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How to Create a Meaningful ‘Loose Parts’ Play provision in Your Setting

10 min of reading
25 February 2022
Blossom Educational - Loose Parts Play - cover
In this article you will find:

    What is ‘loose parts’ play?

    ‘Loose parts’ play is not a new flash-in-the-pan initiative, it has been first dated back to 1971 where architect, Simon Nicholson described fun and exploratory activities children freely engage with, he explained the need for a variety of items or ‘loose parts’ to create and make connections

    In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.

    It is a form of relaxed parameter learning, aimed to encourage and foster curiosity-led learning in children by offering ‘loose parts’ to pique interest and spark the imagination for play. Loose part play is strongly featured in the Reggio Emilia approach as well as being recognised by Early Years forerunners such as Montessori,Piaget and Froebel.

    Why is ‘loose parts’ play beneficial in Early Years?

    Due to the popularity of loose parts play in nursery settings, several studies have investigated carefully the necessity of having curiosity-encouraging provision within Early Years, and from a practical, everyday perspective the benefits are obvious! The opportunities for social, physical, and developmental growth they found are listed below.

    Social benefits

    Play is so versatile; it can be solitary exploration or span to a multiplayer wizard and dragon battles. Facilitating a provision where the possibilities are endless is a large task, but when created with thought and understanding of the aspects of play wanting to be developed, it can be the best part of their day.

    Research has found the following observable social benefits:

    Physical benefits

    The aim for productive play opportunities is to develop the whole child: socially, personally, physically, and emotionally. The suggested ideas listed below are a great way to encourage both indoor and outdoor exploration of loose parts play in your nursery.

    Outdoor opportunity allows for physically active play: running, jumping, climbing, pushing, and pulling. As well as developing strength, coordination, and stamina, which are all fundamental to leading a healthy life, the smaller objects suggested encourage the gross and fine motor skills needed to develop school-ready skills in an engaging way.

    Developmental benefits

    All benefits available when the children in your setting engage with curiosity-based play intertwine with the four guiding principles from the 2021 Early Years Framework. Encouraging progression within learning, building on their own interests, strengthening positive relationships all whilst advancing their competency at the different play stages.

    Who supports the use of ‘loose parts’ play in Early Years?

    The detailed descriptions of loose parts or curiosity play have been well documented for decades, it has developed and matured through the years but remains as flexible as your setting needs it to be. It is supported by several theorists (Piaget, Parten and Smilansky) with the development of play stages; loose parts play offers the perfect opportunity to progress in each stage.


    Unoccupied play in solitude, exploring what objects do and feel like.


    Representation stage, using own imagination in relation to an object.

    Games with rules

    The final, most complex stage of play, where there is a collective goal to reach when playing

    There are no set ways Ofsted prefer to see learning through play, it relies on your own setting’s needs and the needs of the children. The best settings, find creative methods of hitting all the prime and specific areas of learning and development through a mixture of adult and child-led practice.

    How can you make your provision as effective as possible?

    Types of play

    We all are aware of our children’s favourite games to play, but do we really think about what type of play we are observing? We have collated different types of play and what to look for, to highlight the progressive stages of play.

    Practice/ exploration play

    Testing out their senses with objects, sensory stimulation.


    Having a specific focus in mind and then finding objects to fit the focus.


    With a focus in mind, organising based on size, shape, colour, or an identifiable feature.


    This can involve placing items on top of each other or in a specified place like inside the hoop.


    The use of objects for their ‘intended’ function, rolling balls down a slope.


    Representing an object as something else, in line with a story or game: this method of play may be performed independently or with others.


    Following a story line the play may involve an issue to solve- doctors saving a life, police chasing and catching a ‘baddie’.

    Goal oriented

    This can be game based or even the collection of items in preparation for the game- making a racetrack before playing.

    Combination play

    A mixture of the types of play, can move between imaginary and dramatic.

    Rule games

    Following specific instructions as part of the game, adult or child-led with recognition the rules are important in the game.

    Best resources to facilitate

    In an ideal budget world, you could stock up your room resources with a host of fancy, sparkling new gadgets from a catalogue. But as the premise behind loose parts play is a learning method, the materials used to get the children to learning can be flexible, allowing the importance to be the journey itself. So, with the natural world and sustainability in mind, we have created an extensive list for your resources. A list that will be able to facilitate over 38 ways to encourage curiosity play and learning, without breaking the bank.

    We have chosen to split into four main categories: Natural, Man-made, Temporary and Fiddly bits!

    Best resources to facilitate

    Falling into the same ideas to use can be easy, especially when they love exploring in that way! We have used the lists above to create 38 fun and easy ways to refresh your loose parts play ideas.

    There is nothing more rewarding than creating the nurturing, supportive environment necessary for children to explore boundaries and interests within play. You, as practitioners, plant these seeds every day.

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