In the 1970s an architect called Simon Nicholson proposed an idea which has come to be known as the theory of loose parts; that it is the loose parts in our society – items which can be arranged, manipulated, moved around, and redesigned – which empower our creativity. There is no rule about what these loose parts should be. They might be natural or man made, made of wood, metal, stone or plastic, designed or found.
Unsurprisingly, this idea has become influential for many of us who are raising or looking after children. Loose parts play is wonderful for young children, encouraging creativity and truly imaginative and open ended play. Loose parts invite the child to tinker, to build, to sort, to move around, to create redesign, and to immerse themselves in their activity.
Frida already had a loose parts “treasure” basket full of semi-precious stones, tiny gemstones, wooden cylinders and conkers, which was used all the time, but it didn’t really feel like this was enough to meet her needs. I decided to take our big Grapat tray and set it up as a loose parts tray – a “tinker tray” if you will. As soon as I had set it up, Frida lost herself deeply in play for a long time, and has returned to it many time already.
I didn’t buy anything new to add to it, I just did a quick sweep around the playroom and the rest of the house to see what I could find.
In her tray I put:
- A few handfuls of wooden beads
- Semi-previous rocks and gem stones
- Conkers, plane tree seed, a cedar cone Frida painted with glitter last year
- The wooden cylinders from a balancing game
- A coral fossil
- A piece of cork
- A small wooden scoop
- The plastic squeezy scooping tongs from this set (Frida loves using this)
- Wooden nesting bowls (NB these are probably my favourite open ended toy to date!)
- Wooden sound blocks
- Wooden pegs (not pictured)
- Grimms Seven Rainbow Friends (figures and cups)
- Grimms blue pebbles
- Wooden bread stamp
- Welsh love spoon
I plan on adding to it with any finds from our walks in nature, with twigs, shells, and more pebbles.
The threading and scooping tongs provide prompts for fine motor skill practice and hand strengthening, the beads and bowls for sorting, but there is no “end goal” in mind with this tray apart from Frida just to play and enjoy herself. She can use it entirely as she wishes.
I would love to set up a big area dedicated to loose parts play, but realistically this is a good solution for us as our home is quite small. Also I feel like keeping beads and other small loose parts contained in a tray is a good sanity saver for the whole family!
Looking for more ways to encourage independent play? Here are five tips to help your child play alone.