I was invited this past week to visit a nursery class set in a state maintained school in the home counties. The nursery teacher told me she uses ‘the theory of loose parts’ as a stimulus for children’s learning alongside the EYFS curriculum. She wanted to bounce some ideas and share her nursery practice.

What are loose parts?

The term ‘loose parts’ came into use in 1971, after an architect, Simon Nicholson, published a paper called ‘The Theory of Loose Parts’. Nicholson described loose parts as ‘variables’ and provided examples such as materials, shapes, physical phenomena,  sounds, music, motion, cooking and words, amongst other phenomenon. With all these things all children love to play, experiment, discover and invent and have fun. Loose parts, it is argued, create richer environments for children to play, giving them the resources they need to extend their play. The point is that loose parts aren’t prescriptive and offer limitless possibilities.

Using loose parts in nursery learning

We discussed how loose parts were being used in this nursery. In the first photo you can see wooden cotton reels, Lego, wooden boards, all laid out in clear boxes that children can easily access. Here is an invitation to explore, create, engage and repeat your initiated learning. Open ended resources, it was explained,  are used across the curriculum and fully support the characteristics of effective learning: playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically. The next photo uses natural found items to create a communication friendly story space. A story is given props and a context is created for speaking and listening and for loving books.

It was explained that children could match numbers to numerals, compare objects, develop number problems, while these and other resources were commonly transfered by the children to other areas of learning, like the water tray, in order to develop and eventually consolidate learning. The nursery teacher has purposely developed learning areas using neutral colours, replacing plastic with wooden resources and bringing in logs and other natural materials to enhance provision. She described the outcomes for learning as positive, her responses mirroring many of the research outcomes from loose parts theory mentioned below.

Some benefits of loose parts in learning

Loose parts in learning has gathered momentum in early education especially, and there is a growing body of research evidence which all agree the benefits of loose parts include:

  • Increased levels of creative and imaginative play
  • Children play co-operatively and socialise more
  • Children are physically more active
  • Curriculum outcomes occur through informal play with loose parts (Wagland, 2015)
  • Loose parts facilitate communication and negotiation skills when added to an outdoor space (Maxwell, Mitchell and Evans, 2008).

‘When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of “what if” that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play’ (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015).

Thank you for sharing your practice. We all have much to learn as practitioners from putting loose parts into the early years classroom.



Daly, L. and Beloglovsky, M. (2015) Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children. Redleaf Press: St Paul p.x.

Maxwell, L. E., Mitchell, M. R. and Evans, G. W. (2008) Effects of play equipment and loose parts on preschool children’s outdoor play behavior: An observational study and design intervention. Children, Youth and Environments, 18 (2), 36-63.

Nicholson, S. (1971) How Not To Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts. Landscape Architecture, v62, pp. 30-35.

Wagland, G. (2015) Reflection of S.T.E.M. activities using resources from the mobile junk and nature playground. http://bit.ly/reflectionSTEM