Benefits of Using Loose Parts Play at Nursery

Loose parts play is a pedagogical approach that enables children to learn about the world through exploration.

In terms of child development, the benefits of loose parts play are endless.

As children are playing with different materials, they are using their imagination, problem solving-skills, and independence to work out how different parts come together.

They have the freedom to create anything they choose without conforming to a strict set of rules meaning they are able to experiment. By their very nature, these materials are ‘loose’ as they can be manipulated into different patterns and designs.

It’s this concept that makes the activity so enjoyable as children can focus more on the experience rather than concentrating on making a particular ‘product’. There’s no right or wrong as it’s up to the child to decide for themselves, which puts them at the centre of their own learning.

Aside from being enjoyable, loose parts play is also very educational which is why so many nursery schools include this in their practice. As a form of open-ended play, this concept can be added to any activity to turn into something that allows a child’s imagination to flow.

In this post we’ll explore exactly what loose parts play is, how it was developed, and the benefits of using it in an early years setting.
toddler playing in the grass

What Is Loose Parts Play?

We’ve touched on this slightly in the intro, but loose parts play includes any materials which are essentially ‘loose’. It’s this concept that allows children to freely move them around and turn them into different shapes as they don’t have a fixed purpose.

Loose parts are very flexible and can be mixed, redesigned, pulled apart, put back together, and manipulated to form anything the child desires. As such, they are a fantastic resource to support schemas in young children’s play as they learn about the relationship between different objects.

Common loose parts play materials include:

  • Buttons
  • Beads
  • Pebbles
  • Pom-poms
  • Straws
  • Flowers
  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Acorns
  • Sequins
  • Pegs
  • Egg cartons
  • Wooden blocks

Please remember to check that all of the resources are safe for children to use.

As you can see from the list above, all of these materials are easy to source and many of them can be found outside.

This makes it easier for nursery practitioners and parents to incorporate loose parts play into a child’s learning, as the materials are easily accessible. As such, this learning approach can also be implemented at home, to fully support a child’s development.

At The Hunny Pot Nursery, we know how important it is for children to explore the world around them. With our outdoor classrooms, this has never been easier. We provide an unrivaled learning environment that is divided into six distinct areas.

This means we can create a focused curriculum that is tailored to the needs of different age groups. From ‘Kangas Pocket’ to our ‘One Hundred Acre Wood’, children can interact with a whole range of different loose parts, as they climb, dig, and explore in the beautiful outdoors.
child playing with blue and green clay

How Was Loose Parts Play Developed?

The theory ‘loose parts play’ was developed by an Architect called Simon Nicholson in the 1970s.

He identified that children prefer to play with open-ended materials rather than learning in a ‘fixed’ environment. When learning is ‘fixed’, there are limited opportunities for the child to be creative as toys have a predetermined purpose.

“Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.” – Simon Nicholson

In contrast, the loose materials we have outlined above can be manipulated depending on the interests of the child. For example, pebbles can be stacked, twigs can be dragged from one place to another, and leaves can be glued together.

There are all sorts of possibilities when it comes to playing with loose materials and that’s all part of the fun!

This opens up a child’s imagination and makes them think ‘what if’. It’s this level of curiosity that supports their cognitive development as they start to work things out for themselves.

“Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play”. – Dale and Beloglovsky

As such, this leads to problem-solving and theoretical reasoning which are essential skills for later life.

During the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), nursery practitioners are preparing young children for further education, such as primary school and secondary school. This makes fueling a child’s appetite for learning from a young early age vital.

What Are the Benefits of Using Loose Parts Play at Nursery?

Loose parts play encourages children to foster a love of learning through play and exploration.

This will stay with children throughout their educational life, and goes beyond the nursery school setting. As such, there are various benefits of using loose parts play in nursery, as practitioners are preparing children for their future.

At The Hunny Pot Nursery, this concept is very close to our heart as we are passionate about creating a stimulating environment where children can grow and thrive.

We value each and every child, and provide a home-from-home environment that encourages your child to use their imagination and become a confident learner.

With that said, let’s explore some of the benefits of loose parts play in more detail.
toddler playing with paint

Supports Creativity

Because there is no right or wrong when it comes to loose parts play, children are free to experiment to create exciting new things. They are not restricted by what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing, as they are taking responsibility for their own learning.

This enables children to think of new ideas, take on new roles, build imaginary objects, and transport themselves to a world where anything is possible. Their creativity is allowed to flow as they discover things they never knew were achievable.

If we compare this approach with most modern-day toys, they usually have a definite purpose or function. Whether it’s electronic toys, plastic figures, dolls, or computer games, the child is told what they are to do with the toy, meaning they cannot explore their own ideas.

This hinders their creativity as they are not able to test different ideas or solutions. They are simply following instructions rather than thinking outside of the box.

However, when they interact with loose materials, they can find their own solutions, by opening the door to so many wonderful possibilities. There is no rule book or guide, as it’s up to them to find creative ways to make and create.

Promotes Gross and Fine Motor Skills

Due to the fact loose materials have no structure, children will be able to construct, transport and maneuver objects wherever they want.

In terms of fine motor skills, children will use smaller muscles in their fingers and hands to move certain objects into place. This might involve stacking, building, picking, pinching, or pressing.

For example, children might pick up a handful of beads and then drop them again. This requires their hands to open and close as they hold and release the beads. They might also pour jewels into a pot, which requires the child to lift their arm and rotate their wrist.

They could also use their fingers to push beads through small holes, for instance, pushing beads through the gaps in a colander.

Children will also have to use their bigger muscles to lift, push, pull, and carry larger loose parts into their desired positions which develops their gross motor skills. The heavier the parts are, the more movement and strength that will be required. For example, if they were transporting a large cardboard box or picking up a heavy tree branch.

All of these actions help develop their gross and fine motor skills and also enable children to understand how different objects can be transported from one place to another.

Develops Higher Order Thinking Skills

Loose parts materials are a form of open-ended play which naturally allows children to develop higher order thinking skills.

According to Bloom’s taxonomy theory, there are 6 levels of learning. These include remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, and create. The first 3 levels are designed for lower level thinking, whereas the last 3 are classified as higher order thinking.

When young children are engaging in loose parts play, they are developing higher order thinking. Let’s take a look at this is some more detail:

Analyse – Children are free to explore the characteristics of loose parts play through examination, organisation, comparison, and experimentation.

Evaluate – Children choose which loose parts they are going to play with and they are encouraged to justify their decision.

Create – Children are creating something new and original as there are no preset rules. They are free to change, design, develop, construct and manipulate materials in any way they please.

“In the early years of education, it is critically important to develop higher-order thinking skills, which enhance children’s mental abilities.” Polette – 2012

As children arrive at new meanings and work out what is possible with different objects, it will transform their initial understanding.

For example, instead of seeing a cardboard box as an empty box with no use, children will climb in it or flip it upside down and realise that it can also be made into a house. They will be able to look past it’s ‘fixed’ purpose and transform it into something exciting and fun.

This opens up their mind to a world of possibilities that they would never have known existed!
child playing with red, yellow, and green beads

Improves Maths Skills

As children are engaging in loose parts play, they will practice a range of key numeracy concepts.

This includes making patterns, counting, matching, sorting, classifying, estimating, sequencing, measuring, shapes, balancing, and symmetry. All of these skills are essential for future development, yet children are practicing them in a fun and interactive way.

This helps them gain a deeper understanding of numeracy, and also makes them excited to learn more about the subject throughout their education.

In nursery, there are various ways of using loose parts play to develop a child’s maths skills. For example, you could provide a visual of the number 8 as it is written, along with loose parts materials for exploring that value. This could involve writing out the number 8 next to 8 acorns so that children can visually recognise different numbers.

You could also send your little mathematician on a treasure hunt to collect 8 objects from the garden. This keeps the activity fun, yet the educational value remains.

Another key maths skill that is developed through loose parts play, is sorting. Give children a collection of plastic lids, beads, spoons, or even objects found outside, and they will naturally start sorting them by colour, size, or material.

As humans, we inherently desire the order and predictability that comes from sorting objects in our environment. By asking children questions such as “is there a different way you can group these items?” it encourages young children to explore the ways they can classify objects.

Facilitates Problem Solving Skills

During loose parts play, children will test and hypothesise, evaluate and re-test different ways of doing things. For example, how can I fit stones into a box? How can wooden blocks balance on top of each other? How can I use a cardboard box as a house?

Because these materials have no fixed meaning, children are free to experiment and learn for themselves. They can play and manipulate the loose parts, developing their own solutions and enhancing their problem solving skills.

There will always be obstacles for them to overcome which is the great thing about this approach. Through a series of trial and error, they will come to their own conclusion rather than being led by an adult. This is highly valuable as when a child works something out on their own, they will feel a real sense of pride and achievement.

They have solved this problem independently, without adult intervention, which leads to increased confidence in their own ability.

Thinking abstractly is a problem solving skill that is important for nursery school and beyond. It will allow children to be able to manage a whole range of challenges from social interactions with their peers, to maths problems.

Both at nursery school and in the home, it’s important children are given the opportunity to test out their solutions in a hands-on, practical way. This makes loose parts play provide the perfect solution.
girl sitting playing with box

Benefits of Using Loose Parts Play at Nursery

Loose parts play enables children to freely explore the world around them through discovery and experimentation.

Instead of giving children ‘fixed’ toys with a specific purpose, loose parts play lets children create concepts for themselves. The child decides what the material becomes, rather than following a set of instructions. As such, their creativity is ignited as the impossible becomes possible.

What was once a tree branch, is now a spoon, a wand, or part of a tree house.

As you can see, the branch has no predetermined purpose or limitations.

This is what makes loose parts play such a valuable pedagogical approach. At The Hunny Pot Nursery, we provide a range of exciting outdoor areas that make it fun for the children to play, explore, and learn.

Being outside in the fresh air is so important for their wellbeing, but it also brings lots of educational benefits too. In our outdoor classrooms, children have the freedom to interact with a range of loose parts materials that will ignite their imagination and curiosity to learn.

We know that choosing the right nursery for your child can be a daunting experience, but we’re committed to providing a secure environment that nurtures your child’s development.

For more information or to book a tour of our nursery, simply get in touch.

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