Big Ideas


Loose Parts
…the Beautiful Stuff of Childhood

As long as materials can be moved, redesigned, put together and taken apart in a variety of ways, they are classified as loose parts. When Nicholson wrote about these materials that allow for creativity and choice he called it the “theory of loose parts” (Nicholson, 1971). He said that in any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the numbers of variables in it. Loose parts provide the variables children require to create new options in their play. A beach is a good example of a loose parts learning environment, with plenty of move-able and adaptable materials, such as sand, water, rocks and shells. Children can play for hours on the beach. Now take the concept of the beach and think about how early learning communities can incorporate loose parts into their environment? Something to think about!

3 thoughts on “Big Ideas

  1. Thank you for this post. Our teaching team often takes the children to the forest exploring the many wonders it has to offer. The children often engage in magical thinking with elaborate plans on how to capture the wizard who lives in a house in the forest. Along the way, sticks of all shapes and sizes are gathered with a variety of intentions. Some children bang them on old stumps pretending to chop down trees, others use them as tools to write in the snow, and some see images in the shape of the sticks. We often gather materials from the forest to use inside the classroom for art experiences, however after reading this post, my thoughts progressed to using these natural loose parts as materials for art while in the forest. Thank you for the provocation, I look forward to observing what the children will create in such a rich environment.

    Fran DeFilippis RECE


    • Thanks Fran, what a lovely image! I think that “the forest as a classroom” is an image and a metaphor that is as beautiful and compelling as a beach. The movement toward Forest Kindergartens seems to support the pedagogical importance of bringing children and nature together. I hope that all children have a view of the greater world everyday without the impediment of a chain link fence between them and the forest.


  2. Hi all
    After perusing these thoughts I am left thinking about the work that I do with children, ece students and early learning teachers. My values about life and learning create solid foundations that anchor the underpinnings of my message. It’s time to slow down the pace, to observe, to pause, and to wonder ourselves about the beauty of our surround and how these practices honour children.


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