Have you ever walked into a room and seen toys scattered everywhere, like a Tupperware cupboard and a recycling bin had a wrestling match? This scenario is what loose parts play looks like. But what appears to be a chaotic mess to adults is actually a playground of endless possibilities for children.
Loose-parts play involves using materials that children can manipulate, construct, rearrange, and take apart to create their own play scenarios. These natural or synthetic materials offer open-ended learning opportunities for children to explore their creativity, concentration, problem-solving skills, social and emotional thinking, and innovative thinking.
While loose parts play can involve elements of risk, it also provides the foundation for physical, social, and intellectual development. Children can experience exploration, invention, and even survival by taking loose-parts play outside. The Land, a Welsh adventure playground, is an excellent example of loose-parts play.
It is a play space designed to empower children to manage risks independently, overseen by qualified playworkers. The Land has been featured in a short documentary by Erin Davis, showcasing how risky play can benefit children’s development.
“To an adult eye, it may look chaotic and ugly – to the child, it’s just possibilities.”
— Claire, Playworker @ The Land
Loose parts play tips for parents
As parents, we want to raise strong, brave, and independent children. But, overprotecting them does not promote resilience. Without resilience, children become timid teens and fearful adults. Risky play has become a topic of interest in recent years, highlighting its importance in early childhood education. It is essential to embrace risk, face fear, and find a solution to create self-aware, resilient, and courageous children.
“Even when you feel uncomfortable with what’s going on, that’s not what should inform your next move.” — Dave, Playworker @ The Land
Although it may be challenging to accept some of the scenarios children may create during loose parts play, it is vital to support them. By allowing children to navigate their environment, they learn and grow in ways that aren’t possible through stationary equipment. Loose-parts play allows children to take the initiative and find and develop their innate skills.
So, how can we support children during loose parts play? Firstly, anything can become a toy, so use your imagination to find play opportunities everywhere, especially outside. Secondly, facilitate the play by removing any hazards, but don’t join in. Stepping aside allows children to control the play. Lastly, observe and enjoy! Watching children find their independence and take the initiative is incredibly rewarding.
Humans have evolved to feel fear and protect their young to keep our species alive. However, keeping children away from harm does not promote safety. By embracing risk, facing fear, and finding a solution, children can become self-aware, resilient, and courageous. Let’s embrace loose-parts play and give our children the foundation for a lifetime of learning and development.
“Children have to learn to manage their own risks. It’s hard, as a parent, to allow your child to do that. But you’ve got to. Children these days go looking for the risks they need.” — Claire, Playworker @ The Land
Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure has collaborated with Wearthy to establish natural play areas within its facilities while also delivering ongoing education to its staff. Wearthy is a huge advocate of play, providing bespoke play environments that ignite creativity and curiosity in children.
You can experience these inspiring natural environments first-hand by visiting Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure centres in Buderim (Sunshine Coast), Ashmore and Maudsland (Gold Coast).