I recently completed an outdoor space audit as a result of some training on the subject of Playing and Exploring I had completed. As a result of my audit I found that I didn’t offer much in the way of “loose parts” for the children to play with.

The Oxfordshire Play Association (OPA) explains that “Loose parts are items and materials that children and young people can move, adapt, control, change and manipulate within their play. They provide a high level of creativity and choice, as there are endless possibilities for how they can be used. When a child is playing with sand, it can become anything they want it to be, whereas many bought toys lack such flexibility. Studies show that children and young people prefer to play with loose parts such as water, sticks, sand, ropes and boxes than traditional toys and play equipment, because they can use their imagination, and have greater control in their play. In the saying “Children prefer to play with the box than the present inside”, the box is an example of a loose part, and loose parts have a very high play value for children. Simon Nicholson came up with the ’Theory of loose parts’ in 1971. He said that in any environment, the degree of creativity and inventiveness is directly proportional to the number of variables in it. Nicholson suggested that a beach is a good example of a loose parts environments, with plenty of moveable and adaptable materials, such as sand, water, rocks and shells. Loose parts are the reason that most children are absorbed in play for hours on a beach”.

They explain “Children are drawn to new, interesting and novel items—and have a natural drive and ability to decide what to do with them in their play. Leave a pile of loose parts, let the young people know they can use them, and keep adult intervention to a minimum. Loose parts are springboards for play, and are an essential element of a rich, child-centred play environment.”

This week I addressed the lack of loose parts in my garden by simply adding some lengths of plastic guttering we had lying around in the garage. Racing cars down the lengths of guttering proved very popular. We spoke about which car when down the gutter fastest and whether a steeper slope meant the car would go faster. This is great for exploring the subject of speed in mathematics. The guttering has since moved to the sand and water table where the children have loved exploring pouring water and sand down them.

I plan to introduce more loose parts in the garden in the coming weeks. Examples of loose parts – tyres, logs, crates, cushions, fabric, buckets, hoops, wood.

Areas of Learning covered: Physical Development, Maths, Understanding The World, Communication & Language, Personal, Social and Emotional Development.