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Rethinking Resources to Inspire Curious Minds

Children's natural curiosity can be fostered through exposure to loose parts items, as they allow them to explore, experiment and combine items that can solve puzzles and create questions. Read on for more insights around incorporating loose parts.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

Curiosity is not a thing that can be taught as such, but the importance of nurturing it in Early Learning is extremely important. When exploring the idea of curiosity, it can be helpful to think of it as a way to support experimentation and exploration, and the quality of those elements is where the true value lies. Although it cannot be measured, curiosity can be assessed through observation, conversation and how it is applied within a play setting, either through individual play or group play. 

Including a selection of resources that have been pre-loved allows items to be re-imagined showing that materials can be used in many different ways - that they are adaptable, flexible and transformative allowing children to create and share new ideas. 


The Magic of Loose Parts

You may or may not be familiar with the concept of loose parts within early learning education programming -but it is a term that is now a regular part of the vernacular.  Loose parts are collections of assorted items that can be included in many areas of play including but not limited to:-

  • sensory and imaginative play
  • construction and building
  • problem-solving
  • investigative play

There is a trend toward providing resources and materials that support and encourage active learning, as they are important in sparking the curiosity required to develop inquiry skills that are explored naturally during play. 

Easy to find and with a variety of uses, loose parts can be used in many different ways and there are endless possibilities with how they could be incorporated into various activities and experiences. 

The magic of loose parts play is that just about any natural or recycled items could be included in a collection to be embedded within indoor and outdoor play and will become favourites that are returned to frequently.



Introducing Loose Parts to Children by age and stage of development

Whatever the age, key concepts in successfully introducing loose parts to Early Learning include:-

  1. Introduce a few objects at a time to encourage exploration and for the children to have plenty of time to familiarise themselves with them
  2. Keep an open mind with regard to objects that could be included in play and learning - there are many items around that are readily available 
  3. Include a variety of items made from different materials that have different textures that will appeal to the senses


Loose Parts For Babies and Toddlers

It may seem a safety concern to give very young children loose items to explore, but with thoughtful selection, they can start their play with specific materials to start. Babies and toddlers are naturally curious so it is a wonderful opportunity to respond to their needs.

A beautiful set of  Natural Wooden Treasures  are designed to stimulate the imagination and discover creative ability. Read our blog Benefits of Heuristic Play and learn how to create your own Treasure Baskets to encourage independent play and investigation, allowing children to make their own choices from a selection of different everyday items. 


Loose Parts Collection for Preschoolers

Loose parts can be found everywhere, are in abundance, and are often free or low cost, which increases their worth - and can prevent more waste from going into landfill. They are a great addition to a collage trolley, ideal for pasting and making models offered in art or paper construction activities. 

Items such as:

  • Cardboard, wrapping paper, bubble wrap, gift boxes. 
  • Pine cones, leaves, twigs, stones
  • Straws, beads, pom poms, cotton wool.
  • Sand, sticks, pegs, string/twine, ribbons.
  • Recycled packaging including tissue boxes, hygienic craft rolls
  • Odd pieces from games like Scrabble tiles, keyboard letters, stickers 

One reason for their popularity could be the focus that there is less pressure for children to create an end product, but instead enjoy the process of creation through experimentation.

Another is simply the joy of observing children developing their imagination and creativity and the opportunity to give new meaning to some objects that may have otherwise been discounted.


Displaying Loose Parts through Provocations 

According to the Reggio Emilia philosophy, creating a sense of order and encouraging children to witness the beauty of the world around us can go hand in hand.

Items like Tinker trays, Mahogany sorting tray and the Papoose Large wooden sorting tray have compartments that encourage classification and sorting skills to display many small items and treasures from all around the learning environment. It is also through this pedagogy, that children are invited to ask questions and are invited to seek answers through their play using a range of materials that offer the potential for discovery. 

One of the main roles of the educator within loose parts play is to support children with their ideas and interests. By creating offerings for children, they can use them as a springboard for learning and development through a process known as scaffolding, where the aim is to be a co-creator and influencer who is flexible and responsive to children and their learning journey.

Selecting an assortment of items from a tray offers endless opportunities to spark curiosity and investigative play.  Choosing small pebbles or buttons is ideal for filling boxes - pairing material squares with pegs and string could lead to making clothing or bedding for dolls or other small animals. 

Curiosity is nurtured naturally through loose parts play which is essential for developing play skills and relationships between children. This happens organically, much like the origin of the resources, they are engaging with - most likely because they are not always planned for, or have specific, intended outcomes. 

However, the opposite is also true when it comes to implementing loose parts resources. For example, when setting up a woodwork bench for children to explore, it is important to have an intention for the space in order for it to remain safe. 

A child’s version of a work table equipped with tools, accessories, pieces of wood and a versatile tool belt that can be worn or attached to the workbench. Children will be able to familiarise themselves with basic carpentry and construction techniques. Many of these are also applicable to art play when glueing, sticking and assembling boxes and other materials together at the craft centre or even in block play. 




The Value of Loose Parts in Protecting the Environment and Sustainable Practices

One of the major learning outcomes through loose parts play within the Early Years Learning Framework is Community. The connection between the use and reuse of materials directly supports elements of sustainable practices. 

Many new products are being derived from waste products which reflects the changing demand for quality resources that are ethically sourced that could also be considered loose parts, as they often mirror other natural items such as stones and pebbles. 

Exploring the elements of light could occur easily through a planned experience of setting up a three way table top mirrorwooden hexagon-mirror-tray or colour-mixing-learning-mirror with coloured blocks.  

It could also occur organically by observing children following their shadows on a sunny day, leading to further exploration with loose parts such as old cd’s or dvd’s which can be hung in trees with them experimenting with different lengths of string or twine. 

Wherever the learning is occurring, we believe that questions are more important than answers for children and adults who are children at heart. Embedding sustainable practices through play is an important way to introduce and celebrate curiosity. 

Setting up small (and large) areas that generate children’s questions does not always require a play space to be set up perfectly. In fact, loose parts play is often a mixture of different materials that are merely a suggestion for children to develop and change as they progress through their thinking processes. 

Educators play an integral role in developing curiosity by the ways in which they role model it within the educational program. Inviting deep questioning by researching the how and why of the mysteries of the world is the most effective way to encourage curiosity. 

Visit Bellbird’s website to click through our range of  Educator Resources 

Shop our range of  Sensory and Loose Parts Discovery



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