“Loose Parts” Play: Problem solving and creativity with everyday stuff

by | May 22, 2019 | Developmental Play, Infant, preschool, toddler

Every moment your baby is awake they are learning something.

You know this already. But when it comes to “teaching” your baby, it’s easy to put learning into categories — when you go to the park, she’s learning about trees and flowers, when you read a book, she’s learning new words, when she holds the block and puts it in her mouth, she’s learning about physical characteristics of plastic. But in reality, learning is broad and comprehensive, with lots of different connections happening at the same time.

 For a small child there is no division between playing and learning, between the things that he or she does “just for fun” and things that are “educational.” The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.     – Penelope Leach 

Research bears it out time and again that children learn through experience.  And for babies, that’s the experience of simply living day to day.

Support learning by providing simple materials and intentionally arranging them to encourage exploration, whether you’re hanging out at home or in the car seat while you’re out and about.

 In the world of early education, “loose parts” are defined as materials that can be looked at, moved, carried, combined, lined up and dismantled. And the implementation of loose parts play is very popular in schools, museums and programs for young children.

When we provide materials and objects for babies to gaze at, touch, handle, explore and manipulate, what they do with them is open-ended. As opposed to toys that just have one purpose, like a rattle or busy box.

Why is this important?  Because they allow children to be in control and recognize the cause and effect of their actions. When babies play with objects that move and roll, they respond in a way that reflects their stage of development, whether they’re 5 months or 36 months.

So let’s zero in on some open-ended materials you can offer your baby and ways to present an invitation to play. And you’ll find lots of these around the house. 

Coasters – like the ones you have on your coffee table

Tree cookies – slices of a small tree (you can buy these at a teacher supply store or ask someone to slice a branch into 3/4” disks for you). Show her how to stack or roll them, then step back and watch.

Transparent plastic cups – for putting objects inside, stacking. Put it in and dump it out. Repeat.

Plastic rings – shower curtain, bangle bracelets, hula hoops

Balls – bouncy, knitted, with a jingle bell inside, bamboo woven ball, ball pit balls, bath poofs -balls encourage movement

Smooth rocks – big enough to have a little weight and not be a choking hazard, for sorting, lining up, putting inside containers

Sea shells – all different kinds to look at and touch and listen to

Tubes – mailing tubes, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, gift wrap tubes. Roll stuff through!

Fabrics – put different textured fabric in wooden embroidery hoops, baby blankets, lace, fleece, fur, silky scarves

Pots and pans – different sizes with lids, metal objects to go inside like lightweight chains (for interesting noise), muffin pans, aluminum pans

Containers with lid – storage containers, pringles cans, oatmeal containers – put all kinds of objects inside

Cooking utensils – wooden spoons, whisks, silicone spatula, measuring cups, measuring spoons, regular spoons

Bowls – metal mixing bowls, cereal bowls, nesting bowls, colanders

Clothespins – spring type that you squeeze, slot type that you can slip on the side of a container

Natural objects – sticks, leaves, small branches, pine cones, tangerines, gourds

Battery operated lights – tea lights, candles, flashlights, led string lights

***And of course, make sure that anything you give your baby to play with is BIGGER THAN A PING PONG BALL to prevent choking.

What do all of these things have in common? 
  •  They’re interesting
  •  You can do lots of different things with them
  • They’re pretty easy to find
  • They encourage problem solving
  • And they can be used by your child at different ages – how they play will change as they do

Looking for something new for your baby? Feel like they’re kinda bored? Take a dig through your kitchen cabinets and pull out some “loose parts” out to play with! And here’s some ideas on how to stimulate your baby at home in other ways.

And remember, YOU are equipped with everything you need to give your baby everything they need. You’ve got this parenting thing.

Pull out some things to play with and enjoy the show. 

Until next time,



Explaining Loose Parts Play, Guardian Learning Group

Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers, Lisa Daly & Miriam Beloglovsky, Redleaf Press, 2016

Meet Ann

I'm a child development specialist, parent coach and teacher trainer. I've cared for countless babies in child development programs, plus 3 kids, 3 grand babies and 5 foster babies! I LOVE babies and would come hold yours if I could. ❤️

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