Loose Parts is the ultimate open-ended play activity. It refers to materials or objects, synthetic or non-synthetic, that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together again.
In other words, the possibilities with Loose Parts Play are endless, and that is why it has become so popular in the Early Years sector in the UK. It creates endless possibilities and invites creativity, and is very much child-led. Of course it requires adult supervision, but it's up to children to explore the materials and embrace their creativity and ultimately learn basic concepts of colour, pattern, balance, motor skills and more at their own pace.
But Loose Parts isn't a new concept. It was first developed by an architect, Simon Nicholson, in 1972. The theory he proposed was that movable materials ('Loose Parts') created far more opportunities for exploration, engagement, and creativity, than more static materials would. In more recent years, the term has been commonly used and promoted in Montessori Settings.
Loose Parts Play is very dependent on the parts you choose. The idea is that children are given a range of everyday objects that will capture their interest and curiosity and provide a range of experiences that form the basis of the early stages of learning.
Children can develop a while range of skills including...
Can you describe the shells - how they feel? Where do you think they came from?
Questions such as the above can lead to discussions about the seaside and under the sea. This can then be expanded on to encourage children to engage in Imaginative Play and come up with a story. Both the objects and the subject are engaging to children, encouraging them to flex their language skills and expand their knowledge.
How many shells do you have? Can you sort the big ones from the little ones? Do any of the shells match? Can you share them out between us?
Questions such as the above are a great starting point to introduce early maths language and concepts to young children. 'Fun' activities actually promote Early Maths skills such as sorting, patterning, counting, space, shape, and measure.
Can you sort the different colours using the tweezers or tongs? Can you screw the nuts and bolts together?
As Loose Parts often makes use of small 'fiddly' objects, it is a great way for children to improve their fine motor skills. The challenge of picking up a small object with tongs, or trying to fit two objects together makes the activity fun and engaging for children, while also supporting fine motor development.
Can you build a tower out of these objects? Who do you think could live in this tower? Do they go to work?
As previously mentioned, Loose Parts Play often links with Imaginative Play. They work well together as they are both open-ended and encourage children to be creative. The 'loose parts' can be used to create small imaginative world environments, which helps to further develop language and knowledge of the wider world.
Older children can also benefit from loose parts play on a bigger scale through problem solving, introducing STEM activities such as making water channels, ramps for balls, using large loose parts to create large scale structures.