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Why loose parts play is great for children

Isn’t it a joy to see children immersed in play with sticks, cardboard boxes or even dry pasta? These very simple, open-ended resources are often called loose parts and they encourage imagination and creativity - and are lots of fun!

Loose parts play with stones

While there is a lot of entertainment to be had from man-made loose parts, such as marbles, beads and laces, as an outdoor nursery, we love nature-based loose parts the most! Not only do they help children to connect with nature, but they are also a fantastic sensory experience which is fun and FREE!

One of the most valuable things about loose parts play is that it is not directed by adults; instead, children become immersed in self-directed imaginative play, which is great for their development.

Here is a list of nature-based loose parts and some interesting ways in which we’ve found children using them:

Sticks - a walking stick, a lightsaber, a toy car, an arrow

Stones - make faces, map out a road for vehicles, used for simple maths, currency

Leaves - can be used in art, food, hair accessories, paintbrushes and ice creams

Fruit - eating, creating paint and drawing with the juices, pretending they are are jewels

Herbs - eating, making potions and perfumes

Mud - squeezing, squelching, painting, moulding, cooking

Water - cooling down, mixing up, drawing with, as well as freezing to make ice

Dirt - writing in, mixing with water, stamping in to make dust clouds

Loose parts play with rope and dirt

Flowers - decorating artwork, making jewellery, mixing into potions

Shadows - early science experiments such as running away and understanding time

Ice - excellent sensory experiences and understanding temperature

Snow - snowmen, snowballs, sledging, understanding textures and temperatures

Sun - watch things melt, feel the heat, shelter from and bask in it

Pinecones and acorns - excellent pocket treasures and fun to decorate and count with

Rocks - for collecting, comparing, counting, and trading

Seashells - exploring sea creatures, shapes, and colour/texture comparisons

Sand - play with it wet and dry to compare how it can be used to build things

Feathers - exploring bird species and feeling the silken textures with fingers and on cheeks

Logs - great to stack and climb

In early years education in particular, loose parts play can be a fantastic part of learning and not ‘just’ fun. Counting or sorting rocks, for example, helps with numeracy - and explaining to friends the rules of the game or what is being imagined naturally develops literacy and interpersonal skills.

We love loose parts play! We hope you do too?