How to play with Loose Parts

What makes an item a loose part?

A loose part can be natural or synthetic and it is an item that can have multiple uses. It can be any item that you find with a different texture, shape or smell that will ignite children’s imagination and creativity.


How to Play with Loose Parts

Loose parts are a wonderful addition to any open ended play space. They offer children endless opportunities to manipulate materials however they would like!

Loose parts provide many opportunities for play in our house and allow my children to be curious, creative and imaginative.

They are so open ended that it leads to their own explorations and although I do set up some invitations to play with them they also play with them for hours independently with their own creativity too! 

 

Our Favourite Loose Parts

But don’t forget, loose parts are everywhere! Milk bottle lids, paddle pop sticks, nuts and bolts, sponges, cork, recycled containers, rope, chain, pots and pans, pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes, seed pods, shells, leaves, flowers, pine cones, sticks, rocks and so much more - be creative!

 

Mix of loose parts with a recycled formula tin with a hole cut in the lid for posting.

 

What can children do and make with Loose Parts?

With materials such as these children can move them, rearrange them, carry or transfer them, combine them with other items, line them up, take them apart and put them back together in so many different ways.


With these resources children can count, sort, group, make patterns or use their imagination with them for example:

  • Currency in a shop
  • Food to cook in the kitchen
  • Making Patterns & Mandalas
  • Incorporated into small world set ups

 Shop made with Sarah's Silks Shop made with Connetix Tiles

These are two shops we have made at home with Sarah's Silks and Connetix Tiles and loose parts for currency.

 

How to Introduce

When introducing loose parts to children that haven’t been exposed to them before I would suggest setting up some simple invitations with them and for you to sit down with your children, play with them and show them some ideas as to what they can do with them.

Starting out with any loose parts for children of any age I suggest pairing them with other items to show them ideas of how they could be used and model this for them.


Here are some examples for younger children 1-2 years I would suggest:

  • Cutting a hole in the top of a box or formula container to post the coins/rings into
  • Pairing some different sized recycled plastic containers with Nins, Rings, Coins or Balls for them to transfer
  • Placing them into a metal mixing bowl or muffin tin for them to explore the different sounds the materials make whilst experimenting with the loose parts
Invitations to play
This is an invitation with a silicone muffin tin, teaspoon, stacking bowls and balls. A simple set up for children both young and old.

Children aged 3 years and up try setting up some invitations to play with different resources and the loose parts such as:

  • Bowls or tongs for transferring
  • Paired with pots and pans to pretend to cook
  • Put in a bowl next to a hundreds board for making patterns
  • Place in a divided tray with some number dots for counting or even addition and subtraction!

Grapat Mandala invitation with dice

Grapat Mandala Orange Cones paired with Chunky Dice for a counting invitation.

 

If you would like to read more about Open Ended Play have a read of this blog 'Engaging in Open Ended Play.'


Grapat Mandalas

When looking at the Grapat Mandala range it can be overwhelming as there are so many to choose from but I recommend starting with just a few sets (we personally started with two) and later adding to your collection once your children really start to engage with them.

Each set is a different shape, size, colour or texture which means that each piece has a different tactile feel when manipulated in their hand.

The different shape of them gives children different ideas as to what they can do with them. For example my girls like to use the green cones for trees, purple eggs as grapes, mini coins in the cafe.

All of the Grapat Mandala sets come with 36 pieces and are divided equally into 3 shades; light, medium and dark. 

Grapat Mandala Loose Parts

Scroll to the bottom of this blog for some more play ideas!


How to keep loose parts contained

Often children like to scatter and throw the pieces around the room if they are younger and haven’t engaged with loose parts before. Try pairing the pieces with some bowls (big and small) and tongs and spoons for them to transfer and tip the pieces between them as they are most likely enjoying the Trajectory schema.


If you would like to read more about schemas head to this Instagram post for ‘How to spot Schemas in your child’s play’ and also ‘How to support them.'

If you are needing to keep them contained I would suggest setting them up on a mat or in a tuff tray and showing them the boundary where you expect the pieces to stay. 

If they are still getting all over the house would suggest giving your child/children a bowl and making a game of packing away to pick them all up by setting a timer and saying “how many can you pick up in 30 seconds” and also do it yourself too to model.

If you find that they continue to throw them I would pack them away and bring them out later that day or tomorrow and continue this until they are playing with them in a more thoughtful way.


Sensory Play

This is a sensory play experience (calming sand & mandala pieces) set up in a container and then on a large sheet. The sheet shows the area in which I expect the play to be contained to.

 

Mouthing Children

We all know toddlers love to mouth objects and the size of the Grapat Mandala pieces and other loose parts such as crystals and counting chips are definitely a choking hazard and not recommended for children under 3 years of age or if your little one is still in this phase! 

If this is the case with your child I would suggest looking at the Grapat Nins Rings and Coins, Carla or Seasons sets which are recommended from 12 months and above. 

These pieces still offer many of the same opportunities for loose parts play and younger ones will enjoy posting, stacking and threading with them.

Always assess the risks of choking when doing loose parts play with young children and either don’t do the activity until they are older or closely supervise. 

How to play with Grapat Nins Rings and Coins

Head to the blog ‘How to play with Nins Rings and Coins’ for more play ideas with this set.


How to Store & Rotate

When you want to store them away they work best in divided trays so that children can find pleasure in packing and sorting them away into groups. I also mix them all into one basket to change up our normal and spark new play.

There are a few different options of trays that I have linked here.

Grapat Tinker Tray - This tray is nice and flat and you can reconfigure/remove the dividers.

Treasure Box - This is deeper and fits more inside it. It fits 11 Grapat Mandala Sets (some divided into two compartments) and has a lid that slides in the top.

Papoose Sorting Tray - This has 9 deep and wide fixed divisions with handles at the side and is nice and light. It fits a whole Mandala set (36 pieces) in each division with extra room.

I personally love rotating toys as it just makes the resources feel new when they are moved, swapped or displayed in a different bowl or basket. I would recommend always having loose parts available but rotating what you have available to them!

Read more about Toy Rotation here.

Grapat mandala and From jennifer hundreds board
Grapat Tinker Tray filled with loose parts that Big Sis used to make patterns on the Treasures From Jennifer Hundreds Board.

 

Invitations to Play

Here are a few examples of invitations to play we have done with loose parts but remember there are so many MORE ways to play!

 

Grapat Invitaions

 

Two sets of Grapat Mandala pieces to sort into shades.

Grapat Lola in use

The Grapat Lola Set simply placed in a basket on the floor sparked this play.

Grapat Mandala and Flashcards

Grapat Mandala pieces paired with Two Little Ducklings Counting & Maths Symbols Flashcards.

Grapat Lola in use

Grapat Lola tubes paired with metal rimmed counting chips for colour sorting.

Grapat and Connetix Tiles

Grapat Mandala paired with paint chips and Connetix Tiles for colour sorting - @cardboardfolk

Grapat Mandala and Numbers

Grapat Mandala paired with Number Dots - @colour.your.play

Grapat Loose Parts

Grapat loose parts paired with different boxes, containers and bags for transferring.

 

Invitations with Crystals

Big Sis was laying the crystals in a line so I stuck a piece of washi tape on the ground with a bowl of Crystals.

Crystals paired with Ostheimer

Making ourlines with crystals around our Ostheimer animal figurines.

Crystals with recycled egg carton

Balancing and sorting crystals in an egg carton.

Crystals paired with flashcards

Counting activity with Crystals, Counting and Maths Symbols Fashcards and Number Dots.

 

Invitations for Younger Children

Threading Grapat Rings onto a Sarah's Silk.

Grimm's Stacking Bowls paired with Wooden Balls. Great for experimenting with size - @wild.and.play

Posting Nins, Rings and Coins in a recycled box. This can also be done with a formula tin. 

Sarah's silks invitations to play

Sarah's Silks threaded through a washing basket - @wild.and.play

 

 A few more Invitations To Play

Kapla Invitation to Play 

Kapla planks made into people and train tracks.

Connetix Tiles and metal Rimmed Counting Chips 

Connetix Tiles paired with metal rimmed counting chips for colour sorting.


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