The Benefits of Loose Parts Play

If you’ve ever watched children play, you’ve likely noticed that they often take random items and use them in creative, imaginative ways. This type of open-ended play using materials with no defined purpose and infinite possibilities is called loose parts play – and it offers many benefits.

Because loose parts play is open-ended, it spurs the development of lots of different skills: creative thinking, communications, exploration, critical thinking, self-confidence and independence, just to name a few. Kids are naturally drawn to objects that encourage open-ended play, so anything parents can do to foster that natural sense of curiosity is beneficial.

Sparking interest in loose parts play

Minnesota Children’s Museum Experience Developer Michelle Blodgett suggests that parents create a loose parts play box as a way to encourage kids to explore and experiment.

“Look for materials that aren’t traditionally seen as toys, but that a kid would be drawn to in a unique way,” says Blodgett. “Almost anything can be used for loose parts play – a propeller, a rock, a wooden spoon, a scrap of fabric. That’s what’s so fun.”

Loose parts collections can be completely random, or you can curate collections around specific themes. For example, items could be all the same color, all come from kitchen, are all soft materials or are all found outside.

Play prompts for parents

Loose parts play helps kids develop creative and critical thinking skills by encouraging them to use their imagination and experiment with new ideas freely. While Blodgett encourages loose parts play to be child-directed, she also offers some prompts for parents looking to take the play further. For these prompts, she follows the “M.A.P.” approach.

Make observations – State things in nonjudgmental ways to spark conversation. This is also a great opportunity to introduce new words.

Ask open-ended questions – Think of questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. For example: What do you think this is used for? Or, what do you notice about it?

Pose challenges – Give kids the opportunity to problem solve by pointing out challenges and encouraging them to make connections with past knowledge. Try asking questions like: What do you think would happen if you built something with that? Or, what would happen if you lined them all up?

Spark your child’s curiosity by letting them take the lead and explore with loose parts. Then watch as you child reimagines items into time machines, musical instruments, new inventions, other-worldly creature or whatever else their creativity comes up with.

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