Loose Parts: No Wrong Way to Play

Loose parts are the ultimate open-ended activity.

Loose parts are collections of objects that can be combined, moved, lined up, redesigned, put together and taken apart in endless ways and combinations.

There are no rules or preset expectations. A child is free to use the pieces and parts as they choose, without adult direction.

No rules or instructions - why does that matter?

A few reasons.

First, it means there is no right or wrong way to play. Lowering the pressure lets children take a chance, and if it doesn't go as planned, they can try out something different. Over and over again. This builds the kind of problem-solving, stick-with-it type of learning that increases children's creative and scientific thinking.

Second, loose parts play is naturally inclusive for all ages and abilities. As long as the materials you've chosen aren't hazardous (we'll talk about this later,) children of all ages - heck even us grown-ups! - like to tinker, tower, test and toy with loose parts.

Third, it's real world learning. Children construct knowledge and gain a deep understanding of how things work and how to work together. Loose parts leave the imagination free to think up big ideas, with real objects and real teamwork.

Always consider safety first, and make sure your loose parts aren't posing any risk. Some common hazardous items include: button batteries, round magnets, plastic bags, Styrofoam objects, coins, balloons, and latex gloves. Nothing with sharp or rough edges. Always supervise your children at play, especially when introducing new materials.

Now, are you ready to play?!

Here's a few tips to get you started!

  1. Observe your child as they play. Observing will tell you what additional materials, tools, or other loose parts would be fun to add based on their skills and interests.

  2. Let them guide their play. Play means doing what they want to do, for as long as they want to do it. Give your little one plenty of free time and consider leaving out some items that may be in-progress for your child to return to again.

  3. Don't expect or require your child to share their loose parts while working. When your little one is working with a set of materials they've gathered, consider it the same as pieces to a puzzle. Even if they can't tell you their plan, asking them to share would be like asking a child to give up half of the puzzle pieces while working on a puzzle.

  4. Trust that play is learning. Trust that powerful learning is happening even if your child is processing it quietly. They might want to talk about their work, or not. Frequently adding our praise, quizzing or teaching interrupts the high-level thinking going on.

Here are a few suggestions for loose parts to get you started: fabric squares, wood napkin rings, metal canning rings, large doilies, natural sponges, metal spoons, large pinecones, measuring cups, large sea shells, egg cartons cups, small cardboard boxes, large river stones

If you need inspiration, come visit Play Studio and get some ideas for starting your loose parts collection!

We'd love to know - what your favorite loose parts are at home?

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