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The Wonder of 'Loose Parts' Play











Surprised that ‘Loose Parts’ play theory has been around for 40 years???

We aren’t – because MJH Educational has been championing ‘loose parts play’ for as long as we have been going.


We all know and appreciate that young children LOVE to collect ‘things’, transport ‘things’ from A to B, count ‘things’, balance ‘things’, use ‘things’ and pile ‘things’ up in imaginative play…(all the SCHEMA). Now these ‘things’ have a ‘new’ name. LOOSE PARTS. First put forward by Simon Nicholson – an architect – in 1970’s, he was a great believer that all of the ‘loose parts’ that we come across within our community are valuable resources for encouraging creativity. Very much in tune with the REGGIO EMILIA approach – though not called ‘loose parts’ in Italy!


You can call them ‘stuff’, ‘things’ or even ‘resources’ but the end result is that loose parts are all sorts of materials that children can choose to play with and adapt to their chosen imaginary environment. A coin does not necessarily need to look like a coin in order that a child can use it as pirate gold! It can be a polished stone or a shiny shell. Then if you running a seaside shop in the next play session, those same shells could be your currency.


Providing a range of non-specific stuff encourages the child to use creativity and imagination with the materials and resources around them – something which is a piece of treasure one day could be an ornament in a fairy garden the next. It leaves the door open to greater skill and competence, and benefits the adult in being able to use the same resource again and again by allowing the child to change its use. After all, if you buy a plastic stacker, all it can do is…..well, stack! If you buy a pack of wood slices, you can stack them in size, use them as buttons in an imaginary spacecraft, as stepping stones in a fairy garden, paint numbers or letters on them or for more ideas, look at our pinterest board on wood. For many, this will be an extension of HEURISTIC PLAY, something that you may already be encouraging in your playtimes.


It is so difficult to source some of the more exciting ‘loose parts’ but here at Curious Fox, we have been doing it for ages! From shells to beans, wood to stones, pine cones to corks, fossils and minerals. It is so rewarding allowing children to use such diverse materials – some of which they may not usually come into contact with, makes it doubly exciting! Yes, it may be a leap of faith for some to venture into new pastures but trust us, the joy of seeing how the imagination comes alive when given such a ‘treasure’ is priceless. And whatsmore, these ‘loose parts’ are not gender specific. They aren’t painted pink or blue….they are natural making it perfect for every child in every nursery or pre-school and every ability level.

So, in short, the ‘loose parts’ can be: Lined up, Carried, Combined to make something Moved, Re-designed / adapted.


Whether indoors or outdoors ‘loose parts’ should be:

Openly accessible to children and stored where they can be reached without requiring the assistance of a keyworker / adult, allowing them to be used whenever the child chooses. Open-ended in their play value. No defined use should be placed on any item. The child should be supported in whatever way it chooses to play, including changing the shape or use of any item. Regularly added to, checked and if required, replenished. The range will change for different environments, allowing the children's imagination and creativity to draw from the settings they find themselves playing in.


Our collections offer a range of ‘loose play’ items and we have access to many more which we will be adding to the website. The difficulty can often be in the amount of time and cost involved in practitioners / carers sourcing specific items for play in this way. This is where we come into our own.


Curious Fox has an extensive network of suppliers and contacts to find anything from the simple to the near impossible! We love the challenge of finding new resources for open-ended play and you can guarantee that if you come up with an idea that a child enjoys, it is worth sharing with others who will benefit too. So if in doubt, call us and ask, if you don’t see what you are after. The chances are, we either have it or can get hold of it for you.

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