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What are Loose Parts?

‘Loose parts’ are items and materials that children and young people can move, adapt, control, change and manipulate within their play. They provide a high level of creativity and choice, as there are endless possibilities for how they can be played with.  When a child is playing with sand, it can become anything they want it to be, whereas many toys lack such flexibility.  Studies show that children and young people prefer to play with loose parts such as water, sticks, sand, ropes and boxes than traditional toys and play equipment, because they can use their imagination, and have greater control in their play.  The saying “Children prefer to play with the box than the present inside” has truth in its origins—the box is an example of a loose part, and loose parts have a very high play value for children.

Simon Nicholson came up with the ’Theory of loose parts’ in 1971. He said than in any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the numbers of variables in it. Nicholson suggests that a beach is a good example of a loose parts environments, with plenty of moveable and adaptable materials, such as sand, water, rocks and shells. Loose parts are the reason that most children can play for hours on a beach.

Where Do I Get Loose Parts?
In nature—e.g. pine cones, shells, twigs, grass, stones, straw bales
At home—e.g. cushions, blankets, junk, buckets, play clothes
Buy some—e.g. sand, logs, paper, hoops, old tyres, bubbles, ropes
From a Scrapstore—there are many Scrapstores, which sell playable waste from companies as play items. It is extremely reasonably priced. ORINOCO is the Oxfordshire Scrapstore, and is situated in Headington. Look at their website for opening times www.oxorinoco.org or call them on 01865 761113. There are also scrapstores in Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, High Wycombe and all around the UK.

How Do I Use Loose Parts?
Children are drawn to new, interesting and novel items—and have an innate ability to decide what to do with loose parts in their play. Leave a pile of scrap, let the young people know they can use it, and keep adult intervention to a minimum. Loose parts are springboards for play, and are essential for creating a rich play environment.