Today's interview of the Theory of Loose Parts and Early Childhood Development is really interesting.  If you can listen through what Diane has to say she has some really great ideas on how we can easily improve our children’s environment and encourage play with things that are just around the house.

Diane. She is a registered Early Childhood Educator in the province of Ontario, Canada. For the last 30 years, she has been teaching Early Childhood educators at the post-secondary level and also does a lot of training and consulting with Early Childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, and anybody involved in the early year sector.

Theory of Loose Parts. The term “loose parts” was coined by Simon Nicholson in 1971. He wrote an article called The Theory of Loose Parts – How Not to Treat Children. He was a landscape architect – he was very interested in outdoor play. He proposed loose parts, like large boxes, ropes, tires, logs that children could play with and they could use their imagination – they can change up the landscape and have owners hip of their own play. Over the years, they have seen loose parts be part of indoor experience - those are usually smaller loose parts. They are open-ended materials that could be combined, could be transported and transformed. Materials from anywhere and everywhere; things that you might normally put in a recycling bin like bottled caps, boxes; to things that you might collect on the beach like rocks; while in the forest you can collect sticks and pinecones.

Loose parts is fundamentally a constructing tool. There are things, like blocks, that can be considered as an ultimate loose part and Maria Montessori was a proponent of blocks as were other educators over time. Loose parts have a long history of use and proponents and advocates. There would be similarities with what Maria Montessori proposed in her method because she was a proponent of construction and ultimately loose parts are a tool for construction and has been used throughout history by many people even before the term became known as “loose parts”.  As mentioned they are open-ended materials where the child has ownership and is empowered to manipulate the materials in their own way.

When the term loose parts was brought about, Simon Nicholson was thinking of the outdoors because he was a landscape architect. Outside you would see big loose parts that children would manipulate and move around. Inside you look on the shelves, like baskets, buttons, fabrics, etc. and children would incorporate those in their play. Diana stressed that loose parts shouldn’t be consumed, so she likes it when schools doesn’t provide glue with the loose part so it won’t be something that kids use in their art project.

Educators. Any educator that keeps up with their own professional development should have an understanding about the importance of loose parts to include in children’s play.


Children are learning that they have the capacity and the confidence to create things of their own - they don’t always have to rely on something pre-packaged. That if they have an idea and they use loose parts that are already there, they can use trial and error, experiment and work with other children to create something that is very powerful especially that they’ve done it on their own.

It’s their initiative and they’ve done it based on their interest. It’s something that has come up maybe during their play, where they’re trying to solve a problem.

When we think about inventors and scientists, this is how anything new in the world has come up – through invention, experimentation. So children having that opportunity is very powerful and it’s excellent for parents and educators because the children are engaged and they’re doing what they want to instead of being told what to do.


As we get older, we should never lose the spirit and want to play. Loose parts are engaging.

It is something that we all should have a taste and desire for because of its open-endedness and the creativity involved.

Loose parts don’t come with age recommendation. Parents and educators have to use their own knowledge and experience to make sure that they’re providing loose parts that are safe for the age. There’s a need to inspect the loose parts that you have. With loose parts you have to make sure you are removing hazard as there can be risk -

risky play is really important for children and their development. It is important for their self-esteem as long as we made sure there’s no hazard with that.

Parents should look around. Sometimes kids love to play more with Tupperware, pots and pans, boxes and wrappers, where these things are already in the house. It’s fun to go around the house, to open junk drawers and see what odds and ends and bits and pieces you have and the child could sort them by color, shape, function, and play with them in many different ways. Also encourage kids to collect loose parts, while parents look around and see what you can also find.

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York Region Nature Collaborative 






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