The theory of loose parts

Children are naturally drawn to objects that allow open-ended play. You’ve probably seen it yourself when they ignore the toy in order to spend hours exploring the box it came in. This natural sense of creativity and wonder is what the theory of loose parts is all about. Presented by British architect Simon Nicholson in his 1971 article, “How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts”, the term was described as open-ended materials that can be used and manipulated in many ways.

What exactly are loose parts?

  • Found and free materials
  • Upcycled and repurposed materials
  • Purchased materials used for new purposes

Safety considerations

With some forethought loose parts can be a safe learning opportunity for children of all ages.
For infants and toddlers ensure that the parts are large and sturdy enough to not be a choking hazard. Use a choke test cylinder to determine whether an item is of a safe size. As always, supervision is important.

Why Loose Parts?

There are so many games and toys out there that claim to be developmentally appropriate and designed to help children learn xyz so why bother with a box full of found objects? Because each loose part in that box:

  • Promotes active learning as the child grabs, builds with, and moves it

  • Deepens critical thinking as they problem solve, make connections, and form relationships between items and what they can make them do

  • Supports developmental domains including physical, social-emotional, and cognitive

  • Is developmentally inclusive as each child uses the item in ways that fits their needs and interests

  • Promotes a wide range of play limited only by each child’s imagination and inquisitiveness

  • Supports the curriculum including math, science, language, art, music, and so much more

Loose Parts books

Loose Parts Set Books

Loose Parts Set

Loose Parts Set includes one copy each:

  • Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children
  • Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers
  • Loose Parts 3: Inspiring Culturally Sustainable Environments
  • Loose Parts 4: Inspiring 21st Century Learning
  • All titles are also available as e-books.



About the Authors

Miriam Beloglovsky, MA, is a professor of early childhood education at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California, and has had the pleasure of advising and guiding students for over 25 years. She is a strong advocate for children, youth, and families, and consults and supports a variety of family, children, and youth programs, including THRIVE Family Development Network and My Street of Dreams. She has served as a keynote speaker, presenter, and board member to a number of organizations and conferences.

Lisa Daly, MA, is professor of early childhood education at Folsom Lake College in Folsom, California. She has over 30 years of experience as an early childhood teacher, director, and educator. She has served on community and Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC) boards, including the statewide Child Development Training Consortium advisory board. She is passionate about creative arts and has directed art programs for thousands of children at community family events and camps; and she and has presented numerous workshops for educators on art, storytelling, language and literacy, sensory experiences, and music and movement.

Learn more about the Loose Parts Authors