuring out the space, the shape and sizes of the materials, communication listening to the ideas expressed by others and imagination using their existing skills to build and create something huge and wonderful with their peers. Not all loose parts have to be on such a large scale. Buttons and beads are another firm favourite, encouraging transient art as the children make patterns and categorise them according to their properties.
Loose part ideas around the home
· Yoghurt pots, tins, food containers, toilet roll tubes, cotton reels, cereal boxes, nuts and bolts, pegs, bottle tops, string
Ideas in the wider environment
· Conkers, leaves, flowers, acorns, pinecones, twigs, mud, sand, water, shells and not forgetting that ever faithful stick.