Subscribe to our newsletter

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

March 1, 2023
3 minute read

Over the years, we have seen early years environment change in line with new research and guidance on how children learn.  When I started working early years, 17 years ago, everything was plastic, bright colours, and a lot of projects where the product was favoured over process. Fast forward 17 years and the early year’s environment looks very different.

2023 see’s many nursery environments with minimal plastic resources, lots of natural resources, natural colours, and loose parts.

Loose parts have become a big part of the early years environment and have also become key for encouraging all 7 areas of learning.

What is meant by the term loose parts? The theory of loose parts was developed by Simon Nicholson in 1971. Basically, loose parts are materials that can be manipulated in a range of ways. moved, carried, mixed, combined, changed, lined up, have multiple uses, taken apart and put back together in various ways. Loose parts encourage children to use their imagination, be creative in how items are used and The idea of ‘loose parts’ uses be able to move them around the setting, using them as they wish. Loose parts have no defined use and so it is important for early years practitioners to encourage, empower and support children to use them in new and creative ways. 

Consider how often children enjoy bringing materials from one area to another and making connections, such as the child who offers a plate of rocks and grass and shares his recipe for spaghetti! This creativity and imagination is a key result of loose parts play.  There are no restrictions on learning outcomes or intentions with loose parts, allowing for innovation, originality and open play.

For example, if you provided children with a selection of boxes, curtain rings, glass beads, toilet roll tubes and bottle tops, the opportunities for the children are endless and cover a range of learning intentions, without having a predetermined outcome.  A practitioner could support the children with counting, patterns, the building of their own structures, posting items, having their own ideas in play, building new positional language, recasting language etc the list really is endless, depending on where the child takes the play.

Loose parts/open-ended resources can be used across the whole of the nursery if resources are purposeful, age-appropriate and risk assessed.

Activity ideas for under two’s:

  • Mug tree with curtain rings
  • Treasure baskets
  • Pipes cleaners and a colander for threading
  • Spaghetti and hoops for threading
  • Selection of natural materials, lids of jars, and curtain rings

Lose parts/open-ended resources for over two’s:

  • Selection of buttons to explore.
  • Selection of natural materials
  • Junks modelling with boxes, scissors, tape, glue etc
  • Cotton reels, guttering, tubing

It is important that loose parts are accessible to children and stored where they can be reached by children without them having to ask for them. However, in our nursery we found that having too many loose parts was overwhelming and created a lot of distraction. We decided to pair them back until the children were used to using such materials and gradually introduced more availability to them. The children should know that they can use them whenever and however they wish.

Loose parts provide a wonderful opportunity for discussion, experimentation, and creativity and it is the role of the skilled adults around them to encourage critical thinking, and sustained shared thinking.  

Becky – Nursery Manager

Do you use loose parts in your setting? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram