Strategies for Successful Loose Parts Play

The goal of loose parts play is for children to learn to collaborate and communicate.

We as adults & supervisors are NOT problem solvers. The children MUST learn to solve their own problems by talking to each other and making allowances for one another.

You can help and coach them along if they are struggling but we MUST not do this work for them.

This is a LIFE SKILL they will carry forward with them throughout their whole lives.

We can help & support their learning by:

  • Asking if they have told the offending party about their problem
  • Asking them what they can do to solve their problem
  • Giving language and offering suggestions as solutions.
  • Trusting the children to solve their own problems

Play evolves. Relationships evolve.

Elementary aged children are learning how to navigate the social realm this is what play is about.

Risk Assessment

From EYFS:

Resources should be stored so that children can easily reach them and should be available when children are initiating and leading their own play.

There should be sufficient quantities to avoid conflict.

The items should be in good condition and regularly checked for damage or weakness. Any splintered, cracked, damaged or dangerous items should be removed immediately.

Some children may still put things into their mouths and so, if there is a child attending who is still at this stage of
development, a specific risk assessment must be undertaken and adults should observe and be present during the play or the items removed for the time they attend.

Early Years Foundation Stage UK

A note about violence:

Loose parts tend to bring with it a fear about violence toward other children. Throwing, hitting and other aggressive acts toward children are a valid concern in this age of risk and liability.

Not all children have the opportunity to learn about the effects of their violence in their preschool years when the harm they can inflict is minimal. The bigger the kid, the more damage they can do in the event of an outburst.

It is critical that supervisors can help children to understand how their aggression HURTS the children around them. Rather than saying “Stop”, don’t do this or that, saying things like “You are hurting him. She is crying” and asking the child to look at the face of the injured child helps to make them aware of the inner empathy that is evolving inside them.

Removing a child from play with gentle words such as, “I can see you are having a hard time playing safely I am going to help you keep your friends safe.” rather than a punitive, punishing approach will go a long way toward keeping the child’s sense of self intact.

The more we can let go and trust the children in our care the deeper their sense of their own inner goodness will evolve. It is a difficult urge to resist but many times simple eye contact and a smile is all that is needed to correct and redirect misbehavior.

Above all we are there to gently, lovingly and kindly
help the children learn to solve their own problems
not punish them for their challenges.

Materials for Outdoor Loose Parts Play:

 Stones, rocks
 Tree stumps
 Logs
 Pebbles
 Gravel
 Twigs
 Sticks
 Planks of wood
 Coconut shells
 Corks
 Decorative stones
 Spoons
 Curtain rings
 key rings
 chains
 tape measures

 Pallets
 Balls
 Buckets
 Baskets
 Crates
 Boxes
 Rope
 Tires
 Shells
 Seeds & seed pods
 Pine cones
 wool or cotton strong
 Cable reels
 Feathers
 Pots
 containers

 Glass beads
 Cable ties
 Guttering &
 Garden trugs
 Tarpaulin
 Nuts & bolts
 Bark & moss
 Leaves
 Small slices of logs
 Netting
 Wood off cuts
 Gourds
 keys

Please know that Loose Parts Play is not a NEW concept by any means in the world of Early Childhood Learning. This is something ECE’s have been doing and discussing for over 50 years. It is as old as the profession itself.

‘Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires [sic], bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and
ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junkyard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don’t try and direct the kids in their play just let them get on with it.’

How Not To Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts
(S Nicholson, Landscape Architecture 1971)

Additional Resources:


Links to EYFS videos showing children involved in ‘Loose Parts Play:

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