At Little Legend we are a big believer in the power of loose parts and how they assist development in the early years.
We have a two-year-old daughter and when she started enjoying the world of play, we were always surprised with her choice of toys.
Her favourites were not usually the toys that we bought for her! She would walk around the house carrying a stick, a wooden block, or a box. She would often sit in a straw basket used for carrying clothes. These days, she’s loves playing with a tiny miniature cork!
These are deemed “loose parts”, and this theory was invented in 1970 by Simon Nicholson, an architect, who said all children are born inventors:
“Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.”
Nicholson believed all children, not only the gifted few, are creators and need to be surrounded by open-ended materials in order to flourish.
Natural, open-ended materials include dough, pieces of wood, silk, clay, stone, rubber – anything which can be used and manipulated in many ways. A container could become a castle, a spaceship, a tunnel or a person! A leaf found outside, under a tree, could be a dress, a boat, or a hat.
Kids have incredible imaginations and surprise us constantly with their creativity and ideas. Loose parts open the doors to these magical worlds of discovery for kids, which have no bounds.
Loose parts come in all sizes. They could be as big as a giant wheel, or as small as a button. The smaller loose parts, like we sometimes use in our playsets, must be used under strict supervision with toddlers as they are a choking hazard.
SO WHY DO WE USE THEM?
FINE MOTOR SKILLS
When our children grasp and pick-up small objects, they are developing their fine motor skills. These skills will be required throughout their childhood and the earlier they engage with small objects, the faster they develop these skills.
It really is a joy to see our little girl delicately placing objects with her finger and thumb, constructing her little worlds with loose parts. Kids learn so, so fast when they are empowered to create.
GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
At home we have a tree stump, which our daughter loves to move around as she plays and sits down on it (and sometimes falls off). The larger loose parts help to develop a child’s gross motor skills, which are more about body movement, awareness, reactions, balance and strength. Rubber car truck tires are fantastic for this purpose. Children develop their gross motor skills interacting with these objects, climbing in and out of tires etc. Lifting them, rolling them.
We all want our kids to develop healthy, thriving brains. Loose parts engage a child’s critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, abstract thinking and exploration of trial and error.
With open-ended materials, children must use their brain to come up with a function for the material. They learn to solve problems, they ask themselves: how can I bring this object into my imaginative world and make it useful?
This is what makes playdough so magical. With the freedom to shape and mould as they please, it truly brings the genius out in our children!
When kids start building, they also learn (through trial and error) how to create balanced, sturdy structures with loose parts. Little architects are born!
Whether you are a creative person, or not, we believe that all children are born creators. With loose parts, children are encouraged to think outside the box and find creative and divergent ways to make and create. Creativity leads to invention and the discovery of new worlds, new frontiers. Which leads us to the next point …
New discoveries lead to joy and satisfaction. The confidence grows the more a child is given the freedom to explore. The look on a child’s face when they are fully focused on a task, utilizing their brain, is beautiful to watch, as a parent. These moments are endless when you bring loose parts into their environment.
Loose parts excite children, and inspire them to delve deeper into their learning environment. The confidence they get from building a structure, or perhaps, making their own cakes to share (which our daughter loves) is what life is all about. Confidence will be needed as they come of age in this competitive world.
They are engaged, they are learning, they are having fun, they are in their element – because they are doing what they were born to do. Humans are born to shine.
IN SUMMARY …
Our children can thrive and develop rapidly in an environment rich with loose parts.
Smaller loose parts, which can go into mouths, should always be used under strict supervision with babies and toddlers.
Bigger loose parts (which are safe to handle) should be available for your children to interact with, always, if possible. The more they can interact with loose parts, the faster they will develop in all the key areas mentioned above.
Below is a table of ideas, for natural loose parts you can use at home.
Water (ice), Sticks, Shells, Straw (baskets), Wood (tree stumps, containers, sticks, blocks), Flowers, Pine cones, Pebbles/stones (all sizes), Grass/hay, Silk, (handkerchiefs, scarves), Wool, shells (many sizes!).
Read more about Loose Parts : Empowering Your Child With Loose Parts