Play Based Learning Using Loose Parts

Providing children with access to loose parts materials enables them to use their imaginations in an endless variety of ways.
Loose parts are materials that can be played with in an open-ended way. They include man-made and natural resources and can be large or small scale, such as stones, sticks, cones, shells, logs, planks, crates, tyres, cable drum, pipes, ropes, tubes and more. Often these materials can be found, recycled or bought and, to maximise the play opportunities, educators should offer a wide range of resources that are changed and added to regularly. These resources promote imagination, creative thinking, physical dexterity and collaborative play. They also enable children to shape their play without adult direction.

The theory of Loose Parts was first introduced by an architect named Simon Nicholson in the 1970s. Nicholson considered landscapes and environments to enhance and empower creativity and in that process form connections. He believes that in any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it.
One great example as provided by him was the scenery on a beach. The beach has many moveable and adaptable materials such as water, sand, rocks and shells. This is the reason why children are absorbed in play for hours on a beach which would showcase their concentration and attention span. Toys that are bought in stores may lack the flexibility that loose parts can provide.

Using loose parts adds depth and richness to play. Children need to be able to use real resources in their play, not just toys. Many education approaches such as the Steiner Waldorf system, Reggio Emilia or Montessori classes advocate the need for real experiences in order to acquire life skills. Playing with a variety of loose parts assists with these approaches.

Tyres can be rolled around; stacked up; sat in; hidden in; jumped in; filled up; used as planters; climbed on, etc. Ask local mechanics if they have old tyres they could donate.
Bread and milk crates can be turned into a cosy sitting space with a few cushions. Children like to tie ropes on to them and pull them along the ground, and the holes are also useful for weaving.
Guttering can be cut into manageable sizes but children enjoy the satisfaction of being able to move big pieces themselves. Heavy-duty black guttering is the most robust and won’t break when they jump on it or try to bend it in interesting ways.

Ropes are a versatile resource which can be used to tie around trees or posts, shaken and waved around, or simply just stood on or held. Ensure that these are used with adult supervision and children know not to wrap them around themselves or each other.

Plastic pipes come in all shapes and sizes. The large plastic ones with corrugated exterior are usually found on building sites and are used to transport water underground. Large pipes like these are popular for rolling around; creating entrances to dens; crawling into or used as planters.
Logs, stumps and wooden planks have a wide range of uses – from balancing beams, portable seating and construction.
Cable drums can be stacked, balanced, rolled, built with or used as tables.
Steering wheels can be attached to crates, boxes and fences for instant transport play. Find them from your local car scrap yard.

Loose parts play is utilised in Meerilinga’s Early Learning Program to support children’s transition to school and the practice is taught in Meerilinga Training College child care courses.

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