Loose Parts Learning and a Give Away!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. and Cindy Green, RECE. It has been almost two years since Cindy and I spent a wonderful few days collecting loose parts with intention to share at a conference with 400 Upper Canada Child Care educators but over twenty-five years since we first started our dialogue about loose parts. Loose parts are materials that are open-ended and can be used in multiple ways. As colleagues teaching early childhood education at a community college, we found so much joy in our discussions and learned so much from each other while sharing ideas and loose parts. The learning has not stopped nor have we as even in our retirement years, we find ourselves busier than ever with workshops, consultations and training sessions. Over the last few years, more and more educators are excited to learn more about loose parts but we are cautious that this loose parts movement is not restricted to the indoor environment as we have learned how important loose parts are for outdoor and adventurous play. In this blog post, we are both going to share more of our learning around the topic of loose parts.

Loose Parts for Adventure Play Collage

We are excited about the two upcoming workshops; the Adventure Playground Pop Up on August 8th and A Tapestry of Learning: Materials, Invitations and Installations on August 12th because we know that we will have the opportunity to play and mess about with loose parts outdoors and indoors with others. So much loose parts learning comes from hands-on manipulation to explore the properties of materials. We are grateful for the continued support of Louise Kool and Galt as suppliers of loose parts and are thrilled to announce that if you share your loose parts learning in the comment section of this blog you will have a chance to win this heuristic play starter set for toddlers.

Starter Kit

We will each share some recent significant learning about loose parts then we open the door to you the reader, to share your learning. Inevitably in the workshops that I deliver together with Cindy or alone, participants ask about loose parts for infants and toddlers. To provide the most informed answers I have been doing some research. When searching online the term heuristic play keeps popping up. This is not a term that I was very familiar with and looked to learn more. Heuristic play is when one experiments with objects to discover possibilities. It is a term very common in the United Kingdom but not used often in our Canadian context. It was coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980s. The word ‘heuristic’ comes from the Greek word ‘heurisko’, which means to discover or reach understanding (Goldschmeid & Jackson, 1994). Heuristic play refers to the exploratory play of toddlers with objects. The goal is to discover what can be done with the object or objects. Often the objects are placed in baskets by adults and referred to as treasure baskets. Throughout all ages, any activity, which involves experimenting, can be described as heuristic as it starts in toddlerhood and continues throughout the lifespan (Hughes, 2015). Auld (2002) identified five principles of heuristic play.

Five Principles of Heuristic Play

When these principles are followed, even infants and toddlers can explore loose parts. It is a type of play that lends itself to being child-led and offers multiple opportunities for discoveries. At any age there is something very profound about self-discovery. Moustakkas (1990) developed the methodology of heuristic research as a process of internal searching to discover the nature and meaning of experience. The process is dynamic, creative and leads to self-discovery and self-knowledge. Discovery is important at any age. Discovery leads to learning and that sums up my recent learning about loose parts. Cindy will now jump in with hers!

Loose Parts Learning Photo

I am often asked about loose parts and safety as it relates to toddlers engaging with loose materials. Thinking of the five principles of heuristic play described above, all would be considered when deciding on the size and quality of potential loose parts invitations. Moving away from a “one size fits all” mindset, each child owns their own competencies at the moment and they are capable of learning that these are not suitable materials for exploring with their mouths. Begin with a few, present them intentionally and time the experience so you can be there to support the child’s playful engagement. I too am excited about the two upcoming workshops; the Adventure Playground Pop Up on August 8th and A Tapestry of Learning: Materials, Invitations and Installations on August 12th. During both experiences, educators will be invited to engage with loose parts both indoors and outdoors. When I think of loose parts and outdoor play and those who will most likely engage, my excitement and interest is on high alert! I immediately wonder about what loose parts, why these ones and for what intention?

Loose Parts Learning Photo 2

Rather than run to the dollar or hardware store as a first measure I slow myself down and wonder how I can resource and recycle materials, ultimately keeping them out of the landfill site. I have been known to approach “everyone and their uncle” to gather my collections. Once I have sourced out and upcycled then its time to see what I have left to invest in. That brings me to the issue of storage. In my experience, I have never met educators in any program who think that they have too much storage! Loose parts, like all materials need their own space and place during play and otherwise. Many children love transporting things about the space, especially materials that they find heavy. Carting heavy loose parts (logs, tubes, spools, rocks, interlocking bricks) in and out of the storage shed helps children feel grounded and purposeful.

Heavy Lifting Photo credit: many thanks to Gill Robertson!

Photo Credit: Many Thanks to Gill Robertson

My final thoughts bring me back to when we first began learning about loose parts. Another colleague and I were so excited and very much caught up in wanting to know everything we could about loose parts. We would pick up various items and run to Diane asking her “Is this a loose part, a tool or just a material”? Could a wooden spoon be a spoon and a loose part? Thank you to Diane for helping us learn that this is about the theory of loose parts. If the child chooses to play with it in a creative and open-ended way, if the material doesn’t dictate the shape of the subsequent play then it becomes a loose part. And, a number of years later, I was introduced to schema play (repeated play behaviours and ways of thinking) and how the open-ended nature of loose parts can support transforming, positioning, enclosing, enveloping, rotating , transporting , connecting, disconnecting, orienting and trajectory Understanding schema play has enabled me to really see bigger ideas inherent in children’s play. I have NEVER looked back!

Loose parts outside

Photo Credit: Many Thanks to Gill Robertson

While my learning about schema play is more recent, I too will NEVER look back! Thank you to Cindy for helping me learn about schema play and the connection to loose parts. It is so important to be open to learn from others! Cindy and I invite you to share your loose parts learning – what would you describe as your most significant discoveries about loose parts? Please add to the comments to be eligible to win the heuristic play starter kit giveaway. The draw will take place at the end of August. Thank you in advance for sharing your learning and good luck!

85 thoughts on “Loose Parts Learning and a Give Away!

    • And its so good to see children interacting with something thats not necesarily a toy nor familiar to them but they turn it into something they need at the time and learn something new about the world around them- without this kind of play we lose invention!


  1. I would love to win the heuristic play starter kit giveaway! I am a fairly new kindergarten teacher and I have been learning how to display and provide loose parts in my classroom. I love the concept of collecting loose parts with intention!


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  3. I love the concept of loose parts in the kinder classroom. I’ve been doing things that had similar purposes but didn’t quite have the impact I had hoped (ex – a bucket of recycled materials where students could build and use them for imaginary play) but love the intentional nature of the loose parts stations you mention above. Definitely going to incorporate those into our classroom this upcoming school year! Thanks!


  4. I’m in the process of trying to transform playing and norms of thought as to what play looks like in a school entry level. These loose parts would make an excellent addition to our class.


  5. I would be very grateful to win this wonderful giveaway! My students would benefit greatly from it. They enjoy using loose parts and this would help their learning in so many ways!


  6. Love loose parts…children love loose parts and we have it all around our classroom. It’s open ended and so much creativity shines through. It’s incorporated in every centre.


  7. Wow! I’d love to win this. I also love that you mentioned slowing down before purchasing loose parts at the dollars or hardware store. So many great items available in great used condition.


  8. I love loose parts almost as much as my students! My husband used to worry about the price tag walking into a yarn store. Now thrift stores, hardware stores, dollar store and garage sales scare him more.☺
    So much learning takes place with loose parts.
    I hope you don’t mind but I am going to share this post on my From Fingerprints To Masterpieces Facebook page.


  9. My toddlers love loose parts: rocks, shells, pinecones and metal juice can lids. Learning about schemas and which loose parts can be used. I love the possibilities that are offered. I cringe now when I see plastic toys that offer only one way to play.


  10. This is such a ripe topic for me! I am a newly retired early childhood educator who believes whole-heartedly that we have so many resources already at our disposal that provide children with real and deep experiences to build their own knowledge, make connections, and create. My experience has been with preschoolers but currently, as a part-time caregiver to my first grandchild and at his now 6 months of age, we have begun this exploration together! I am as much of a learner as he is as we collaborate to develop this lens as we find and mess about inside (my basement, kitchen, craft room, and garage are gold mines of possibilities), in my yard (oh the sticks, rocks and seeds) and on our neighborhood walks (I can’t even begin to imagine what we’ll find!). Let our adventures and conversations begin!


  11. Love loose parts and this would be a great addition to my class or for my grand daughter as I want to introduce her to this. Her imagination surprises me all the time and I can only imagine what she could create. My students would love the addition of these to our class. I’m working on expanding my loose part inventory, would love to win.


  12. Loose parts provide and entry point for ALL learners. Loose parts collected and presented with purpose and intention create opportunities for rich learning, creativity and critical thinking. And while I may have a purpose and intention for putting out the loose parts, when I remain open to the children’s moves the possibilities for learning are endless! They take the learning places I never thought possible. Thank you also for reinforcing the idea that we don’t need to go to the Dollar Store!! Love your blog.


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  14. Ah-ha moment – Our children named an area of the classroom “the creating table” and many preferred to be there than any other place in the room. Loose parts made their way to most centers in our classroom and contributed to much direct teaching as necessitated by the questions and leading of the children – such as concepts related to art, science, construction, movement of objects and materials, etc. They wanted to know the ‘real’ words for their problems and solutions!


  15. Next year I will be teaching Kindergarten for the first time. I have used loose parts in the past with grade 1, but I have always set them out with intention or provocation. I’m rethinking this as I wonder, what might happen if they are just placed out for open exploration and creativity? I’m new to your blog and find your posts very informative and well researched. Thanks for sharing!


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