A few friends have asked me what to use as loose parts and how I went about finding them. Here is what I did.
For me, research is always the first step, and I found it easiest to understand loose parts by actually seeing how children played with them. I got some ideas from visiting the Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool, and then did additional reading on my own. I found the Loose Parts series by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beleglovsky to be enormously informative and inspiring.
Second, I started looking for parts everywhere, trying to see the world through my child’s eyes. For example, colorful binder clips to a child are both fun to hold and use to join objects together. I first started looking in my house, collecting paper roll tubes and empty egg cartons. I saved packaging material. Then I went shopping. Craft stores were initially very helpful because so much of their inventory can be used as loose parts, from buttons to seashells. From there, I started looking everywhere, from the grocery store to office supply stores to local thrift shops. Once I knew what to look for—individual items that would seem interesting to a kid—the whole world became a toy aisle.
Third, I realized I needed to observe my child and see what worked and did not. Just because I had seen an idea in a book or a blog post did not mean it would be interesting to my child. And certainly just because I thought an object was fun did not mean my child would agree! Here’s a list of some initial things that worked and some things that did not:
Cardboard cake rounds – I found this in the baking section of a craft store. My daughter likes to build things, so these were incorporated into towers.
Wooden beads – My daughter would stack them, use them as “people,” or put them in containers and carry them around.
Wood tiles with letters on them – I also purchased these at a craft store. My daughter liked the small size, and would use them to build or arrange “words.” I’ve used them to practice spelling, and have also flipped them over to the blank side to work on counting.
Glass rocks – My daughter loved the colors and the unique feel of glass. She would use these to create designs, and also carry them around in containers.
Paper straws – My daughter stuck pipe cleaners through them to make different shapes.
Things that did not interest my daughter at all: wooden spools, wooden pegs, and feathers
I continually look for new objects, a really fascinating process that seems to be making me more creative too!