Loose Parts Outside for Adventurous Play!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I love loose parts. I love playing with loose parts and sharing loose parts with other educators. My hope is when adults mess about with loose parts that there will be recognition of the possibilities and importance of loose parts provision for children. I have presented many loose parts workshops indoors. Sometimes I pack up my car and drive and other times when I have to get on a plane and travel to present, I work with a local organization to supply the loose parts. I look forward to my visits to Manitoba, where I will share the mystery bag challenge and British Columbia for a loose parts buffet and documentation session! Last spring, I found myself in loose parts heaven as I sorted through all the wonderful stuff that the Early Childhood Educators of BC amassed for a workshop with 350 educators!


Having more and more requests for these workshops is indication that the loose parts are becoming more widely used and accepted. Everyday I find more resources and research to support educators who have decided to move away from closed-ended toys to these open-ended materials that can be either synthetic or natural. Let the Children Play: Scoping Review on the Implementation and Use of Loose Parts for Promoting Physical Activity Participation provides a review of articles written about loose parts and suggests that the most all encompassing definition of the term comes from Sutton (2011) who defined loose parts as any collection of fully movable elements that inspire a person to pick up, re-arrange or create new configurations, even realities, one piece or multiple pieces at a time. A very useful graphic of loose parts can be found in this amazing resource Let Kids Be Kids: Using Adventure and Nature to Bring Back Children’s Play.


Yes, to loose parts for adventure play! Being adventurous is all about opportunities for children to explore and test their own capacities, to manage risk, and to grow in their capacity, resourcefulness and resilience. Adventurous play is imaginative and creative. Adventurous play can be risky but shouldn’t be hazardous. Jumping in a pile of leaves is not without risk and that is part of the adventure but it is relatively safe risk.


With the loose parts that nature offers, children can construct their own adventures. They can balance, jump, and scamper using their whole bodies in ways that support their kinaesthetic development (Sobel, 2008). When children find themselves in a woodsy playground such as a forest, the loose parts are already there. When educators want to create adventure for children, they can also supply loose parts because Open-Ended Materials Belong Outside Too! I love this free downloadable resource that will support the use of loose parts outdoors for adventure play!


This summer, I had the chance to visit an adventure playground full of these amazing loose parts. Back in the day, when I first started working as an early childhood educator, before I ever heard of  loose parts, we used the term, “beautiful junk”. We would happily accept donations and incorporate these materials in art and construction projects that were always inside. Now I realize that we need to take that junk outside!  The concept of a “junk playground” was first proposed by a Danish landscape architect in 1936. These playgrounds became known as adventure playgrounds and in 1950, McCall’s Magazine sponsored the first adventure playground in the United States in Minneapolis. Even though these playgrounds began appearing in other North American cities, their life span was short due to concerns about junky appearance, expansion of safety regulations, fear of injury and liability, shortage of funding and play leaders, and lack of support from community leaders (Frost, 2012). The exciting news is that adventure playgrounds are beginning to appear once again. Earth Day Canada has supported the concept of “Pop up” adventure playgrounds that can be set up and dismantled in the same day. Seeing this playground pop up in my own neighbourhood at Windfall Ecology Centre and watching children engage with the beautiful junk was an experience I will never forget!

Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires [sic], bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junkyard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don’t try and direct the kids in their play, just let them get on with it.” Nicholson (1971)

I thank all those who have inspired me to reconsider loose parts for their outdoor, adventure play possibilities!

9 thoughts on “Loose Parts Outside for Adventurous Play!

  1. Loose parts are also my passion. To my delight we were witness to a plethora of loose parts during our session yesterday at Upper Canada Child Care. The collections of beautiful stuff were inspiring. And, today my brother-in-law is going to cut some blocks from Maple posts that were donated for our campfire. I wonder who would like some foe the playground?

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  2. I’m always looking for more loose parts particularly for outdoors right now. Some crates and some large spools are at the top of my list. I hadn’t thought of ice cube trays but I can imagine some great possibilities with those. I’m always delighted to see the ideas children come up with. Thanks for putting together a great post that highlights the endless possibilities!!


  3. Pingback: Loose Things and Play | building momentum in schools

  4. I am in the process of doing the outdoor play training series. The modules so far have been interesting, but very teacher directed, (since I am “old school” and following the children’s lead and not having “themes” is a big (scary 🙂 ) change), so the problem I am struggling (or confused) about is the assignment at the end of modular 1. The question we have to answer is “How can you honour history and culture in the outdoor play experiences that you provide for children”. If we have to follow the children’s lead and they have no interest in other cultures can we still bring in elements of different culture ( in the form of loose parts… lol). The modules explain the downside of “tourist culture”, but if the children are not interested, how can we reflect multiculturalism? One of the chapters in modular 1 is outdoor games like hopscotch. My question again is when we teach children about hopscotch it is still teacher directed, but if there is no older child to teach younger ones on hopscotch, then can we technically play/teach hopscotch (so yes I am a little confused)? As a centre we are beginning to incorporate loose parts but we are definite newbies. We decided to take this outdoor play training because we have challenges that are beyond our control (we are renting the building and playground so we can’t change the features much, we have directors who don’t like the “risky play” idea, so any branches we find mysteriously disappears. And we have $0 for a budget, so it’s challenging to find free stuff that won’t grow legs and walk away). I am sorry this is long, but I’ve been following your blogs for awhile and when you came down to London for your workshop with Childreach I knew I had to go (and enjoyed it). So I figured you would be the most likely person to clear this up (or know someone who can). Thanks and Merry Christmas Chris Carroll


    • So great that you are reflecting and thinking about your outdoor play experiences. The outdoor play courses are not teacher directed. As you go through all the modules you will see that we support continuum thinking rather than either or in terms of teacher or child led. Remember you can trigger interests. Teachers don’t have to wait until interests are expressed. You could create a hopscotch from sticks and play it. I bet the children would be interested in playing if they saw you playing. The emphasis is on the playing and learning not the teaching. As for risky play. The College of ECE is revising the standards of practice and it is the expectation that ECEs provide children with reasonable risk. So it is important to open up a dialogue with your directors. Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions. Diane.kashin@gmail.com. Thanks for following my blog! Merry Christmas to you 🌲


  5. Pingback: Loose Parts Learning and a Give Away! | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  6. Pingback: Playing with Loose Parts: That’s How Learning Happens! | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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