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The Magic of Loose Parts

by Eddie Rayner

Isabelle Amatoury, the owner of Kid’s Island Nursery, and her daughter, Agathe Jameson, the principal, have seen the landscape of early years centres and nursery schools within Dubai progress tremendously over the years. And here they have teamed up to write a feature article on ‘the magic of loose parts’. Not sure what these are? Neither were we. But read on; it’s a real education!

Emphasis has moved away from sedentary, rote memorisation learning, towards a more active child-led, play-based approach. One area in particular that has evolved within the educational landscape is the incorporation of loose part activities into learning environments. 

So, what are loose parts? They are items that children can move, control, and manipulate, which in turn encourages independent and imaginative play. They don’t have a pre-determined use, which is beneficial as it allows children to create their own context for the item. The parts can be as simple as leaves, pebbles, seed pods, sticks, and twigs, or as diverse as bolts, herbs, screws, lemons, lids, and pieces of fabric. Loose parts, when used independently or layered together, can ignite the imagination of children.

There are no limits to imagination, and curiosity and creativity will guide the child in free play. Activities that are interspersed with loose parts enhance the learning experience.

Does that mean that parents and educators should throw out all traditional toys? Definitely not! Traditional toys, by design, are created to catch the attention of the child by being colourful, noisy, musical, and interactive. The children are informed, through visual or auditory prompts, on how they should interact with the toy. Kelly Goodsir, an educational consultant from Australia, believes that this limits creativity and places a cap on the possibilities in play. However, when traditional toys are merged with loose parts, a more creative landscape unfolds in front of the child.

We feel strongly that there needs to be an integrated balance between traditional toys and loose parts. Combined, they enhance how a child interacts within the learning environment and brings a new dimension to their play. For instance, a toy such as a doll, combined with a cardboard box, a few pieces of fabric and some leaves, could evolve into an imaginary home, beautifully decorated. Twigs and sticks turn into a forest, and a bowl becomes a boat to cross a river. The extension of play occurs as the child’s role-playing evolves from a purely nurturing experience to a more complex storyline. Integrating loose parts into the nursery environment allows children to feed their sensory needs. This enables them to build deeper connections as they expand their knowledge of the world around them.

The combination of loose parts and traditional toys should not be limited to the nursery environment only. Isabelle believes that children should have access to a variety of toys and loose parts within the home setting as well, to enrich the child’s learning experience. Cardboard boxes, paper rolls, and fabric are a great starting point for any household. Parents should consider the possibilities of everyday items before throwing them away. The opportunities are endless. Let your child’s imagination and curiosity lead the way!

Isabelle Amatoury is the owner of Kid’s Island Nursery (left), and her daughter, Agathe Jameson is the principal (right).