Rethinking the term 'loose parts'

I had a conversation with a dear friend this week and she told me she wouldn't be having loose parts from the 1st of June. Imagine my face as I heard these words coming from her mouth. Upon further probing I realised what she meant. She meant things like pinecones, acorns, nuts and bolts and the usual 'small pieces' of loose parts that many settings now have.

Turns out she has a great many other loose parts and will continue to be using them. The reason she didn't immediately mention them was because they had already become so embedded into her practice that she simply forgot. What were those resources?

Large loose parts outdoors such as hula hoops, large wooden construction pieces, pipes, guttering, skipping ropes and the like. Are these loose parts?

Yes, they are. BUT I try to use the term 'open-ended resource' more these days because of this reason. People see and hear all about trinkets and knick knacks that they can add into their provision forgetting that many large scale open-ended resources (loose parts) already exist.

Moving forwards I firmly believe these are going to be invaluable to maintaining high quality learning. We know that children who engage in loose parts/open-ended play are developing a wealth of skills and knowledge but I am worried that in feat of desperation many settings will move away from open-ended resources towards 'work' that requires tables, chairs and worksheets. We don't have to!

Some ideas for outdoor open-ended resources that can be easily cleaned*:

Large wooden blocks (such as community play things.)

Metal tent poles

Plastic/bamboo guttering

Plastic pipes (hard plastic NOT soft.)

PLASTIC cable reels

Bread crates

Shower curtains (machine washable)

Fabrics (machine washable)

Hula hoops


Skipping ropes

PE mats


Tennis balls (ideally harder plastic ones for dogs)

Large rocks/stones

Bean poles/willow sticks

Plant pots


Netting (e.g. football goal netting BUT only if it is machine washable.)

Cardboard boxes (not washable but disposable at the end of every session).

Large plastic bottles e.g. pepsi, 7up or 5l paint containers (not washable but disposable at the end of every session).

I do not recommend tyres or milk crates as the surface area is large and would therefore be harder to clean. Bread crates might prove to be a challenge but some are very flat..

I do not have any affiliation relationship with Cosy but it is a company I have recommend in the past and still do. Many resources they stock would not be as appropriate at this time BUT they do stock a wide range of outdoor resources which can be sourced and delivered speedily. Scrap stores remain closed for the majority of us so catalogue/web-based companies are essential. -

Do you have an idea? Comment below.

* - Remember to follow the Government or your school/setting guidance on appropriate cleaning solutions and hygiene. Whichever is stricter.

James 😉

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