Loose parts and open-ended resources

Posted 27th April, 2020

At ABC we are avid followers of The Curiosity Approach. This means typical ‘toys’ are gone and replaced by ‘loose parts’ and ‘open ended’ resources. 

You may have heard these terms thrown around a lot but what are they and what do they mean?


We are all aware of what these are… a toy is usually something which has been designed with a set purpose. It is usually brightly coloured in order to appeal to the child. 

Toys usually:

  • Play music
  • Make sounds
  • Are made of a hard-wearing smooth plastic, to ensure safety from breakages and longevity. 

You may be thinking, why would we remove these wonderful inventions from our nurseries?

Loose parts and open-ended resources

We have found that loose parts and open-ended resources make for better learning and play experiences.

An open-ended resource is basically the opposite of a toy; it does not have a set purpose and cannot be completed. It is, as the title says, ‘open ended’.

A loose part is absolutely anything, large or small; it is an open-ended resource that can be:

  • Constructed
  • Taken apart
  • Collected
  • Sorted
  • Combined with other materials

The list is endless!

Large loose parts are used in play for:

  • Construction
  • Balancing
  • Art
  • Building dens or enclosures
  • Stacking and lifting
  • Climbing and reaching
  • Problem solving
  • Working together

Again, the list is endless as is the learning taking place as children play.

Because loose parts and open-ended resources aren’t purposely made toys for children the materials, textures and weights are all allowing children so many more experiences than just their typical smooth shiny plastic. 

The sensory experiences and the managing of risks if items may be breakable or if a stick may be sharp enhance the play and learning so much further.

Naturally curious

By exchanging our toys for open-ended or loose part items, children’s natural curiosity grows. Children naturally have to use their imaginations more and their creativity can come alive as all limits are taken away. 

Throughout their day children are continually problem solving and decision making. They are constantly trialling ideas, being creative, building on ideas, working together and putting thought into their play experiences.  

Their play suddenly has no limits; instead of just a choice between the dressing up outfits purchased, they can create any character they want to be. The same item can be a police officer, a princess, a road worker, a racing car driver or a chef, the only limit is the child’s imagination.

Loose parts at ABC – Hoo, Hollinswood, Hadley and Lightmoor!

Our nursery shelves are full of small loose parts. 

As well as developing children’s vital fine motor skills here are just some examples of how these items are also used daily:

  • Art
  • In playdough
  • Mark making
  • Following lines
  • Collecting and sorting
  • Making patterns and comparisons
  • As food in the home corner for pouring or mixing
  • Filling and emptying
  • Transporting
  • In sand and water
  • Any other way the child chooses

Children cover the whole Early Years Foundation Stage, every single area of development, at their own level, with these loose parts. They are not made to come and sit down or take part in activities an adult has chosen. They are leading their own learning as they play.  

The children’s play is fun filled and open ended; the children have little to no idea of just how many new skills they are practicing and all of the hidden learning that is taking place as they busy themselves with their play.

Children also learn to respect items and their nursery; if loose parts are not put back after use then they soon run out. 

We learn to collect bottle tops, ring pulls, recycle and put everything to good use. Jars become paint pots, sticks and leaves collected for sticking and painting, no cardboard box gets past our construction area!

The vocabulary children are exposed to also increases as the items available are so vast that they learn new words to describe them.

Removing toys from ABC

So, there’s just a small insight into why we made the bold move of removing ‘toys’ from our nurseries.

We are by no means suggesting not to have toys at home, but just trial adding a few simple loose parts to play. A little pot of bottle tops in the kitchen, a few wooden curtain rings or bangles with a mug tree. 

See if your child amazes you as much as they amazed us. 

Team ABC.