This post was going to just be just a short one with a few photos of a recent play activity I set up for the Little Tots using loose parts. Instead though I decided to write a little bit more about loose parts as its one of my favourite ways to watch little minds explore, create and play.

‘Loose Parts Play’ is something that any parent or person that cares for children will have known about but didn’t realise it had a name. We all know that babies and toddlers rather play with a spoon, house keys or an empty box etc than those expensive toys you brought them, well there’s a theory as to why.

natural loose parts play

The Theory of Loose Parts

The theory of loose parts was developed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970’s who believed that loose parts in our environment allow for more creativity and engagement compared to static ones. His theory has now been taken on board by childcare experts. Read his full paper here.

Loose parts play isn’t something new or just a new fad in childhood development. I’ve still got the scar on my forehead from playing with pots and pans and a tin of beans in the kitchen when I was baby!


What are Loose Parts?

Loose parts are materials that have no specific set of directions. They can be taken apart, put back together, carried, combined, lined up, moved and used alone or combined with other materials. They can be natural objects such as stones, flowers, twigs, shells, pine cones, logs, flowers, seeds etc or synthetic such as balls, ropes, buckets, pots, fabric, boxes.

Treasure basket

By having loose parts accessible in your play space children are encouraged to choose their own resources which provides a wider range of opportunities and allows for more open-ended play than adult led activities. Playing with loose parts encourages more creativity and imagination that they would playing with plastic toys. I love watching it when Little Tots cross play materials and areas in creative ways as it shows such wonderful imagination that could often never be achieved with more modern toys.


Playing with Loose Parts

Here is a loose parts play I set up this morning using metal objects found around the house set out on a large foil blanket (available for less than £1 from Amazon / eBay). There was no purpose or set way to use these objects it was purely for the Little Tots to use their creativity and imagination. The gem stones were added in at a later stage by one of the Little Tots.

metal loose parts play

I used the following objects:

  • Spoons
  • Mini pots and pans from the toy kitchen
  • Cookie cutters
  • Cake tins
  • Mirror
  • Whisk
  • Egg cup
  • Mini quiche tins

These were played with on and off for the whole morning, lots of stacking, banging, moving, filling and combining with other toys both inside the playroom and in the garden. I had an 18 month, 21 month and 2 year old with me this morning who all played with these items far longer than they would some of other plastic toys and it really held their interest.

metal loose parts play

As a childminder offering the children loose parts is a great free (or very minimal cost) way of enriching your play environment. I currently have out in my playroom, within easy access, a box of different textured, sizes and coloured balls, a box of recyclable materials which is by far the most popular resource I have and a box of different textured scarves and fabric pieces. I am going to keep adding to them, moving them to different locations and changing the contents as I hope to introduce a lot more loose parts into my setting.

Mixed balls


Box of scarves

Box of recycables

Ideas for Loose Parts Play

Here are some of the fun loose parts play my Little Tots have enjoyed:

Firework themed loose parts in the tuff tray

fireworks tuff tray

Tin foil strips and blocks

invitation to play with blocks

Seaside discovery basket


Easter themed loose parts

photo 5-2

Natural objects and playdough


A basket of different textured winter themed loose parts

Winter themed loose parts

Pom poms and carboard tubes

baby play idea pom pom drop

What do your little ones love to play with? Have you tried loose parts play? I would love to know so why not tell me about it in the comments below.

Share this post: