Loose Object Play: What is it and how do I engage my child?

Loose object play provides children a chance to engage their curiosity and imagination. Many educators view loose objects or loose parts play as engaging with natural materials, sticks, rocks, mud, acorns, etc. However, loose object play can include a variety of household objects or toys with open-ended applications. For example, a broom can become a horse, a sword, a telescope, a snake, and so on.

baby wearing blue shirt and orange bucket hat

Loose-part play can include any combination of items or toys but is usually centered around a theme or a shared commonality and meant to develop a specific skill through play-based learning. For example, mathematics, storytelling and literacy, gross or fine motor development, artistic expression, or science concepts.

To help you get started, we’ve detailed five ways to engage your child in loose object play!

Patterns, Counting, and Comparison!

If you have a jumble of odds and ends like blocks, counting cubes, large buttons, LEGOs, wood beads, magnets, etc., they are ideal for practicing patterns and counting. Your child can practice color and shape patterns, sort by shape or color, and compare size, quantity, and other aspects they notice.

Free Different Shapes of a Wooden Materials Stock Photo

Natural Loose Parts Play

Provide your child with various natural objects and see what they do! They may engage in building or construction or turn items into props. Loose-parts play is similar to the day of sending kids outside to play and seeing what their imaginations came up with! Kids are so overstimulated today with electronics and toys that tell them how to play and what to do they’ve lost some of their natural spontaneity.

blue plastic boat toy

Storytelling Objects

Go for a walk with your child, browse your backyard, and collect various natural objects. Then, encourage your child to use these objects to create and tell a story. Colorful fall eaves can become hidden jewels, a stick can become a magic wand, and a seashell can become a portal to another world. The best thing about this activity is that there is no right or wrong way to tell a story!

girl holding two eggs while putting it on her eyes

Loose Part Construction

While having all the blocks in one bin and all the Lincoln Logs in another looks friendly and organized, it’s good to let your kids combine building materials and mix things up! Using various building materials creates opportunities for problem-solving, creativity, and spatial reasoning and helps your child learn the physical properties of different materials. Resist the urge to have them play with only one set of toys at a time.

Free Toddler Playing Toy Blocks Stock Photo

Parts Portraits

This fantastic idea comes from Early Impact Learning. Provide your child with various loose objects and empty picture frames, and encourage them to create art inside using the available materials. Opportunities are endless when your child engages in artistic expression! Once they’ve completed a picture, continue the learning by asking them to tell you about their creation!


Many fantastic yet simple ways to engage your child in loose object play exist. The best part is the creativity is all up to them! All you have to do is supply them with loose objects and guide their play with thought-provoking and open-ended questions!

October 6, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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