Playing with loose parts is something that can be very fun, even for adults! loose parts play is extremely beneficial for toddlers and I will share with you why.
I love to share with you everything about play and how different types of play can be beneficial to our kids.
I love loose part play because of it’s open-ended play opportunities, how it is focused on nature and real world materials, how to allows for independence exploration and creativity.
Loose play goes hand in hand with play schemas and is a great way to support those growing stages. Every child goes through play schemas and it is a great feeling to know how to support their grown and curiosity with the right activities.
Let’s talk about what is loose parts play, how do they help developmentally and how can you create a loose part box at home.
What Are Loose Parts in Play?
Before we go in-depth on the topic, it’s important to explain what loose parts play is. According to the Guardian, a reputable source, loose part play is a “type of play that supports invention, divergent thinking, problem-solving, and offers a sense of wonder to children. Loose part play can be done at any age, from babies to toddlers to older kids everyone can benefit from this type of play.
Loose parts are materials that can be:
- Lined up
- Taken apart
- And Put back together in multiple ways
Loose parts can be fascinating everyday objects, if you use it at home in your everyday life then it can be considered a loose object. They must be open-ended and can be transported, moved and manipulated.
Loose toys for toddlers allow them to investigate the mechanics of different toys and to see how objects are put together.
Toddlers are curious researchers who are always fascinated by how things function and what things look like around them.
This is particularly valuable because when they have the opportunity to play with real everyday objects in an open setting, they acquire information about textures, smells, how some things are sturdy while others are fragile and much more.
Why Is Loose Parts Play Important?
Loose parts in play will help kids be exposed to more textures and materials that sometimes they won’t find in their everyday environment as well as allow for a greater understanding of how cause and effect works whine putting pieces together, building and knocking them off. How their own body works and interacts with the world around them.
With loose parts, a toddler can better understand how they exist in conjunction with the toys they have and how their actions impact the toys and materials they play with.
Simply said, it allows them to understand the natural world around them, after all the first few years of life is all about this understanding.
How to Play with Loose Parts
There are plenty of ways to play with loose parts. For babies you can place loose parts in closed containers for observation while for toddlers you can place loose parts in open boxes and trays.
For starters, you could gather loose-parts items that can be used in many varying ways.
These items can range from a few basic pieces of cloth to a lot of little knick-knacks, or even kitchen utensils like a whisk or silver spoons.
These items are generally inexpensive and are available at just about any retail store – even a thrift shop!
Take a stroll around your house and you will find you have some of this stuff already around. Look for rocks, wood pieces, screws, spoons, bottle tops and other trinkets. (I’ll share with you a bigger list below)
Another option is to get a loose-parts Wood kit already made (usually sold on stores like Etsy) so that you don’t have to worry about assembling many loose parts together. These can range from all types of budgets depending on the amount and what the content of them are. I love shopping and treasure hunting so making my own box sounded more interesting to me.
If you want to get into the fun of making your own loose parts, then let’s dive inn
How to create a loose part basket
creating a loose part stash can be as big or as small as you want. I started with a small simple basket and slowly I have started to add a few more items. During our trips I look for interesting things at local shops (our seashell collection was from a trip to Key West Florida where they had a collection of unique ocean shells o had to get! )
The following things can be placed into your loose play collection:
- Containers: small buckets, boxes, pots, bags, jars, baskets, bowls, trays, bottles, cups, canisters, ice-cream tubs, etc.
- From Nature: wood chips, pinecones, sticks, stones, shells, seedpods, bark, gum nuts, leaves, flowers, pebbles, etc.
- Purchased/Re-purposed: pipes, ropes, craft match sticks, pom poms, lids, fabric, tubing, buttons, gems, beads, marbles, Q-tips/cotton buds, scarves, pipe cleaners, straws, pattern shapes, paddle pop sticks, cotton reels, ribbon, yarn, etc.
The below are the most common loose part items I have seen in boxes sold on Etsy.
- Wooden Rings
- Glass Beads
- Bottle tops
- Pine Cones
- Wood Pieces
- Thread spools
- Nuts and Bolts
Loose part games and activities
The games involving loose parts that you do with your toddler will depend on his or her age.
As you most likely know, a toddler who is two years old will not be at the same developmental stage as a newborn, and thus the games and activities that they can do will change from one age to the other.
If you want to learn more about this, make sure to check out the Play Schema post to figure out what kind of play stage your toddler is at and how to support it with loose part play.
In general, however, there are a few activities that you can do with your toddler.
Loose Part Play Activities for babies
If your child is between 0 and 5 months old, you can provide him or her with items that help to develop hand-eye coordination. For example, scarves and ribbons, sensory balls, or textured materials, in general, are great.
For babies between six and twelve months, you can provide treasure baskets that contain manmade and natural objects. This treasure basket should be made of good quality, wicker basket, and should be very shallow to enable babies to reach inside very easily.
Fill it with safe objects, and don’t include objects that babies can get their fingers stuck in or items that are too small and that may represent a choking hazard. For example, you can include wooden items, metal cooking utensils, natural objects, feathers, brushes, seashells, leather items, and much more.
Loose Part Play Activities For Toddlers
For children between the ages of one and two, you can introduce Heuristic baskets that are connected to children’s natural curiosity in objects.
For example, toddlers between the ages of one and two love to fill, dumb, stack, handle, gather, manipulate, select, transport, roll, post, and cover objects that they find along the way. So, the children at this age like to move objects which is where there is a difference between them and their younger counterparts.
toddlers are curious so let them explore and make up their own activity and games (as long as it is safe)
For these baskets you can use:
- measuring spoons
- egg boxes
- jar rings, corks
- napkin rings
- keys on a ring
- and other objects like these which can be used for movement.
Last thoughts on Loose Part Play
I hope you got inspired and now can close this tab and start making your own loose part box. Remember that loose parts can be anything you find at home or at a local shop.
Create your own by collecting loose pieces or buy a pre-made kit. You will see how creative your child will get when playing with these pieces.
And as always, always supervise play.