Loose Part Play

I am a huge believer in the importance of Loose Part Play, and I have really increased the students accessibility to loose parts in our classrooms over the last few years. I get a lot of questions about loose parts and how it works in the classroom. What are loose parts? What are children gaining from this process? How do you encourage loose part play? Are children hesitant to play with these toys? And of course…..what are your favorite loose parts to use in classroom?

“Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic.” -The Theory of Loose Parts Play

Loose Part Play in Action:

When children have access to Loose Part Play regularly, they begin to see Loose Parts all around them! They begin to see the potential of their environment and the opportunists to be creative.

Our program has a really small outdoor space, in order to incorporate Loose Parts Play outside, we had to use a lot of small scale parts. Lots of small logs, wooden blocks, small stumps and wood scraps make for excellent loose part play!

Froebel’s gifts are the original Loose Parts. They are designed to help your students understand shapes, curves, lines and colors through design and manipulation. We love our Froebel gifts!

Giving children access to different types of blocks and encouraging them to combine and create with them is an essential creative process. I love this combination of small dominoes, large dominoes and and magnetic blocks.

Another awesome combination! Using small plastic cups, dominoes, wooden blocks and marbles…look at the fun these kiddos came up with!

These wooden cylinders were really elevated by the addition of cutout squares of cardboard. Students were able to make towers, experience the with balance and proportion and test boundaries!

Solo cups are one of my favorite Loose Parts! Cheap, simple, easy to store and incredibly versatile! Our students love to build with Solo Cups!

A large variety of small Loose Parts on a table can be incredibly inviting! Look at the incredible creativity and teamwork from this group of Preschool students! I love the combination of corks, large wooden dominoes, rocks, tin buckets, dowels, wooden spools and Keva blocks!

Bringing the Outside In……

Our curriculum has always tried to find new and unique ways to connect children to the natural world. By providing opportunities for children to touch, manipulate and explore nature we can help them better understand and appreciate it…..however, at The Learning Loft our urban setting can provide some nature challenges.

This is why we have to find ways to bring natural elements into our everyday activities. Children can’t just touch a pinecone once and then appreciate the forest. They need to be constantly immersed in nature…touching, smelling and manipulating it.

These are some of the ways we bring nature into our play based learning environment….


Flower soup! Providing students with different natural materials and a bowl of water is the simplest activity, with a huge impact! Children can manipulate the items using scissors, tweezer, scoops, food coloring and water….to of course create Flower Soup


Great fine motor practice too!
Our students will enjoy this activity all week….each day new materials, colors, tools and recipes are added to extend the learning. Some of our older children will write their recipes, practicing early math and literacy skills!
A great activity for practicing scissor skills with a nature twist!
Pumpkin Dissection! If we want children to understand and appreciate fruits and vegetables, we need to give them hands on experience with them! Our students love using different tools to manipulate (nice word for smash and destroy) different fruits and veggies!
Nature identification table! Giving scientific tools to children forces them to take a closer look at the nature that surrounds us! 
We want our children to develop early literacy skills by practicing handwriting skills….but who says it needs to be on paper!?! 
Seashell and marine figurines sensory table!


Adding tree cookies (yes, that is what those mini logs are called) are an easy way to provide a natural element to an activity. These students are using the math manipulative combined with a sensory element for sorting, counting and small world play. 
These individual sensory bins create a small world fairy center using dirt, rocks and tree cookies! 
Seed sorting! More hands on exploration of fruit and veggies!
This time the teachers took the vegetable investigation into another direction….construction! Students are encouraged to hammer nails and screw screws into the squash. One of the MOST popular activities all year!
Brining tree branches into the classroom to allow children a closer look….remember in order for children to truly appreciate and understand nature, they must enjoy it with all their senses. By making the branch accessible to them, they can deepen their understanding and appreciation. 
Using rocks as a morning check in station! 
A simple counting activity where the teachers simply replaced plastic counters with natural items. Children can now count, sort or graph the different items from nature. 

Sensory Experiences!

The teachers at The Learning Loft know that as their director, there is no mess too big, no such thing as wasting paint and to encourage the process not the product! Our teachers encourage our students to explore new and interesting sensory experiences everyday…and to create an environment where investigation ad experimentation is encouraged!

Using different types of sponges and cut up pool noodles students explored with paint on paper and wood scraps.

What child doesn’t LOVE slime!?! This is a great way to add new textural and fine motor elements to everyone’s favorite sensory experience! We created this activity using drying racks from the dollar store, homemade slime and scissors.

Race Cars and Paint! This is such a great activity to help bridge the gap for your little ones that love planes, trains and automobiles….and not much else. This is a way to get our little racecar drivers excited about something new in a way that feels inviting, exciting….and speeeeedddyyyy!

Sometimes a REALLY great sensory activity doesn’t have to be messy. Using ziplocks with paint inside on a light table, students who may not be as comfortable with a mess can still enjoy a great sensory experience. Students can use different amounts of pressure to mix colors and practice writing skills.

If you haven’t used Shaving Cream in your classroom, I highly recommend it. Cheap. Clean. And incredibly engaging. Look how fun this activity is! The teachers used Shaving Cream to creative this beautiful heart and then added liquid water colors on top to encourage color mixing and a collaborative sensory experience.

An Emergent Curriculum Study of Tadpoles

When a parent walks into your school with a bowl full of pond water and tadpoles…you have no choice but to investigate the learning possibilities. The teachers of the Bridge Classroom introduced the tadpoles to the students, and than sat back to see which direction the children would take them. This is an emergent curriculum at its finest! The teachers are still planning and preparing activities, however they are following the natural interests of their students! Learning is able to take place in all subject areas and students are naturally invested. Check out our in depth investigation into pond life and tadpoles!