Exploring with Loose Parts

Posted: January 25, 2022

As a Registered Early Childhood Educator and parent, I am constantly thinking of ways to get children to engage and explore with materials that will pique their interest, bring out their creativity, strengthen their problem-solving skills and build their self-esteem. I have discovered that a great way to do this is by providing opportunities for children to explore with loose parts.

What are loose parts?

Loose parts are materials that can be manipulated in many ways to achieve different outcomes and therefore provide unlimited possibilities for playing and exploring. “Loose parts are materials with varied properties that can be moved and manipulated in many ways” (Fox & Wirth, 2015). For example, wood, shells, rocks, tires, blocks, buttons, and strings are all loose parts children can explore.

A variety of natural loose parts

How loose parts promote exploration, learning and development

Children of all ages can use loose parts. Research has shown that children who have access to diverse natural materials had a broad range of skill development. “Open-ended loose parts supported problem solving, imagination, and creativity in ways that would not likely have occurred on a traditional playground or indoors” (Fox & Wirth, 2015). Loose parts support development across all developmental domains. Children develop fine and gross motor skills as they manipulate loose parts during play, they also socialize and communicate during play. Children strengthen their problem-solving skills and creativity as they explore different ways to reach their intended goal. Loose parts can be combined, transported, and transformed since they are open-ended and provide endless play possibilities (Kashin & Green, 2015). For example, a child with a battery-operated toy understands when they push the button the object will make sounds. While this cause-and-effect result will initially be fascinating to the child there is little opportunity to further expand the play, which often causes the child to lose interest. In comparison, loose parts have numerous ways in which a child can manipulate items, therefore staying entertained and engaged for a long time.

Loose partsLoose parts on a table

Natural loose parts

Play that involves loose parts has increased children’s levels of relaxation and helped with self-regulation. Loose part play allows for children to control the result, versus being directed in how toys should be manipulated and played with. Encourage your children to explore their natural surroundings by providing lots of outdoor play opportunities for them to be creative, build critical thinking capabilities and hands on experiences. “Nature provided far more play props and open-ended play opportunities than fixed equipment set in large areas of safety surfacing” (Fox & Wirth, 2015). Try looking and collecting loose parts outside, such as rocks, leaves, and sticks. You can extend this play into making outdoor potions and soups by adding water, bowls, and spoons.

Shells as loose parts

Introducing loose parts to infant and toddlers

Infant and toddlers explore using all their senses so let’s introduce them to the wonderful opportunities, textures and endless possibilities that loose parts provide. Some parents may be wary or fearful of introducing their infants or toddlers to loose parts but remember, loose parts come in many varieties, shapes and sizes and therefore can be offered to children of all ages. It is important to ensure that items in infant’s play spaces are safe to eat and therefore are large enough or small enough to not be choking hazards (Bullard, 2017). Some examples would be leaves, ropes, wood, structures to climb under, over, into and on top of. Loose parts provide opportunities for infants and toddlers to explore different textures, weight, and sizes as they touch, pull, push, taste and carry things around. As parents or educators, we can discover new possibilities by engaging and playing with loose parts at home. This will help us to describe and share our experiences with the children in our care.

By Kadian Thompson, RECE

To explore loose parts in more detail, refer to link below.


Kashin, D., & Green, C. (2015, March 24). Intentionality with Loose Parts: Playing, Tinkering and Messing About. Retrieved from https://tecribresearch.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/intentionality-with-loose-parts-playing-tinkering-and-messing-about/

Fox, H., & Wirth, S. (2015, July 16). The Learning in Loose Parts. Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2015/the-learning-in-loose-part

Bullard, J. (2017). Creating Environments for Learning: Birth to age eight (3rd ed.). Toronto, Canada: Pearson