When my kids were little they created their own ‘loose parts play’ without even knowing what that fancy term meant.
As toddlers they loved to collect and play with lots of random objects. They’d make long lines of cars or animals, they’d fill their pockets with acorns and stones, they’d transport blocks in baskets and bags and they’d arrange beads and shapes into all kinds of patterns.
I encouraged this lovely open ended play and collecting, and all of my kids loved it – they called it ‘tiny treasures’.
“Can we play tiny treasures?” they’d ask and I’d hunt out a selection of objects and a few empty containers and they’d happily play, create and explore for hours.
What is ‘Loose Parts Play’?
This is often called ‘loose parts play’ – exploring, creating and engaging with a variety of open ended objects in any way you want.
Kids love it because it is entirely up to them how they use the ‘tiny treasures’. There is no right or wrong way to play with loose parts, so kids are free to explore, experiment and play however they like.
It’s also an holistic activity – that means it allows kids to practice and develop skills across all areas of development. They are using fine and gross motor skills, they can practice problem solving, social skills, maths, science, language, and literacy skills, they are using their imaginations, being creative and getting a variety of different sensory inputs.
And as an added bonus, it’s pretty easy to set up this kind of play, there are no expensive toys or equipment to buy, you don’t need a big space, and it encourages independent play so we parents might even get a few moments peace!
What Can You Use for Loose Parts Play?
Often the loose parts themselves are items you’ve collected from nature, or recyclables, or small inexpensive items from the dollar store. Once you start looking for them you’ll start seeing the perfect items everywhere – a packet of toothpicks on special at the supermarket, a bunch of pine cones under the pine tree you drive past every day…
Loose parts can be large or small, but if your children still put things in their mouths then make sure the items you offer are not small enough to be a choking hazard.
Here are a few ideas for ‘tiny treasures’.
- mini erasers
- glass gems
- rubber bands
- hexi cards
- pebbles and stones
- craft sticks
- cotton buds/q tips
- old CDs
- gum nuts
- tooth picks/bamboo skewers/cocktail sticks
- cocktail umbrellas
- fabric scraps
- string or wool
- pegs/clothes pins
- pom poms
- foam shapes
- branch cookies (thin slices from a branch of wood)
- plastic cups or shot glasses
- bottle caps
- curtain rings
- wood scraps
- wooden or plastic letters and numbers
- nuts and bolts
- googly eyes
- card board tubes
- pipe cleaners
Sometimes the treasures are not so tiny!
Smaller items are easy to store and perfect for inside play, but my kids absolutely love to use loose parts outside, even the big kids still adore this kind of play, so if you’ve got room keep an eye out for bigger items too.
Here are a few ideas for bigger items you might like to collect:
- planks of wood
- pine cones
- plastic pipe
- pool noodles
- buckets and containers
- milk crates
- cable reels
- carpet squares
- blankets or material
What do you do with loose parts?
You can simply offer your kids a collection of ‘tiny treasures’ to explore, or you can add a few extra accessories and items.
Here are a few ideas for accessories that are fun to add to loose parts:
- egg cartons, cutlery trays, muffin tin or other segmented containers.
- scoops, tongs, spoons, tweezers
- Small containers – bowls, cups etc.
- figurines – animals, people, dinosaurs
- Bags and/or baskets
- Paper and pencils
- blocks or construction sets
If you have lots of really small pieces it is often helpful to define the play space so they don’t end up scattered everywhere. A rug spread on the floor, or a large play tray can be a good way to contain the pieces.
Loose parts play combines well with lots of other activities. Add loose parts to art, construction, imaginative play, or sensory play.
Here are a few loose parts activities we’ve loved:
- Crazy faces – with free printable
- Fun grids – with free printable
- Imaginative play set ups
- Block play
- Loose parts and drawing.
- Loose parts with pattern pages printable
- Loose parts with letters printable
- Chalk boards and loose parts
- Play Dough – our free printable play dough mats go perfectly with some loose parts.
I first blogged about our ‘tiny treasures’ play way back in 2010 when my kids were all little. Everyone is older now, but even my 12 year old twins came over to muck around with the loose parts that I got out to photograph!
Do your kids love playing with loose parts?
What tiny (or bigger) treasures are in your collection?