The Parish School Blog

Loose Parts Take Part in Early Childhood Play

Written by Danielle English
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What are Loose Parts?

The Theory of Loose Parts was developed in the 1970’s by an architect named Simon Nicholson, who defined loose parts as natural or man-made objects that can be transported, manipulated or changed during children’s play. Nicholson viewed loose parts as a tool to help develop creativity and enable deeper learning. They give children the opportunity to invent, experiment, problem-solve and persist, and offer children infinite play opportunities. Loose parts can be categorized into seven main types:

  1. Nature-based
  2. Wood reuse
  3. Plastic
  4. Metal
  5. Ceramic/glass
  6. Fabric/ribbon
  7. Packaging

The value of including loose parts in children’s environments is indescribable. Loose part play promotes hands-on learning experiences, deepens critical thinking, promotes flexible thinking, can be used across age groups and ability, and supports the curriculum.

loose parts play 

The History of Loose Parts at The Parish School

“If you believe the child to be inquisitive and creative, competent and capable, intelligent and whole, then you will create environments which reflect this,” said Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio Emilia’s education philosophy.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting the founder of The Parish School, Robbin Parish, to me this quote embodies her vision for the school. Anne Powers, Director of Early Childhood, shared that from the time the school opened in 1983, loose part play has been a part of a Parish education. Examples of loose part play is evident when looking back at pictures from the old campus.

“You can always see the kids building their own play spaces with buckets and boards and the like,” said Anne.

Our multi-sensory approach to teaching, where a variety of materials are used to support students, engages children with a variety learning styles, and fosters creativity and wonder. According to Jill Wood, Director of Adventure Play, loose parts does just that. Loose parts can be utilized in the classroom as well as outside. Jill believes that if you don’t define the materials, but rather leave them open-ended, it allows children to create and expand on their play. This has been proven true with Adventure Play, an afterschool program at The Parish School that gives children the opportunity to create anything out of scrap materials they can imagine.

Through the success of Adventure Play, the recess program for elementary was born. What started out as a pilot project in the 2016-17 school year, has turned into a program that continues today. Wes Hamner, Lead Playworker, helps develop and support elementary recess through engagement with loose parts.

Because of the success of Adventure Play and the recess program, Anne decided to place an emphasis on loose parts professional development for the Early Childhood teaching staff, with the goal of bringing these experiences to our youngest students.

“Best practices in early childhood education support loose parts play, especially in nature or with natural elements,” said Anne. “It felt like these types of experiences helped make Parish a special place to learn from the beginning.”

mud kitchen 

Loose Parts on the Early Childhood Playground

The Early Childhood team has been mindful when presenting loose parts on the playground to children. When materials are presented as flexible, meaning they could be anything, then they are used as such. We have definitely seen this on the playground. The mud kitchen in particular has been a huge success throughout all levels of the Early Childhood program. Students love exploring with water and dirt, creating soups, cakes and potions. Not only are they using their imagination, but they’re collaborating, sharing ideas and problem solving.

Recently on the playground, a class decided to have a taco picnic party. Amongst themselves, they determined who would make the tacos (from sand, mud and leaves), while another student gathered rocks to use as plates. Then, they set it up on the picnic bench for all friends to enjoy. At first, only a few students joined. But soon, more discovered it was a party and the whole class wanted to participate. One student even blocked the bike path to get other children off their bikes and to the party. Before outside time was over, everyone had a “plate” and a taco!

making mud tacos 

What to Expect Moving Forward

In the coming years, The Parish School’s Early Childhood teaching staff will continue incorporating loose parts, not only on the playground, but also in the classrooms. With the development of Little Acorn Park, there will be a greater focus on teaching in nature and developing outside classroom spaces. Additionally, Early Childhood will continue to collaborate with Jill and Wes from Adventure Play, to support and expand our students’ play. We believe that child-centered, multi-sensory experiences and play create a pathway toward meaningful learning, which fosters curiosity and wonder. Through structured and unstructured play, both indoor and out in nature, children build important skills for life and learning.



Beloglovsky, Miriam, and Lisa Daly. Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children. Redleaf Press, 2014.

“Loose Parts - What Do Children Learn From Loose Parts Play?” Fairy Dust Teaching, 5 Oct. 2016,

“The Theory of Loose Parts: Simple Materials to Enhance Play.” An Everyday Story, 4 Oct. 2015,