Loose Parts – The benefits of unstructured play and open-ended resources.

As a parent or educator, you have no doubt heard about the importance of ‘free play’, ‘loose parts’ and ‘open-ended resources’. But what do these terms really mean and why are they so important?

“Giving meaning to loose parts requires us to think about the possibilities of how a child learns and consider the materials and environments she uses. Loose parts create endless possibilities and invite creativity. For example, if a child picks up a rock and starts to play, most likely that rock can become anything the child wants it to be. Imagination, creativity, curiosity, desire, and need are the motivation of loose parts.

Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There is no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction.”

When setting up your learning environment, consider how the child will interact and engage with the materials and resources around him/her. Do the resources you have provided allow the child to freely explore their own interests, urges and curiosities, or do they limit and restrict the child’s play?

collage 1

Loose parts or open-ended resources create opportunities for learning and open up a world of discovery. The importance of these resources lies in the children’s interest and engagement. There are no rules or expectations with this form of play, and no ‘right or wrong’ way, making it free flowing, relaxed and natural. This invites more in-depth inquiry and active exploration, as children do not feel under pressure to perform or ‘get it right’.

Another fantastic thing about loose parts is that they are suitable for all ages.  “Children will manipulate and use them in different ways according to their own specific ages and stages of development – they can also use them in different ways day after day!”

Finally, these resources are cheap and easy to collect – making them perfect for setting up a quality learning environment on a budget! You can pick up little treasures from op-shops, as well as collecting natural resources, and keeping recycled materials, such as washed out yoghurt pots, empty plastic containers and cardboard tubes.

Above all else, HAVE FUN!

Written by Jess Shepard