Loose-Part Play – Best way keep your child Engaged

Loose Parts Play

Loose Part Play – Have you ever wondered or experienced a time when you were out there bringing home to your kid a much sort after expensive toy. The kid greets you with an enthusiasm and looks at the toy only for few seconds. And then to your utter dismay and frustration you find them joyfully enjoying playing with the box the of the gift that you had given them. In simple words your child in engaging in Loose part play.


  1. Loose Part Play – Definition
  2. Open ended and Close ended play
  3. Loose Parts Reggio Emilia Philosophy
  4. Theory of Loose part
  5. Importance of Loose Part Play
  6. Benefits of Loose Part Play Explained
  7. Materials Used in Loose Part Play
  8. Loose part play environment Supervision and Maintenance
  9. Note to Parents

What is loose part play?

“Imagination is the source of all human achievements” – Sir Ken Robinson

Loose part play is a type of imaginative and inspiring play open ended play. It supports invention, divergent thinking, problem solving and offers a sense of wonder to children. And defiantly lots and lots of fun.

Loose Parts are nothing but collection of materials or object that are associated with our day today life. Loose parts are material that are found in our environment. This offers many opportunities for children to use their natural curiosity to explore, bring in creativity and in turn allows them to make meaning of the natural world around them.

Open ended and Close ended play

A play is called open ended when it does not have a set or predefined out come. And the play can be played numerous numbers of times with different outcomes.

On the other hand, activities that are close ended have a given outcome. And this can be deterrent to imagination and creativity. E.g. Puzzles.

Loose parts play is an open-ended play which consist of Open-ended materials that are predominantly everyday items that can be used by themselves or with other materials. They can be carried, lined up, redesigned, taken apart, moved and put back together in multiple ways.

Loose Parts Reggio Emilia Philosophy

Open ended play is widely known to support imagination and creativity. This is popularly advocated in one of the best philosophies of education. The Reggio Emilia Philosophy.

When play is self-motivated and self-lead children learn to play in a stress-free manner.They can come up with numerous possibilities of multiple uses of the material given. This leads to free expression of self and their creativity since there is no pressure of an outcome.

Theory of Loose Parts Play

loose Parts messy play

The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970’s. Nicholson believed that it is the ‘loose parts’ in our environment that will empower our creativity. He believed Environments that include ‘loose parts’ are infinitely more stimulating and engaging that static ones.

He defined loose part play as a play where the material for play is called loose parts. These materials can be natural or systematic (manufactured). In a play, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.

They are materials with no specific set of directions. They can be used alone or combined with other materials. Some of the natural material are rocks, pebbles, sticks, leaves, sand, shells etc… Some of the manufactured material are beads, ribbons, strings, boxes, balls, buttons etc.

This theory slowly took prominence and influences child play experts and parents around the globe till this day.

Importance of Loose Part Play

  • Helps in cognitive development
  • Motor Skill development and Hand eye coordination
  • Increases imagination and creativity
  • Aids in social development
  • Fosters problem-solving skills
  • Promotes areas of learning such as math and science
  • Build good self-image and high self confidence

 . And the list goes on…

Benefits of Loose Part Play Explained

Helps in cognitive development

Cognitive development is defined as the emergence of ability to consciously cognized, understand, and articulate their understanding in adult terms. 

While engaging in loose part play children try to understand the nature of the material, they are given they construct a thought processes, engage in remembering, problem solving, and finally decide on the course of their play.

Improves Communication and Language

When you or teachers or other children play along with you child it can lead a lot of conversations and discussions with your child. Especially then they proudly show you their creations.

And try to explain to you what they have done. With slight probing from you side they are encouraged to speak and articulate more and better. While they comprehend your questions and attempt to respond appropriately. Not to say the least it also increases dramatic play and storytelling.

Motor Skill development and Hand eye coordination

Playing with Day to Day Items

Depending on the activity loose part play can help in development of gross motor skills or finer motor skills.

Play that involves lifting, pouring develops the large muscle group of the kid’s boy (gross motor skill) improve poise, body control, balance and coordination.

Activities like clay moulding, beading, playing with sand, pouring, tearing, scooping, and grasping small objects such as grains, helps not only in smaller muscles in their hands and fingers (fine motor skills) to develop but also to improve finer, precise movement, finger dexterity and increases hand eye coordination. This also forms the basis of handwriting in the future.

Increases imagination and creativity

When children are given material and left on their own to engage themselves their imagination starts peeking. And creatively, they engage in play to amuse themselves.

Aids in social development

Children while playing begin to interact among other children, Negotiate, Corporate and collaborate.

Fosters problem-solving skills

Kid Imagining

When given loose parts to play children start exploring and experimenting and tries to figure out what works and what does not. They must think in unconventional method on how things relate to each other (think out-of-the-box) make sense of it direct their play. This fosters their problem-solving skills.

Promotes areas of learning such as math and science

When children engage in loose part play such as classifying the beads, sorting based on colours etc… they are subconsciously developing math skills such as sorting, counting, shapes, sizes etc.

Build good self-image and high self confidence

Since while engaging in loose part play children are engaging in a high creative activity and by doing so, they become creators of their creation. They instinctively come forward to show off their creation and talk about it. This not only improves their communication skills but the sense of accomplishment and pride that they display hugely affect their self-image and self-confidence.  

Materials Used in Loose Part Play

Studies in Scotland show that playgrounds that have more movable and recycled material that we find in our day to day lives engages children more. And they are much more active than fixed play equipment but also works out more cost effective with significant positive long term effect.

Children engage with loose parts in different ways. It varies heavily between child to child. Even if they are given the same set of material. It is also not strange to see the same child use the same material differently at different times.

Some of the ways in which they use loose parta are making, building, touching, feeling, adapting and chainging their use.

Hence is it important that we give then material and let them make their own use of the material with no instructions from our side.

Though the list is endless I have attempted to classify and mention a few…

Different types of material used are…

Natural: Stones, Pebbles, sticks, shells, sand, leaves, feathers, sticks etc…

Household Items: Spoons, cups, utensils, baking molds, buckets, jugs, sponge, tray, brushes etc… etc…

Recycled Items:  Tyres, pet bottles, bottle caps, wires, carboards, egg crates, pegs, hose, straw, cloth etc… etc…

Sensory: Cotton, silk, ribbon, wool, Velcro, rubber, tin foil, netting, beads, grains, fabric etc… etc…

Note: Loose part play can be both an indoor and an outdoor activity.

Loose parts procurement, play environment, Supervision and Maintenance


A play environment is where children can explore different activities and learn about new things and have a fun time doing it.

Loose part play can be played both outdoors and indoors. There are large loose part materials like tyres, wood, big blocks etc. and find loose part material like beads, buttons, grains, ribbons, string etc. It is recommended that it is placed in a well-ventilated space.

Tips to procure items for loose part play

  1. Look around the house for items. Like cardboard box, spoon, utensils, pet bottles etc…
  2. Take a walk outside preferably with your little one and together collect material to play. Materials like leaves, stones, pebbles, shells, twigs etc… Do not forget to sort it and store it safely for the right time to play.

We insist on adult supervision all the time for the safety of your children. The risk of swallowing or blocked nose to be ruled out. Hence parents/ caregivers are advised to be more vigilant of the potential hazard.

Tips to manage and maintain loose parts

  • Give only 2 or max 3 different types of material to play at any given point in time.
  • Teach children patiently the responsibility of taking out and putting things back in order post playing. For this provide them with large boxes/ trays that are easy to handle by kids.
  • Label all boxes that holds loose play material. Preferably along with pictorial and written tags. it also helps to paste them on the material the box is meant to contain.
  • Clean the place immediately after the play. So that no loose item is left to be found by kids.
  • Refill the boxes so that it is always ready for a kid to choose and start playing.

Note to Parents

Independent Play

I hope the blog thus far has motivated you enough to consider loose part play as part of your child’s activity in a day. Additional motivation for such play is that it would cost you only a fraction of what you would otherwise spend on a toy which not only is expensive but also limits the child’s imagination.

I do agree and understand that it is a bit more work. And yes it is more simple buying and giving a toy. And a lot of cleaning up work to be done after. But you would agree that the benefits out ways the inconvenience caused.  Plus, it would give you a good opportunity to jam with your kid and get insight into the workings of his/her little mind and it is our responsibility to support and encourage them.

We, here at The Yellow Playschool encourage Loose part play for our preschoolers not only because we believe in its immense benefits but also because it is very entertaining to listen to all the drama and story telling the little ones come up with.

Well Yes! It gets a bit more work and needs us to be more vigilant to mitigate choke hazard, but benefits are worth the time and effort. Plus. our little ones are always eager to lend in a helping hand to clean up and box all the material. It is vital that we just let them play.

Let us know which is your kids favorite loose play material?

God Bless!!

Thabitha David

Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Friend. She is a MBA Graduate specialized in Human Resources. She is a very proud mother of 3 Kids. (2 Teens & 1 Tween). She is a keen Observer of Life and is a blogger. She writes these articles based on her experience (Success and Failures). She does this with hope to help and ease the pain of at-least one parent as they face the challenges of parenting. Read more from the About Us Page

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