“As long as materials can be moved, redesigned, put together, and taken apart in a variety of ways, they are classified as loose parts.”Simon Nicholson, 1971
Founder of the idea of Loose Parts
What are Loose Parts?
Loose parts was a term created by an architect Simon Nicholson. He looked at environments and how they formed connections. He believed that loose parts were an important component of creativity and higher order thinking.
Loose parts are any collection of natural or manmade objects that can be used to extend and further ideas in children’s play. They are open-ended materials that can be moved, combined, taken apart, redesigned, lined-up and more! There is no pre-determined use or function.
Loose parts are open to a child’s interpretation and creative thinking! A loose part can become anything!
Loose parts can be thought of as the way for children of all ages to unlock the cognitive and creative mindset that allows them to build, deconstruct, persist, create, and work together to unleash the power of creativity that we all contain.
Loris Malaguzzi stated, “The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”
Loose parts offer children infinite play opportunities influencing them in ever-changing ways. The immense benefits of offering loose parts exploration is critical to development of the next generation. Loose parts allow children to do the thinking instead of the manufactured toy that has set directions. This is beneficial because it reaches such a deep cognitive level of thinking, problem solving, and persisting.
Loose parts opens the enormous possibilities for children to truly become the critical thinkers they’re destined to be.
The beautiful piece about loose parts is no matter the age, children can explore with the same materials and use them in different ways suitable for their age development. Loose parts also promote a wide variety of play behaviors, including social play, dramatic play, constructive play, symbolic play, and even games with rules, when children make up their own games with the materials.
Math and science areas are learned as children experiment with sand, water, buckets, and stacking materials along with truly any open ended material. Loose parts open the enormous possibilities for children to truly become the critical thinkers they’re destined to be.
The 7 Types of Loose Parts
“Creativity is for the gifted few: the rest of us are compelled to live in environments constructed by the gifted few, listen to the gifted few’s music, use gifted few’s inventions and art, and read the poems, fantasies and plays by the gifted few. This is what our education and culture conditions us to believe, and this is a culturally induced and perpetuated lie.”Simon Nicholson, 1972
The Theory of Loose Parts
After understanding the vast need for loose parts, many people ask, “Where do I begin?”
You begin by looking around at your current collection of materials and sorting them by textures. All these types of textures provide rich opportunities for children as all of them can be infused within every area of the classroom.
These types of loose parts are all recyclable and easy to obtain materials that make this even more powerful for teachers, parents, and children.
Nature-Based Loose Parts
Sweet Gum Balls
Wood Reuse Loose Parts
Hardwood Floor Scraps
Plastic Loose Parts
Gerber Food Containers
Empty Spice Containers
Plastic Bead Necklaces
Metal Loose Parts
Nuts and Bolts
Forks and Spoons
Metal Paint Cans
Ceramic & Glass Loose Parts
Cabinet door knobs
Small mirror discs
Glass Vase Beads
Fabric, Yarn, & Ribbon Loose Parts
Packaging Reuse Loose Parts
6 Places to Find Loose Parts
“Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”Richard Louv
After understanding what loose parts are, the benefits, the seven types, and seeing many examples of loose parts, you may be wondering, “What’s next?” “Where do I begin?”
If you’re already thinking, “I want to do more of this with my class or my own kids,” then you’re already beginning! The hardest part is changing our mindset of what we may be used to. In reality, the beauty of loose parts gets back to how most of us were raised with the infinite possibilities of nature or materials around us.
For starters, looking around in nature and your own house is where we all began. It’s not about spending money on more things but having eyes for recyclable materials.
- Thrift Stores
- Garage Sales
- Walks with Children
- Recycled Home Goods
The Sensory Experience of Materials
“Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.”Simon Nicholson, 1971
Founder of the idea of Loose Parts
In the traditional classroom materials we see primarily plastic and bright colors. The visual processing system is the main system being used as we see the dominance of high frequency colors. Traditional educational methods are visual and auditory heavy.
In the Reggio-Inspired classroom there is a diversity of materials with not only a visual feast but also a strong offering of the tactile. The tactile processing system interprets information through the touch receptors in the skin. Research has shown a strong connection between the emotional center of the brain and the tactile system.
Through touch, a child learns about the world. . . weight, size, temperature, texture. It is here where young children begin to develop their sense of pleasure and pain. Considering this – what is a bright colored plastic environment providing a child? It is the difference between a Happy Meal from McD and an organic meal rich in vegetables.