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Loose Parts Play is the Best “Toy” Ever

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How many times has this happened to you? Your child begged for a toy, you made him wait till his next birthday or Christmas. He opened the gift, squealed with excitement and then played with it for two weeks before it got put in a bin or toy chest, only to be played with again when you put it in a “giveaway” pile on spring cleaning day.

Our kids are bored with screen-free play time and parents have to do something before it becomes extinct. The answer for your family could be loose parts play. Here’s what it is an how it can revive your kids’ play time, summed up in 4 words.

Less Toys, More Materials

If you want the fancy name, it’s Loose Parts Play. The Theory of Loose Parts was developed in 1971 by Simon Nicholson. He said, “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.” Translation: Give kids lots of random objects, and they will learn and grow by playing with them.

What are loose parts?

Loose parts are materials that kids can move, carry, combine, redesign, line up, and take apart and put back together in multiple ways. It’s LEGOs, but even more basic.

Need some examples?

Think junk drawer, plus back yard. And then sprinkle in some craft bin and mix it with a little garage shelf. The beauty of loose parts is that everyone has them. Loose parts are things like the tube from a roll of paper towels, acorns, washers, chop sticks, binder clips, sticks, shells, fabric, rope… the list truly is endless.

What is the benefit of loose parts play?

There are oodles of great toys out there that foster learning and imagination, but their function is inflexible. When kids play with loose parts, they get to use their imagination! They invent and create.

Take this example, my sons loved the movie Cars (didn’t every little boy?). They had a Mater the Greater Stunt Set. The little toy Mater speeds down a ramp and (if properly lined up) launches into the air and through a plastic ring of fire. My guys loved that thing, but every time they played with it the same thing happened. Mater drove down the ramp and soared through the ring. Game over. Oh, and the Mater Stunt Set wasn’t cheap.

Instead, with loose parts play, I could take that same little Mater and a box full of loose parts, which are free, and say, “Boys, what kind of Mater stunt show could we make out of all this stuff?” Seriously, I probably wouldn’t see them for the rest of the day. And my guess is that Mater would not only do some cool stunts, he would probably develop super hero powers or get launched into outer space.

It may have not been called this, but what loose parts play do you remember from your childhood? Think you could try it out with your kids?


What’s your favorite way to play? Games, crafts, sports, building…?

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