The theory of “loose parts” first proposed by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970's has begun to influence more and more child care professionals and has had a major influence on the ethos and resources at Busy Bodies.
In a world in which we are preparing our youngest generation for professions still unknown, it is imperative to fuel children’s curiosity and appetite for learning. This love of learning, along with the skills to communicate, problem-solving, and self-regulation skills, will lead to life-long success no matter the profession.
Architect Simon Nicholson used the term “loose parts” to describe materials with varied properties that can be moved and manipulated in many ways. He theorised that the richness of an environment depends on the opportunity it allows for people to interact with it and make connections. At Busy Bodies we have found this to be true and have documented the vast learning that can occur when children are able to invent, create, explore, and rearrange loose parts.
With no specific set of directions - shells, stones, bottle tops and other resources can be used in a variety of different ways. The stones shown in the above photograph were used on this occasion as part of the castle design but these stones have also been burgers, crabs, stepping stones for babies, sponges, and much much more. They can be whatever the children want them to be
When you have an environment full of 'loose parts' children can find creative learning and play opportunities in every corner. When children are encouraged to use loose parts and try their own ideas, they are driven to learn. They are driven to not only ask their own questions, but also discover their own answers and create new possibilities.
The natural world in all its simplicity and complexity provides children a rich allure of play and learning experiences. Nature organically produces a spectrum of loose parts that exhibit patterns and sequences not easily replicated in man-made materials. Consider the intricate patterns of a pinecone, the varieties of sticks, stones and the rings of tree cuttings. They are all unique and interesting.
Not all loose parts have to be natural but you can also mix it up with some man made resources. We use items that would have typically been thrown away such as old plastic bottles, bottle tops, etc as these offer a variety of play and learning opportunities. We find that a mixture of natural and synthetic items work well. The key is to consider not what they are made of but instead how "open" they are and how many different ways an item can be used. Take a bottle cap (like in the photograph below) or a small flat stone. The opportunities that they provide are almost endless. In comparison a more "closed" item such as a piece of plastic cut and designed to mimic a cucumber will mostly only be used as a cucumber. That is what we look for - items that offer the most creativity and children can use the item to enhance their play and learning - whatever they are choosing to do.
The other advantage of loose parts is that they can support learning at any age and stage. The bottle caps can be used in sensory play or very simple colour recognition games. They can also be used for counting and role play games as money, etc. They can also be used for more complex maths concept understanding such as visualising adding and subtraction and adding vocabulary. At whatever age and stage a child plays with the bottle caps they can be using them to work through ideas in their minds and developing those ideas - leading to next steps.
At Busy Bodies , loose parts mean alluring, beautiful, found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play. Children can carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart, and put loose parts back together in almost endless ways. The materials come with no specific set of directions, and they can be used alone or combined with other materials.
If you have a look around your house and in your garden you will also find similar objects that can be used as loose parts. To be honest - most items (as long as they are safe) can be used in this way.
When considering what kind of objects could be used the possibilities are endless and really only limited by your imagination. Once you’re in the right mind-set, everything becomes a loose part! The key thing to remember is that materials must be open ended, that is they have no pre-determined rules for use and can be made, moved, moulded, manipulated and morphed into any number of things using only imagination. Some of our favourites are;
Household items like cotton reels, curtain rings, blocks, beads, buttons, balls, tubes, tins, pots, springs, washers, marbles, bangles, tiles, pegs.
Natural resources such as stones, sea shells, feathers, pine cones, leaves, sticks, acorns, sand.
Fabrics such as scarves, ribbons, laces, scrunchies.
Modelling materials like playdough, kinetic sand and even slime.
Plastic and synthetic resources definitely have a place too. Lego, stickle bricks, and bottle tops.
You can see that loose parts are not toys in the traditional sense of the word, they are a collection of ‘things’ that can be moved, merged, collected, shared, taken apart, stacked, stored, built up, lined up and any other type of play that you can think of and as such, they’re a fantastic resource to support in young children’s play!
For more information I recommend reading the following document