When Sicily was very little, I would lay out discovery baskets with objects from around the house. One basket, I set up for her was full of kitchen utensils. She spent a good amount of time exploring spoons, whisks, and pots. I thought I was just doing something random until I ran across the book Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, which has taught me a lot about loose parts for toddlers.
I was inspired to keep introducing loose parts as Sicily continued to grow, learn, and explore her world. Today I wanted to give you a quick overview of loose parts for toddlers, but I highly recommend that you purchase this book for a deep understanding and tons of ideas for loose parts play.
*This post contains affiliate links.*
What are Loose Parts for Toddlers?
Basically, loose parts are any open-ended objects that your toddler can explore. You know how a toddler would rather play with your pots and pans instead of that fancy singing dog you bought them? Toddlers are interested in learning about the world around them and using all of their senses. Loose parts are perfect for this, and they don’t have to be expensive.
Loose parts for toddlers provide unlimited play opportunities. Once a toddler figures out one way to use the loose part, you can set up the environment or invitation in a different way to encourage them to figure out a new way to use the same loose parts.
They also have infinite possibilities. There is no right or wrong way to use loose parts. Yes, you may have an intention when you set up an invitation to explore these loose parts, but your toddler may have another idea.
Why are Loose Parts for Toddlers Important?
Like I said, toddlers are curious beings. They want to explore their world instead of being entertained with toys. Loose parts provide exploration opportunities. Exploring loose parts with your toddler helps them make sense of their world, develop their imaginations, and figure out how things work.
Related: The Toddler Experience: A Hands-On Toddler Curriculum
These explorations allow for deep problem solving and critical thinking skills to evolve. Toddlers are learning through trial/error and cause/effect. Being able to freely explore loose parts gives toddlers a chance to be creative and express their own wants and needs for learning.
Using Loose Parts the Right Way
When I left out that kitchen discovery basket for Sicily, I really had no idea what I was doing. I just wanted her to explore some things and to give me a few minutes of peace to make dinner. At that time, just exploring was all Sicily needed to do.
But at times, we can use loose parts with toddlers to channel unwanted behaviors and foster learning schemas. An example that was used in the book was a little boy who liked to throw toys. Instead of constantly telling the child no, the teacher took it as an opportunity to introduce loose parts. She put soft balls and stuffed animals that were okay for throwing inside and placed them in a basket on top of the loft. The little boy immediately noticed this new addition and threw the objects off the loft which was okay for that teacher.
Examples of schemas are filling/dumping, transferring, pushing/pulling, and trajectory. We can provide loose parts so toddlers can safely and freely explore these needs without getting into trouble.
But presenting loose parts is more than just throwing things in a basket and calling it a day, like I did with the kitchen discovery basket. You have to be intentional. Think about what you want them to do with these loose parts and how they might interact with them.
You might set up funnels and napkin rings outside for a tossing game to meet the trajectory need of your toddler. You could also set up pots with spoons in your kitchen when your toddler is into exploring different sounds.
Ideas on Loose Parts for Toddlers
One IMPORTANT thing to consider with loose parts for toddlers is safety. I allow Sicily to use small loose parts, such as glass gems, as long as I am sitting right there next to her and watching her intently. Please consider each loose parts on this list, or any others that you can think of, for possible safety risks.
Pots and Pans
Color plastic cups
Dog toy pull ropes
Things from nature (leaves, acorns, flowers)
Toilet paper rolls
Nuts and Bolts
The list is really endless. You can use anything that is open-ended and part of the real world for your toddler to explore. Please check out Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers. Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky do a wonderful job explaining the value in loose parts for toddlers. The majority of their book is ideas for different loose parts play for different schemas.
Monthly Print and Play Calendar
Enjoy the quality time with your kids while learning and having fun!