The Theory Of Learning With “Loose Parts”

Tell Me More About The Theory Of Learning With “Loose Parts”


“Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory- type environment where they can experiment, enjoy, and find out things for themselves.”   

-Simon Nicolson, Architect and Developer of the Theory of Loose Parts




In the early 1970’s, Simon Nicholson introduced his Theory of Loose Parts as an essential foundation for play-based learning.   He premised that working with unstructured materials inspired creativity, discovery, and self-instructed invention.  It was his belief that creating a spacious environment rich in natural and man-made materials provided a joyful as well as open-ended learning experience.  Nicholson observed that preschool children immersed in “loose parts” exploration spent more time “tinkering” in areas of individual interest leading to deeper study and interactive sensory engagement.

Full STEAM Academy has embraced Nicholson’s Theory and is a strong proponent of integrating “loose parts” into our broader preschool curricular program.  Like many early educational childcare practitioners, Full STEAM Academy has introduced different variables into our preschool STEAM experience by exposing our children to different words, concepts, music, ideas, nature’s gifts and our diverse living eco-systems.


So what exactly are “loose parts”?

“Loose parts” are natural, junk, scrap, recycled or everyday materials that can be moved, taken apart, combined, repurposed, lined-up, or put back together in many different ways.  It is a collection of items that do not have a defined purpose or defined result and leads open-ended exploration to spark the imagination.

Indoor, everyday examples include:

Blocks, dramatic play props, play cars, paperclips, animals, and people, sensory materials, paper tubes, ribbons, wood, buttons, beads, paints, building and measuring tools (cups, spoons, buckets, funnels)

Outdoor examples include:

Balls, chalk, digging and pouring tools, hoops, jump ropes, tires, buckets, containers

Natural, raw materials (for use both indoor and outdoor) examples include:

Water, sand, dirt, sticks, leaves, flowers, seeds, pinecones, straw, shells, rocks, stones, and wood scraps

Please beware that small objects, toys, and “loose parts” can be choking hazards for toddlers and preschoolers.  Children should always have adequate supervision when playing with “loose parts.”


Creating a materials rich environment “with natural light, order, and beauty” empowers children to use their imagination.

Our FSA STEAM Team is proud to nurture our toddlers and preschoolers to move in a space that allows for ideas to formulate as well as tinkering to challenge curious little engineers, artists and scientists in everyday experiences. Full STEAM Academy is constantly changing and adding to our preschool classroom environments to add interest and stimulate cognitive, social, and physical development.  As Full STEAM Academy classroom atmospheres evolve, our child-centered learning experiences allow children to make choices, gather their own authentic tools and materials, figure out their own design process, ask questions, and problem solve.   Just like the Scientific Method that uses observation to form questions, experiment, and draw conclusions:


The Theory of Loose Parts gives children the opportunity to