Loose Parts

May 12, 2017

What is Loose Parts Play?

Loose parts create richer environments for children to play, giving them the resources they need to do what they need to do

What are loose parts? Loose parts aren’t prescriptive and offer limitless possibilities. A stick, for example, may become a fishing rod near real or imaginary water, a spurtle in a mud kitchen, a tool to nudge a football that is stuck in a tree; it can be thrown, floated, snapped, pinged, bent, hidden, added to a pile, burnt, tied to something else, split, catapulted or discarded. Static, unchanging play spaces do little for children whereas environments which can be manipulated, where things move and can be moved open worlds of possibility.

At a beach, for example, there is an abundance of water, sand, stones, rocks, smells, sights, vistas and textures which enable children to be highly inventive and creative in their play. Natural environments such as mature woodland or beaches often provide significantly more loose parts with higher levels of affordance than many artificial play spaces such an asphalt school playground or a tidy urban park.

The list of possible loose parts is endless but can include: • natural resources – straw, mud and pine cones • building materials and tools – planks, nails, hammers • scrap materials – old tyres, off-cuts of guttering • and, most essentially, random found objects. Loose parts create richer environments for children to play, giving them the resources they need to do what they need to do. In fixed play spaces it’s like having to paint with a limited palette of colours. (Ivan Harper, Senior Playworker) Children need environments they can manipulate and where they can invent, construct, evaluate and modify their own constructions and ideas through play. They require opportunities to develop ownership of the environment where they play.

The introduction of loose parts such as scrap materials, sand and water increases the possibilities for children to engage in these types of behaviours even in ‘artificial’ environments, outside or in. In the post war years, children were often to be found in derelict and brown field sites where the junk provided endless play opportunities. You can make it and then knock it down and then make it again. It rocks! (Child: Imagination Playground in a Box)  Play is “essential to the health and well-being of children and promotes the development of creativity, imagination, self-confidence, self-efficacy, as well as physical, social, cognitive and emotional strength and skills.” (Committee on the Rights of the Child).

Heuristic play offers treasure baskets of simple objects such as wooden spools and cotton reels for babies to explore with their hands and mouths. Children learn best when they are able to play freely. They need to be able to use real resources in their play, as well as toys. Many education approaches such as Steiner Waldorf or Montessori advocate the need for real experiences in order to acquire life skills. When adults enable the loose parts processes which allow children’s thoughts, feeling and opinions to be listened to, acted upon and included, it is empowering for all involved.


Benefits to Loose parts play


There is a growing body of evidence (Hyndman, Benson, Ullah and Telford, 2014) of the benefits of playing with loose parts including:

  • Increasing levels of creative and imaginative play
  • Children play co-operatively and socialise more
  • Children are physically more active
  • Curriculum outcomes occur through informal play with loose parts (Wagland, 2015)
  • Loose parts facilitate communication and negotiation skills when added to an outdoor space (Maxwell, Mitchell and Evans, 2008).
  • Children and young people are more likely to develop pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes as adults (Chawla and Cushing, 2007)

The development of nature play opportunities and naturalised play spaces provides evidence about the benefits of playing with naturally occurring loose parts. This includes:

  • Improvements in young children’s physical coordination (Fjørtoft and Sageie, 2000)
  • Children feeling better able to focus and it enhances cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000) • Time in nature aids psychological well-being in children (Wells and Evans,2003)
  • Children are more likely to visit greenspace as adults (Ward Thompson, Aspinall and Montarzino, 2008)


Reference- Information from  (http://www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/media/58451/Loose-Parts-Play-web.pdf)