In 1971, architect and artist Simon Nicholson introduced the concept of loose parts in his article “The Theory of Loose Parts: How NOT to Cheat Children.” In the article, Mr. Nicholson described loose parts as materials, natural or manmade, that can be used in different ways for children to manipulate, experiment with, create and invent with, and generally do whatever they want with them. Further described, there are no set directions that accompany loose parts play, so they are limited only by safety and any existing environmental constraints and the far reaches of childrens’ imagination (Neill, 2013).
Loose parts are well suited for solitary and social play. The bottom line is, while further research is needed, what we do know is that loose parts play appears to enhance active and unstructured play (Houser, et al., 2016). Take a look at some of the images that our Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team compiled of children engaging in loose play in the woods, on the playground, at the shore, and some of the projects they have left behind for others to enjoy. Please feel free to share some of your favorite images with us, in the comments below or by email.
Please note: loose parts play with small parts is not appropriate for children under age 3.
For more information about loose parts play check out the following resources:
- Play Work Build at the National Building Museum
- Urban Omnibus coverage from Prospect Park
- Loose Parts Play, a toolkit by Play Scotland
Houser, N., Roach, L., Stone, M.R., Turner, J., & Kirk, S.F.L. (2016). Let the children play: Scoping review on the implementation and use of loose parts for promoting physical activity participation. AIMS Public Health, 3(4), 781-799.
Neill P. (2013). Open-ended materials belong outside too! High scope. 27, 1–8.
Nicholson, S. (1971). How not to cheat children: The theory of loose parts. Landscape Architecture, 62, 30–35.
This post is by ASLA’s Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team. For more on loose parts play, see the PPN’s follow-up post on this topic.