When you come to the zoo for LEAP each week, one of the first things you see when you walk in the building is our “Loose Parts,” station. We’ll admit, it often looks like we just dumped a bucket of random items out on the ground and walked away. Pine cones, shells, scraps of fabric, bowls, buckets and magnifying glasses are littered across the floor. Believe it or not, this clutter is intentional. It’s an invitation for children to apply their imaginations to a variety of open-ended materials. They can scoop, stack, sort, spill, touch, observe, toss—the possibilities are endless.
There are many benefits of loose parts play and you can read more about those here. One of the greatest things about loose parts play is how incredibly simple it is to set up—you don’t have to go out and buy anything, there are no instructions and no rules, just good old child-directed play (read: no work for you). If you don’t have one already, below are some tips for setting up a loose parts area in your home.
Pick a theme:
Colors and textures are great themes for early learners. Gather fabric pieces, marbles, and buttons of all different colors. Or focus on one color, such as purple, and find a variety of purple items.
Choose materials with different textures. We always include natural materials like pine cones, bark, rocks, and leaves. These things can be collected outside on your next walk!
Reflect the seasons with your loose parts. Pull together items that represent wintry weather, spring or remind you of summer or fall.
Choose a variety of containers:
Children often want to fill up their buckets, dump them out, transport items across the room and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Collect buckets and baskets of varying sizes and materials. Having metal bowls and wicker baskets will create contrasting sounds when you drop stuff in them.
Use muffin tins or leftover egg cartons to introduce a sorting element to your child’s loose parts play!
Don’t limit yourself:
Small items, big items, kids love them all! Empty boxes, pillows, and sheets make an amazing fort while big branches and tree stumps are great for teamwork.
Natural items are encouraged, but loose parts can be anything! Cut up an old towel for scraps, put your paper towel tubes to good use and don’t forget that trash can be treasure!
For more ideas, check out these two books by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky on our Books & Resources page.
Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children & Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers
Written by Becky Lyons and Emily Van Laan