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Sparking Awe and Wonder Through Loose Parts Play (cert-4-£1)

Updated: May 15, 2021

Guest blog, written by Karen Mason: Early Years Educator and Loose Parts Play Aficionado

(Image: Play Scotland)

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Loose Parts Play

“Ooh, what is it? It’s weird, what does it do? Can I move it? What can I use it for? Will it stack on here? Will it fit in there? I’m not sure what to do”. And sometimes it even becomes something....

Children love to tinker with things, to move things, to explore things; they love to prod things, poke things, pull apart, link things, line things up; they love to post things, fill things up and create things. Also, sometimes children just aren’t sure either and that’s okay.

Loose parts can be moved and added together, they can become anything. They have no right or wrong way of being used.

Giving children loose parts to play with and explore gives them an opportunity to be curious, to have a go, to question, to guess, be creative, think critically, to problem solve and be independent.

Using loose parts has ignited my passion for encouraging children’s life skills such as having a go, being creative, thinking, problem solving and building on their personal, social and emotional development too.


When adults stand back and observe a child who is exploring loose parts, it really helps us to find out more about the child, their learning styles and play preferences, it provides useful next steps and inspiration for supporting and extending their learning.

It’s one thing to know about loose parts play and start adding new items to our resource banks but it’s another to use loose parts play successfully. This takes time, dedication, patience and reflection. Just throwing a few ‘interesting’ items at the children (not literally) and expecting them to know how to play with them just doesn’t work in my experience. How we present the materials, introduce them and lure children in to play with them in a way that sparks awe and wonder is very important and requires some careful consideration.


Just some of the loose parts items I’ve found children love to explore and use are; nuts, bolts, washers and anything with holes that the children can poke things through i.e. a metal sink tidy or colander. Curtain rings, carpet tiles, drainpipes, pine cones, sticks, mud, car tyres, planks of wood, fabric, milk crates, large cardboard tubes from inside carpet rolls. And the new ones – the contents of an old jewellery box and wire stands (the ones we all remember from school sports day)


Here's one of my favourite memories of how the children have used loose parts, this involved:

* Wire stands

* Guttering

* Long plastic tubes

* Play bricks with holes

The children balanced some guttering between two wire stands horizontally, a large pipe was pushed into the top of the front wire stand and bent towards the ground. Another pipe was then added to the other wire stand at the back. The children threaded lots of bricks onto the back pipe and placed them at an angle to create spikes...The loose parts had become a dinosaur! I was thrilled and so proud that the children engaged fully in the play and collaborated with each other to truly own the play space.


As well as having lots of success with loose parts play, I’ve also had some real ‘flops’. During my own learning experience with loose parts, I’ve found that sometimes, children just don’t want to engage in loose parts and I often feel this is more to do with how they are presented. For example, I found that simply putting a selection of loose parts in a tuff tray on the floor without any other resources or invitation to play, the children showed very little interest - a few items were moved around by a few children but it didn’t keep their attention and the children put the items down and moved on.

Having noticed their lack of interest, I changed two things... I moved the items to a large wooden table that was at kneeling level and I noticed the children knelt there for extended periods of time, creating, building, moving things and exploring...the same resources but just on a low table rather than the tuff tray.

I then went back to the tuff tray and added small world play items along with the loose parts and I found that the children were much more interested and engaged in the items a lot more than when it was just the loose parts. So it’s also quite interesting to observe these subtle differences, reflecting on how to spark interest and present the materials in the most inviting and physically comfortable way possible.


I’ve personally found more success by giving children a variety of options in terms of how to play with the loose parts and by demonstrating and modelling problem-solving, creative thinking and exploration myself. Changing the loose parts once a month or so is also important as it keeps it fresh for the children and helps to create continuous exploring, learning and problem solving.

Like me, you may want to start introducing loose parts by setting up something familiar, like small world play for example and gradually adding loose parts to add a new dimension to their usual role play and imaginative play.

It’s also great to be able to have areas where loose parts are visibly stored for easy access by children so they can be independent in selecting loose parts resources to add into their play. A table that’s low enough for them to kneel at, an area that’s large enough for them to be creative and build, inside or out, with their tubes, crates and bricks.


My final tip: Store a box of loose parts and keep adding to it, so that every so often, you can scatter a few mysterious, random objects around that the children have never seen before. It helps keeps the magic, awe and wonder alive!


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