Benefits of loose parts

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of play in early childhood education. Play is a natural and essential part of a child's development, and it is through play that children learn and explore the world around them. 

One approach that has gained traction in our Curiosity Approach accredited settings  and a wealth of other early years centres world wide, is the use of loose parts in play. "The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences." --Loris Malaguzzi...

Loose parts are materials that can be moved, manipulated, and combined in a variety of ways, and they are open-ended in nature, allowing for endless possibilities and creativity. In this blog we will explore the benefits of using loose parts in early years settings and allowing children to use these items in play.  

Let us remember that through the use of such loose parts those variables of multiple weight, shape and texture children are constantly learning through sensory modalities 

In childhood one is more open to sensory impressions than ever again in one’s life. Smells, sensations of heat, softness, weight, beauty and much more, form the basis of all of life’s later sensations.– Eva Insulander, Swedish School Ground Designer and Planner

 *It is important to remember that loose parts are not just those small items, those beads, buttons and small items, that can potentially be a choke hazard to children. 

At The Curiosity Approach® safety of children is of paramount importance and we ensure within that these smaller items are kept out of reach of young children. If used they are fully supervised by an adult who is present with children and counts items in and out. 

As part of our risk assessment, these items are never left out in free play and that we select resources that are stage appropriate for children. 

It is important that all educators and setting follow their own thorough risk assessment when selecting items for children to play with.  Remember the loose parts you select can be as big as drain pipes, they can be a small as a grain of sand. Ensure risk assessments are carefully considered and adhered to. 

You can also purchase choke testers to check the size of resources introduced into your setting. What risk assessment do you follow and maintain?

Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk › Safetot...Safetots Choke Tester [Baby Product]

Types of Loose Parts 

Loose parts can take many forms, and they can be natural or man-made. Some examples of natural loose parts include stones, sticks, shells, leaves, and pinecones. Man-made loose parts can include items such as cardboard boxes, fabric scraps, plastic tubing, and wooden blocks. The key characteristic of loose parts is that they are open-ended and can be used in a variety of ways.

Benefits of Using Loose Parts 

The use of loose parts in play has been found to have numerous benefits for children in early years settings. One of the primary benefits is that loose parts play encourages curiosity, creativity and imagination. 

Because there are no set rules or instructions for how to use loose parts, children are free to explore and experiment with different combinations and arrangements. This type of open-ended play fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. 

Another benefit of loose parts play is that it promotes social and emotional development. When children engage in loose parts play, they often work together to create structures or designs, which can promote communication and cooperation skills.

Additionally, because there are no right or wrong ways to use loose parts, children can explore their own interests and preferences without fear of failure or judgment. This can help build self-esteem and confidence. 

Simon Nicholson and ‘How not to Cheat Children'

The concept of loose parts’ was first introduced by architect Simon Nicholson in his article "How not to cheat children: The theory of loose parts." Nicholson argued that traditional playgrounds and toys were too limiting and did not allow for the type of open-ended play and creativity that children need. He proposed the use of loose parts as a way to promote creativity, problem-solving, and imagination in children. At The Curiosity Approach® we believe in creating powerful rich play spaces for children allowing them the freedom to follow their own thinking and ideas, to mix up, move and transport items. Quite often this can cause much frustration for educators as children like to dump items, squirrel them away in baskets and bags, moving items around the setting. However as professionals we must reframe our thinking and see the child who is following their own unique way of learning through play. They have an idea or repeated pattern of behaviour ( called a schematic learning style) and children will be learning and forming securing firm neural pathways in the brain. Read our other blogs on “why do children dump toys?”  https://www.thecuriosityapproach.com/blog/what-happens-when-you-have-a-child-that-just-loves-knocking-wooden-towers-or-blocks-down- the baskets https://www.thecuriosityapproa...


Research and Evidence 

We are delighted to say that there is a growing body of research that supports the use of loose parts in early years settings. One study found that children who engaged in loose parts play showed higher levels of creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills than those who engaged in structured play with set rules and instructions (Pepler, Ross, & Ross, 1980). 

Another study found that loose parts play promoted positive social interactions and communication skills among children (Little & Wyver, 2008).  See links at the end of this article. As Early Years Educators we have to stand up for the child’s right to play, to provide powerful play spaces that meet their individual needs. To move away from the top down push of academics ad formal learning at an every earlier age. Loose parts and intelligent resources provide wondrous opportunity for development of the inquisitive mind and that intrinsic desire to learn.

Image belongs to Curiosity Approach® Academy ( childminder) member who is working towards becoming accredited 


Let us recognise that the use of loose parts in early years settings has numerous benefits for children's development. Loose parts play encourages creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. It also promotes social and emotional development and can help build self-esteem and confidence. Simon Nicholson's concept of loose parts has been widely embraced in early childhood education, and there is an increasing amount of research that supports its effectiveness. By incorporating loose parts into early years settings, educators can provide children with a rich and stimulating play environment that supports their growth and development. References: Little, H., & Wyver

Did you know that our Curiosity Approach pedagogy believes in replacing commercialised plastic toys and resources and filling our Early Childhood centres with these rich powerful intelligent resources? We have featured several times on the BBC news’ The Nursery Without Toys’ and we offer extensive training and a Curiosity Approach® Accreditation programme allowing Early Childhood educators and the entire team to come together on a journey of professional development and to transform current practice. See link here to our Curiosity Approach academy https://www.thecuriosityapproa...

Pepler, D. J., Ross, H. S., & Ross, L. E. (1980). The effects of play materials on the interactions of preschool children. Developmental Psychology, 16(5), 499–509. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1... Little, H., & Wyver, S. (2008).

Outdoor play: Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits? Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33(2), 33-40. https://doi.org/10.1177/183693...

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