Did you know that the role of loose parts play in early childhood development is crucial? It’s more than just providing fun and entertainment for children – it actually helps with their social, physical, and cognitive development.
Loose Parts Play Theory
The theory of loose parts play was first proposed by architect and educator Simon Nicholson in 1971. He argued that a playground space should provide loose parts for children to explore and create their own play experiences. This theory has since been adopted and adapted by early education professionals around the world, who use it to develop early childhood curriculum plans.
These loose parts provide a much more open-ended play experience than the traditional toys found in early learning classrooms. The individual pieces involved in loose parts play offer children the opportunity to create their own stories and explore different scenarios.
Early Childhood Loose Parts Play
Loose parts play may sound like a vague concept, so let’s take a moment to define it. Loose parts play is an open-ended type of play that involves the use of loose materials such as clay, blocks, and other objects. These objects can be manipulated in many different ways to create new opportunities for exploration and imagination.
Without parents’ involvement, toddlers tend to do this by themselves. They grab objects, mix them together, throw them away, and repeat the cycle without any specified direction from their parents.
When can you start loose parts play?
You may be wondering, when can you start giving your child toys to play with and engage in loose parts play? Play based learning experts recommend starting early, around 12 months of age. At this stage, the child is beginning to understand how objects can be used and interacted with.
The moment your child can start to hold things, you can introduce pieces of loose parts play to him or her. Give them different types of toys and encourage them to explore with their hands. This early exposure will be incredibly beneficial for the development of their cognitive skills!
Explaining to children how to play
Despite having an open-ended setup, you will still need to explain the play structure and rules to your children. This will help them understand what is expected of them, as well as help you maintain control over the activity.
When giving instructions, keep it simple yet clear without being patronising or too technical. Explain what they can do with each object and encourage them to come up with their own ideas. Safety is also another very important factor for loose parts plays, so be sure to keep an eye out for any potential hazards like sharp and hard objects that can cause injury or damage.
Parents’ and other children’s involvement
Having an addition of characters within the setup can help children understand how to interact with others. An older child or a parent can lead the activity by providing instructions and guidance on what to do with the objects presented. It can help them build stronger emotions, self-awareness, and other important skills that they will need in early childhood development.
Indoor and Outdoor Settings
The play may flow in different directions depending on the setting. If you’re playing indoors, you can bring out elements of imagination by adding stuffed animals or other items found inside the house. If outdoors, children are more exposed to nature and other different textures that could be seen as potential loose parts that can be used during play.
Other settings may also include the bedroom which will allow your child to use items such as cushions and be creative with the bouncy bed. The beach also offers plenty of opportunities to explore with items such as sand and seashells, and is also an excellent place for physical activity. Either of these settings will apply motor skills when there is enough space.
Loose Parts Play Benefits
With all the talk of this type of play, it is no wonder that early childhood educators have embraced the concept. There are also many benefits to loose parts play for early childhood development, and we’ve listed a few down below.
Creativity starts at a very early age, and loose parts play is one of the best ways to foster it. With these open-ended pieces, children can create their own stories and explore different scenarios.
Children can also show their creativity through language as they talk about their ideas and experiences. They will try to get your attention and put their work in a show and tell. When playing with loose parts, children can start to learn new words that describe the objects they are manipulating or how they feel while playing. This early learning process will help them build a solid foundation for their communication skills later in life.
Loose parts play invites collaboration from other children. It is a great way to help foster friendships and early social skills like cooperation, empathy, and compassion. By working together on their ideas, children learn how to work with others in order to accomplish their goals.
They also learn how to compromise and negotiate if there are disputes or disagreements about the project at hand. In your local park, you can even see your children re-enact their favorite superhero or cartoon character while using toys and other objects as their dramatic play props for the whole charade.
As unusual as it sounds, loose parts play encourages abstract thinking and problem-solving early on. Children learn to think outside the box as they use loose parts to construct, create and explore with their imagination. They start to recognise patterns in shapes, colour schemes or gradients, and even language.
Not only will early exposure to loose parts play help early learners develop abstract thinking, but also critical and developmental skills that will be beneficial as they grow up.
Loose Parts Play Ideas
Before you start to introduce loose parts play into your early learning environment, there are some tips that early educators should keep in mind. One tip is to provide an ample variety of loose parts from everyday objects such as plastic cups, wood blocks, fabrics, and containers.
Also, make sure that the ground they work on is safe. Check out other tips below based on the type of play that children usually engage in.
A house setup is the most basic form of loose parts play. Provide some furniture, dolls, and objects from your home to the early learners so that they can build their own imaginary homes. The common characteristic of loose parts used in this type of play are soft materials.
With many cars to be used as a reference outside, early learners can create their own cars with various objects. Provide some boxes, plastic spoons, pipe cleaners, and other loose parts that can be used by learners to build their dream cars.
With cotton, string, and other accessories, early learners can create their own jewelry pieces. This helps with early exposure to colours, shapes, and even their hand-eye coordination as they work on tying knots and connecting strings together.
It may be easiest to refer to the outdoors and let early learners use loose parts that can simulate nature. Provide small plastic animals, clay, leaves, and sand for them to create a mini zoo or park.
Exposing children to a variety of sensory materials will widen their ideas, and they’ll be able to learn about their environment as they experiment with these objects. A role-playing scenario can also help keep things interesting and stimulate their creativity.
Loose Parts Play Materials
With the ideas that we have listed down above, safety should still be your number one concern when selecting loose parts for children. Toxic, sharp, and heavy objects should not be part of their play. Loose parts resources can be anything as long as these items are safe and just enough for children to move, grab, or lift.
These everyday items can be used for loose parts play. Boxes of all shapes and sizes, pillows and blankets, plastic cups, paper towels, bottle caps, bottle tops, cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, wooden blocks, spoons, forks, and other kitchen utensils can be used by children during play.
Just make sure that the items are child-safe since children also have the tendency to put things in their mouths. The sharpness of these items should also be checked to avoid injury.
Buying premade play-building materials or making this on your own won’t make much of a difference so any will do. You can still see your little architect in the works as they attempt to build a tower or a house with these loose parts.
They’ll also try to shape characters with blocks and compartments by using bottle tops, PVC pipes, and even natural resources.
Beads, string, cotton reels, and even clean recycled materials are great examples of crafting materials. This is a great way to practice hand-crafting and art skills. Let them build their own unique pieces with the supplies that you provide. Make sure that when the child is using a pair of scissors, you are present to help them.
Sheets and clothing
Sheets are generally safe for early learners. Give children some fabric and let them build their own forts. These forts can be used as a hiding place or a secret base so early learners can practice early imaginative skills. They may even try to play dress up with these items.
Items from outdoor environments can provide early lessons for your early learners. Leaves, clay, nuts, sand, pine needles, and even pine cones can be early exposure to nature and can help children identify things from the outdoors with their curiosity about these natural materials.
Crayons, chalk, paper, and art materials can be used to provide art lessons for early learners. They can use these supplies to create their own art projects and help them get a head start on what they might do at school.
Let Them Play at Okinja ELC
Okinja ELC provides early learners with all the loose parts materials they need to play and explore early concepts. We have a wide range of loose parts that early learners can use for their imaginative play. Along with early education and guidance, early learners at Okinja ELC will be able to exceed expectations in an ever-evolving world.
Contact us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.