Playing without toys


''In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility for discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it'' -Simon Nicholson, Architect

In an article I read recently they discussed the 4 things a child does not need:

  • Thousands of toys that light up or make use of batteries,
  • Latest gadgets just because you know someone else that has one,
  • Many pricey outfits from boutiques,
  • They do not need a different enrichment activity for every hour of the day.
They need:
  • Physical nourishment (meals and exercise),
  • Open ended toys (e.g. wooden blocks, Lego, paper, pencils, rocks, leaves, buttons),
  • Clothes that can get dirty and your old clothes to play dress up,
  • Time with parents and siblings,
  • Time to play outside.

The theory of 'Loose parts' addresses what children can play with. Loose parts can be found in every environment. This is a concept that has been around since the beginning of time, but in 1971 an architect, Simon Nicholson, developed it into a theory and it has been exciting play experts, therapists, teachers and parents ever since. 

Why play with loose parts?

  • They can be used in any way the child would like to use them.
  • They can be adapted and manipulated in various different ways.
  • They encourage imagination and creativity.
  • They develop more skill and competence than modern manufactured toys.
  • They can be used in combination with other materials.
  • They encourage open ended learning.
These loose parts can be anything. Mostly they are not even toys, but rather bits and pieces of ‘stuff’ that we find in everyday life. Loose parts don’t have a particular function or purpose but can be used in any way. They can be moved around, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, sorted, stacked and fiddled with in multiple ways.

Some examples of loose parts are: stones, stumps, sand, gravel, fabric, twigs, wood, pallets balls, buckets, baskets, water, crates, boxes, logs, rope, tyres, shells, seeds, wool, cotton wool reels, pieces of pipe, elastic bands etc.


My challenge to every parent this month is to allow your children to explore loose parts. Make it fun. Playing with loose parts does not have any rules. Let’s put an effort forth to develop creativity and imagination. If we develop children that can play with loose parts, they will always have something to play with, even when there are no ‘toys’ around.