Our learning environment is  influenced by Loose Parts

Loose parts is a wonderful term coined by architect Simon Nicholson, who carefully considered landscapes and environments that form connections. Nicholson believed that we are all creative and that “loose parts” in an environment will empower our creativity. Many play experts and early childhood educators adapted the theory of loose parts.


Giving meaning to loose parts requires us to think about the possibilities of how a child learns and consider the materials and environments she uses.

The Possibilities of Loose Parts

Loose parts create endless possibilities and invite creativity. For example, if a child picks up a rock and starts to play, most likely that rock can become anything the child wants it to be. Imagination, creativity, curiosity, desire, and need are the motivation of loose parts.

Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There is no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction.


Loose parts encourage open-ended learning

A term strongly connected to loose parts is open-ended. Open ended materials, environments, and experiences encourage problem solving and are child centered. Children involve themselves in concrete experiences using loose parts, which lead to explorations that occur naturally, as opposed to adult directed. However, adults do play important, intentional roles in preparing, guiding, and documenting open ended learning experiences.

Consider how often children enjoy bringing materials from one area to another and making connections, such as the child who brings pretend food from the dramatic play area into the block area or the child who offers a plate of rocks and grass and shares his recipe for spaghetti; how creative! When children are encouraged to integrate play materials and areas in their own creative ways, they are experiencing open ended learning.

How can You provide loose parts?

Loose parts can be natural or synthetic. It is helpful to think of loose parts as something that will help children inspire imagination and creativity on their own terms and in their own unique way.



Examples of loose parts in a natural play area:

water, sand, dirt, sticks, branches, logs, driftwood, grasses, moss, leaves, flowers, pinE cones, pine needles, seeds, shells, bark, feathers, boulders, rocks, pebbles AND stones.


Examples of loose parts in an indoor environment:

blocks, building materials, manipulatives, measuring, pouring devices (cups, spoons, buckets, funnels), dramatic play props, play cars, animals and people, blankets, materials;, floor samples, water and sand, sensory materials, recycled materials (paper tubes, papers, ribbons, caps, lids, wood scraps, wire, foam, cardboard), small plungers or tools and art materials (buttons, spools, natural and coloured popsicle sticks, beads, straws, paints, brushes).


Examples of loose parts in a playground:

balls, hoops, jump ropes, tires, sand, water, dirt, straw, boulders, rocks, stones, pebbles, buckets, cups, containers, digging tools, chalk, scarves, ribbons and fabric.


Social Constructivism promotes the importance of social interaction and learning through experience.

It is believed that children learn best through interaction: interactions both with people and the world around them. Social Constructivism argues that the learning will be stronger if a child or adult actively constructs ideas as opposed to the process of transmission where facts are poured into the mind of the child or adult.


The supporters of the Social Constructivism theory argue that it would be counter-productive simply telling children the answer without them really believing why.

Children will learn best by developing their existing ideas and experiences through hands-on, practical experiences. Through exploring and investigating, a child is thinking through their actions and coming to conclusions himself. The result is a much deeper understanding of the learning. This kind of learning stresses the importance of self-discovery, where children take control of their learning and explore and discover through being actively engaged. It is argued that, children will develop their existing ideas when they encounter new evidence” (Howe et al, 2005:4). The importance of role play and socialisation are both closely linked to the Social Constructivism theory.


How can I encourage my child to learn?

As a parent you can learn from the techniques that teachers and tutors who believe in social constructivist use. You can:

  • Encourage collaboration and work with other people
  • Build on what children already know
  • Scaffold activities to enhance learning
  • Develop language through communication with adults and peers
  • Allow children to experiment for themselves
  • Build a safe, effective classroom environment
  • Know when to intervene and when to leave children to explore.

Not only does this more naturally fit with children’s inquisitive natures but it may also be more fun and confidence building for them than fact-based "right or wrong" learning.

The essence of the Social Constructivism approach is that the action of learning itself is just as important as what is learnt.  Learning for yourself, independently of a teacher, tutor or parent are skills for life.