In addition to the risk, many practitioners also worry about the mess they think loose parts will create which is why it is important to introduce loose parts at the earliest stage possible and yes, this does include babies. Introducing loose parts is not a race, it takes time for other members of your team to get on board and for children to understand that they’re going to be available all of the time; start out slowly with fewer loose parts and build this up over time. An example that many practitioners can relate to is water play, when we get water play out once a week for children to explore, every single child will flock to it; splashing and getting excited. Whereas, when water play is an everyday occurrence within the setting children understand that there is no rush to use it and that it will be there the day after, this leads to much more purposeful play. The water play example can be applied to loose parts, every time we introduce a new loose part the children are excited and curious to explore it which is why it helps to introduce loose parts in smaller quantities rather than all at once.
There is also no need to shudder at the thought of loose parts in the baby room; we need to remember that loose parts are nothing new, block play and treasure baskets are a staple for every baby room and offer the same benefits and experiences as smaller or riskier loose parts. They’re open ended, developmentally appropriate and foster creativity and critical thinking, here is a list of loose parts suitable for babies.
Loose Parts for Babies
Blocks - Blocks come in many different shapes, sizes and materials. Even on their own, they can create an engaging and inviting loose parts play space for babies. I also believe that good blocks are worth investing in. They will last a lifetime if cared for properly and can be used by all ages and stages of development; we often rotate our blocks throughout the setting. Be on the lookout for different types of blocks; metallic, clear, light up and in varying shapes. You can add plastic cable reels, tin cans (you can buy safety tin openers that leave a smooth edge) and large log slices alongside your blocks for further investigation and exploration.
Cardboard - Another great resource that is open-ended but safe is cardboard. You can collect cardboard boxes, tubes, egg cartons and rolls by reusing all the packaging and waste from your kitchen. And, as it’s easily replenished it doesn’t matter if it gets ruined.
Treasures - Lots of standard treasure basket items are great loose parts; brushes, wooden items, wicker balls, fabric and curtain hoops are all safe and large enough for babies to handle. From the very youngest babies, who will explore the items through their senses, right up to 2-year-olds, who will explore using schemas, treasure baskets are a great resource.
Sensory – Our sensory room is filled with loose parts; light up blocks, pebble and rollers which are all great for stacking, rolling and exploring. In addition to these provide lots of lengths of fabrics including tulle, cotton, hessian and sequin.