How To Incorporate Loose Parts Play Into Your Home
Everyone is spending more time at home these days. For many families, that means becoming overwhelmed by their children’s toy situation. Perhaps you’re having one of these common problems:
-Your home is overrun by plastic, noisy toys.
-Your children quickly lose interest in their new toys.
-Expensive, store-bought toys break easily.
If that sounds like your home, you’re definitely not alone. Let go of the toy clutter and try something new: loose parts play.
Loose parts are any object that can be utilized by a child for different types of play. They encourage open-ended play, instead of “fixed” toys, which have one purpose and use.
These objects can be found in nature, collected and recycled in your home, or repurposed, inexpensive items. With a few key pieces of “loose parts,” your child will be able to create unlimited play scenarios!
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Examples of loose parts
The good news is you likely already have loose parts in your child’s toy collection! Here are some common loose parts many families have:
-Wooden building blocks
-Scarves, dish towels, or scrap fabric
-Open-ended play-kitchen items such as dishes and utensils
-Craft supplies such as beads, pom poms, and felt
-Small toy people
What can you do with loose parts?
So many things! The beauty of loose parts play is that they are open-ended. Some pieces can be used in multiple types of loose parts play. When you’re first starting out, consider organizing your loose parts into a few different categories:
This is any type of play that involves creating a “world” for toy animals or people to exist in. This can be as simple as a child building a home for their toys or as elaborate as creating an entire landscape filled with trees, “water,” and other natural features.
To encourage small-world play, consider offering some of these items to your child:
-Fabric or felt in natural colors like green, blue, white, and brown to represent landscape features such as water, grass, and snow.
-Rocks, glass beads, marbles, and seashells
-Sticks and wooden blocks
-Artificial flowers, leaves, and plants
-Sensory items such as sand or rice (make sure to create these small world scenes on a tray or in a container to prevent a mess!)
Art and invention:
Similar to a “maker space,” this type of play encourages children to create something from nothing. This is a great way to utilize recycled items from your everyday life, such as cardboard, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, or empty food containers. In addition to collecting these items, consider providing basic art and craft supplies. Here are some ideas to get started:
-Crayons, colored pencils, and markers
-Glue and tape
-Paper or cardboard
-Stapler (supervise your child until you are sure they can use this safely)
-Buttons and beads
You’re probably familiar with this type of play. Items like Legos, magnetic tiles and building blocks give children an opportunity to test their engineering skills. Kids can also utilize the same recycled materials they’ll use for art or invention.
When adults think about “pretend play,” they often remember “playing house.” While that’s one way children can enjoy pretend play, with loose parts, they can create many more imaginative scenarios. To encourage pretend play, choose objects that can be repurposed. For example, a wooden spoon can be used to bake a pretend cake and then turned around to become a magic wand!
Another important aspect of pretend play is dress-up! All children love to dress up and pretend to be someone else. Use old clothes from your own closet, find items at thrift stores, and use old blankets, towels, and scarves to give children variety.
Sensory play is anything that allows children to use their sense of touch. Common sensory play materials include water, rice, dry pasta, play dough, and sand.
Make sensory play simple by having a designated area. You can purchase a sensory table or repurpose a plastic storage container. Choose one type of sensory play at a time, replacing the materials after a week or two.
There are many ways to make sensory play fun. To start, include some of these items to encourage exploration:
-Rocks, glass beads, marbles, and seashells
-Toy animals or people
Organizing your loose parts
Begin by taking stock of what you already have. Sort items based on the five categories outlined above, but don’t be too strict about it. Many of the loose parts will be used in multiple types of play.
Sort items in baskets or clear containers so children can easily see what is available to them. There are many great ways to organize loose parts.
Place them in the areas where you think they will be used most often. Remember you can always move the containers around! If you find your child likes to play with their seashells in the sensory bin more frequently than they use them for small-world play, keep them with the sensory toys.
Loose-parts play might feel overwhelming, especially if you peruse Pinterest or YouTube and see the beautiful, expensive wooden toys some families display in their playrooms. But loose parts do not have to be Instagram-worthy!
It’s best to start small. Sort through what is already in your home. Then choose one type of play and begin collecting loose parts. Soon, your child will be engaging in open-ended play and your home won’t feel overrun with noisy, plastic toys.