Loose Parts for Active Play & Learning

The theory of loose parts was first put forward by Simon Nicholson in the 1970s, and states that the creative potential of an environment increased with the number and variety of flexible materials within it. Loose parts are defined as materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic and manufactured. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can include a variety of simple equipment pieces. Think balls, hoops, ropes, cones, parachutes, scarves, bean bags. You can enrich your existing play environment with the addition of mobile and low cost active play equipment.

We traditionally use simple equipment to play structured games with rules, but I want you to think about letting the children use these open-ended materials for unstructured play, creating and designing their own challenges and games. What if you put out some balls, hoops, scarves, bean bags

Loose Parts For Active Play and Learning - Sharron Krull

The children may become curious about what the materials are and how to use them.  They will then begin to explore the materials in different ways using their imaginations and strengthening their problem-solving skills. This leads to discovering that the materials can do many things. Discovery results in pleasure.  Pleasure results in repetition. This process of curiosity, exploration, and discovery is the cycle of learning.

Now, I could give you an awesome list of what the children came up with, but I’m not going to do that. I want to suggest that you observe and acknowledge their creations, celebrating their discoveries and experiments. Perhaps the next day add another loose part (i.e., a rope). The ideas of loose parts you can use is only limited by your and the children’s imaginations.

Benefits of Loose Parts:

  • Enables children to manipulate their environment, to experiment, and to interact with materials
  • Helps children actively construct knowledge from their own experiences.
  • Encourages interaction among children and cooperative play
  • Increases risk-taking, conflict resolution, and communication
  • Deepens critical thinking and problem solving
  • Promotes divergent and creative thinking
  • More symbolic and imaginative play
  • Supports gross and fine motor skills
  • Developmentally inclusive

Give children the time, space, and an ample variety of loose parts to discover and create with.

Loose parts are all about active play and learning!

Product Recommendations:

High-Bounce Play Balls Set of 6 (BOUNCE)

Excellerations Brawny Tough Rainbow Parachutes (P6)

Brawny Tough Activity Hoops (HOOPSET)

Zebra Hoops Set of 6 (HULA)

Nylon Jump Ropes (RPST)

Rainbow Movement Scarf Classroom Pack (SCARFSET)

Excellerations Super Sensory Beanbags Set of 12 (COOLBEAN)

Colored Beanbags Set of 12 (CBB)

Colored Cones Set of 10 (SETC)

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Hoop Fun All Around!

Kids have played with hoops for thousands of years. Twisted grape vines kept children amused in ancient Egypt. The Greeks used hooping as a form of exercise. No company or single inventor can claim that they invented the first hoop. Around 1300, hooping came to Great Britain and homemade versions of the toy became very popular. In the early 1800s, British sailors first witnessed hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands. During their stay, the soldiers realized the resemblance of the movement of the hips of the traditional hula dances to the movements of people that go hooping…and the name “hula hoop” came together. The hoop gained international popularity in the late 1950s and was eventually inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.

The activity hoop (HOOPSET) or hula hoop (HULA) is a popular play prop that begs to be played with OUTDOORS! It is usually twirled around the waist, limbs or neck but this “traditional hooping” can be difficult for young children to do. Here are some other ways to keep the fun going around, and around, and around, and around…

Hoop Chase: Roll hoops on the ground in an open area. Children have fun running, and catching the hoop, and then shouting, “I Gotcha!” Add to the fun by rolling more than one hoop at a time and see which one the child decides to chase.

Ring the Target: Set up a target such as a cone (SETC) or a gallon jug (filled with water or sand to weigh it down). Have children stand in another hoop (HOOPLA) a distance away from the target and toss or throw a hoop to land around the target. Start close and slowly increase the distance.

Make a Basket: Hang the hoop (“basket”) from a tree branch or some other spot where balls can be safely thrown. Have children stand in another hoop a distance away from the basket and toss or throw a ball (SOFTFOAM) or bean bag (CBB) through the basket. Start close and slowly increase the distance.

Around the World: Have children join hands in a circle with a hoop (LGHOOP) hanging from one person’s arm. When play begins, the person with the hoop must step through it and pass it to the next player without letting go of their hands. The next player does the same thing. The goal is to get the hoop back to the starting player with no one letting go of their neighbor’s hands. I like to add some music (“I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles) while the game is being played.

Hoop Jumping: Like rope jumping but using a big hoop (LGHOOP). Hold hoop in front of your body. Step over the hoop. Move your arms forward and swing the hoop over your head. Let the hoop hit the ground. Jump over the hoop, taking off and landing on both feet. Continue practicing these steps until you can continuously jump over the hoop.

Hoop Obstacle Course: Thread one pole (POLES) horizontally through lower level holes in two cones (CONES) to make a crossbar for jumping over. Place four hoops (HOOPLA) in a hopscotch pattern for children to jump into (first one hoop, then two hoops side by side, then one last hoop). Then make a tunnel with four cones (CONES) and two large hoops (LGHOOP) (lay two cones on their sides and across from each other, insert hoop into top notch. Duplicate with the other two cones and the hoop). Have children go through the tunnel on hands and knees. Now give children a hoop to roll in and out of a zigzag pathway made by placing 4-6 Hop Around Steps (HOPPA) in a row, four feet apart from each other. Finish the course by having children Ring the Target (see set up above).

Show Me: Ask children to place their hoop on the ground in front of them. Ask the children to, “Show me how you can jump into the hoop. Jump out of the hoop. Walk around the hoop. Put your elbow in the hoop. Put your whole body over the hoop. Stand inside your hoop. Lift the hoop over your head. On the count of three drop the hoop.” The challenges are limitless…and the children will give suggestions of what they can “show you!”

Hoop play promotes agility, coordination, cooperation, gross motor development, and physical activity. I have shared in older posts more games and activities that use the hoop. You can read them here:
Driving with Hoops!
Why Play Musical Chairs When You Can Play Musical Hoops?

Provide enough hoops for each child to have one…and “Hoop-Dee-Do” let the fun never stop!

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Brawny Tough Activity Hoops – set of 15 (HOOPSET)
Zebra Hoops – set of 6 (HULA)
Cones with Holes – set of 6 (CONES)
Poles – set of 4 (POLES)
Hop Around Steps – set of 30 (HOPPA)
14″ Brawny Tough Activity Hoops – set of 10 (HOOPLA)
25″ Brawny Tough Activity Hoops – set of 5 (LGHOOP)
Jumbo Soft Foam Balls – set of 6 (SOFTFOAM)
Colored Bean Bags – set of 12 (CBB)
Colored Cones – set of 10 (SETC)