Loose parts is a fun activity that is so easy to do, in the classroom and at home. It’s exactly what it sounds like too. Loose parts is a collection of random items that are easily found around the house.
You may have a junk drawer in your house. But in the loose parts world, this is actually a treasure drawer! You may find extra screws, bolts, nuts, allen wrenches and other (safe for children) tools and accessories. Perhaps there are leftover game pieces, napkin rings, thread spools, empty prescription bottles (cleaned out), and clothes pins. These are all great items for children to explore (supervised of course).
Storing loose parts
So, if we are moving stuff out of the junk drawer and everything is random, how do you store this?
You can use a wide array of storage. There is no right or wrong, just simply what works for you and fits into your environment. Here, at All God’s Children, we use empty, cleaned out pretzel jars. These are large jars that can hold a lot. You could also use bins with lids or fishing lure trays (these are GREAT for storing lots of things!).
You can also create a small, travel loose parts kit. These are great for children in restaurants (no screen time!).
Loose parts aren’t just for inside! With outdoor loose parts the pieces can be as large as the child can handle. Sticks, rocks, leaves, pinecones are just a few things you can scavenge in your yard.
You can add some inside loose parts such as twine or string, a tray to work on. Children can use these to work their gross and fine motor skills. Encourage your child to collect their own outdoor loose parts. Be sure to supervise, as you don’t want poisonous berries or poison ivy!
Buying loose parts
You don’t have to just have random junk from around your house. There are lots of great things you can buy to specifically use for loose parts.
Craft stores and dollar stores are great places to start! Wood “cookies” are a big favorite. You can find these in the wooden sections of craft stores, usually in a net bag. These are fun to build with too (think blocks). Large wooden beads, pom poms, buttons and plastic flowers are other great items to find in a craft store.
Dollar stores have a wide variety of items AND super cheap. Tooth picks, cotton balls and cotton swabs are a few things that can be built with or to create outlines. Paper clips, hair rollers, army men, plastic bracelets are some other items that you can mix in with other random items.
Loose parts can be spread out or kept in a small area. Outdoor items are best spread out in the yard, but you could use a stump as a smaller area to work.
Play spaces can be items from around your house or easily found at a dollar store.
Ice cube trays and muffin trays are perfect for little fingers to sort their treasures. They might even find other ways to incorporate it into their play.
Placemats, cookie sheets and wooden trays are great ways to keep and the small pieces in one spot. It helps with not loosing any or vacuuming them up later!
To create a fun activity, purchase an 8×10 and 5×7 picture frame from a dollar store. Remove the backing and the glass. Have the child arrange their pieces in the frames to create a picture. Don’t forget to photograph it!
My favorite place to find play space items in the Target Dollar Spot. There are often felt chess boards or tic tac toe. These are quite fun for kids to play on!
What are the benefits?
In child care we see a wide range of children from different cultures, family dynamics and socioeconomics. One thing that we are seeing a trend of across the board is the lack of fine motor skills and creativity/imagination.
Children have unfortunately become use to toys “doing” something. Or they rely on screen time to entertain them. When given non- electronic toys, many don’t know how to play. Often children need an adult to provide a narrative to figure out what to do (oh your baby is hungry. You should get him a bottle.)
With loose parts children are using items for something beyond their typical use. They are able to make shapes, sort things and pretend. This will boost their imaginations and creativity. How do you do this? Simply take a few handfuls of loose parts and add them to a tray and give it to the child. (Loose parts should always be supervised due to the small nature of the items) Watch and learn. You will begin to see how the child is thinking. You will also learn what they struggle with. Can they pinch? Are they able to easily manipulate the pieces?
Children build story telling skills. When they ae building, children will often narrate what they are doing or what is happening. Adults can also ask open ended questions (Why did you put this there? or Can you tell me about your creation?) You can take it a step further by writing what they narrate to you and taking a picture of their structure. Post it where they can see it. They can re-tell the story and perhaps try to recreate it. This is a pre-reading skill.
Most loose parts are small. This means children are using their hands differently. With larger toys they will grasp and hold. With small pieces, they are using their fingers and pinching. These are important pre-writing skills. You can watch how your child handles the small items to see what they need to work on. You can incorporate tweezers or tongs to help build those muscles. Have your child transfer all the red items from a bowl to a place mat using tongs or tweezers. You can using find kid’s tweezers in a dollar store. (Tongs are usually there as well).