Loose Parts: Sometimes one persons junk...is just junk.

May 2021

Right. I am going for it. I am about to unleash on my keyboard something that if I was on TV maybe I would put into Room 101- or if I was on Radio One- maybe I’d be calling into “Unpopular Opinon”.


Here goes.


Sometimes junk is just junk. It's not fit for play. It's not safe. It has no place in your setting.


There I said it.


Before I start let me be clear about me…


  • I am a bit of a hoarder.
  • I have lost track of the times I have said to my husband “I will take that into school” and received a look that says “really???” as I stack old pots pans, birthday cards, decking boards, rolls of wallpaper, old duvet covers and more into my boot.
  • I spent my 80’s childhood with my late Uncle Tony, going to auctions, the local tip and boot sales (which is where I built my complete Famous Five collection)
  • I return from our local scrapstore with vacuum hoses, large wooden disks and cork wheels.
  • I love a charity shop ramble and facebook market place sale- just last week we had 50 tyres delivered to school to zone off our garden.
  • Before my mum retired to the west country- she would save me bags and bags of kitchen roll tubes for school!


Oh and as  a small child I spent hours sitting on a wooden workbench covered with a piece of sheepskin and a horses saddle convinced I was on a horse. I was there for hours. 


Ok so to be clear I love upcycling.


  • I love holding on to things that “the children will love” or “that will come in handy one day”.
  • I love seeing how they choose to use things. What they make them into- often having much better ideas than me.
  • I love the fact that every child can create. Every child can achieve and succeed.
  • I love the fact that loose parts allow endless possibilities and the creativity that pours from children as they use them

But recently I have found myself in a place where I was probably finding myself back in 2015- just before I started Keeping Early Years Unique.  I am finding myself a member of a whole range of social media groups where I see posts that I just cannot stay quiet about- often for safeguarding reasons- and again as in 2015 I am finding myself somewhat outnumbered by people telling me that I am adverse to risk. Let's be clear. I am not. I just know that somethings are simply not safe for young children to use and are not fit for playful purposes.



Hence I am writing this blog. I need to know am I outnumbered? Am I wrong on this? I am sure you will all let me know! Am I banging the wrong drum here?

More and more of us are realising the potential of loose parts play- there is also a growing movement of bringing old furniture into our settings, something else I am not convinced about- for example I have seen settings using big heavy dressing tables, mirrors and items such a necklaces- with babies and toddlers- maybe that’s another “unpopular” blog for another day.


But for today lets think about loose parts.

Many of us will remember from our childhoods the joy of a box.  The quintessential loose part- the joy of climbing inside it, closing the flaps or cutting out windows and making a door. The power of a loose part is that it can be anything we desire and seamlessly connect together areas of learning through purposeful, authentic, creative experiences. 

With my maths head on- these photo frames, curtain rings and beads- opened up so many opportunities to discuss one of my favourite questions with young children “What do you notice?”  If you want to know more about using this  learning extending, brain developing, endless possibility maker of a conversation starter- dip in here to the phenomenal  Dreme website


I guess my concern is that with:

  • the popularity of loose parts (and quite rightly so)
  • the growth of social EYs media groups and influencers and a pinterest approach to pedaogy
  • the fact that we are living in a world that needs saving- so we commit to recycling, upcycling and making good-


....we need to ask ourselves one question:


“Why” are we choosing this loose part for our setting?


If it's just that it was being given a way for free by a friend or relative or it was in a charity shop or bootsale- then maybe that’s not a good enough reason.


The first thing we must do with any loose part is consider if its safe for our children.  These are not resources that were made to be played with- so we need to ensure that they are safe. We have a duty to safeguard and protect the children entrusted to us each day. This simple flow chart from the amazing Loose Play toolkit 2019 is a great place to start.

My good friend, the queen of risk, challenge and adventure, former Head Learner at the groundbreaking “Chelsea Open Air Nursery School” would say we need to not just do a risk assessment but a risk/benefit assessment where we consider the risks alongside the benefit. Do the benefits of this resource outweigh the risks? Watch her in action here.


I think the reason I have got a bee in my bonnet so to speak is because quite often the loose parts discussions I am seeing are discussing play for very young children, the under 3’s. 


Loose parts for this age group requires very careful consideration- due to the way that young children explore and make sense of their world- often through their mouths. Do we know the paint used on these items is safe? Do we know that these objects are safe for children to put into their mouths? Are there sharp corners.


Loose parts play for babies and toddlers is nothing new is it? But we must ensure that what we are offering children is safe for them to explore. Read more about heuristic play here 



Anyone who wants to learn about Loose Parts and develop their provision even further- please check out this amazing free resource from Play Scotland.  You won't go far wrong!


Oh and one other “unpopular” opinon before I run for cover from the deluge of buttons, beads, tin cans and other small items being launched my way…


If you ever get your hands on a wonderful cable reel.

Yes make it safe…


But please don’t feel you have to paint a ladybird on top of it.


Right. I’m off.


It's Bank Holiday Monday and I’m sure theres a lazybones Bootsale down the road….


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