The best learning toys for little kids, recommended by teachers!

Why are preschool classrooms still full of simple, classic toys and activities we played with when we were kids? The answer is simple: While times have changed, brain development hasn’t! In fact, children learn best through play, when they’re relaxed, engaged, and having fun!

Building blocks, play dough, and crafts allow children to do so much more than stack, smoosh, and stretch their imaginations! They sharpen fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, lay a foundation for early math concepts, and hone executive functions like memory and focus.

Board games and cards are great examples of cooperative toys that help children practice taking turns, sharing, and cooperating—all key to social-emotional development. They also help children develop their working memory, math, and fine-motor skills.

Understanding loose parts play

Have you ever looked at a bunch of pine cones and thought about how they would make the perfect bodies for a family of hedgehogs? Or seen the potential in a bunch of sticks, rocks and leaves to become the world’s fastest rocket ship? Probably not. But your children surely have.

The beauty of children is that they see possibilities in everything. Objects are never just one thing. There is a joy in how they can take a seemingly disparate collection of found objects and create something incredible, all with just the power of their imagination.

As early childhood educators, we know the power loose parts play in unleashing creativity and encouraging problem-solving. We know that the learning environment is enriched when children can explore open-ended materials.  We’ve broken it down for you to help you understand what it is, why it matters and how to welcome loose parts play into your routine.

What is Loose Parts Play?

The loose parts play theory is based on the idea that when children are presented with a collection of small objects (i.e. loose parts), they have more opportunities for creativity and engagement as they rearrange, redesign and tinker with the parts, creating patterns and new objects as they go. Architect Simon Nicholson developed the theory in the early 1970s.

Loose parts play is likely how your children naturally play. They collect bits and bobs from around them and bring them together to create something new. When we talk about loose parts play in an educational or more structured setting, it’s about giving children more of these opportunities to explore and develop their innate creativity.

The Benefits of Loose Parts Play

As adults, when we’re caught up in our busy days, it’s easy to think of loose parts play as busy work or something to keep the kids occupied. But it’s so much more than that. In truth, loose parts play is a crucial piece of the puzzle in the developmental skills your child needs as they learn and grow.

You might be surprised to learn what some of those benefits are and how beneficial playing with random materials can be for young children. Some of the benefits include:

  • Developing a sense of independence as children have the freedom to explore different materials autonomously.
  • Encouraging language development as children communicate their ideas and knowledge with their peers, educators, parents and caregivers.
  • Building creative thinking, problem-solving, curiosity and abstract thinking skills as children explore the materials and discover new ways of playing with them.
  • Enhancing fine motor skills as children pick up, hold and manipulate materials in multiple ways.
  • Facilitating collaboration, sharing and belonging as children interact with others around them engaged in the play.
  • Increasing physical play and activity along with gross motor skills as children move and transfer their creations and use them in further imaginative play.