Area with loose materials

This area can be tarmac or grass or a combination. We recommend in your area for loose materials you include:

  • Loose parts
  • Water (tap, bucket, tray, etc.)
  • Sand (sand pit, tray, etc.)
  • Mud (digging pit, mud kitchen, etc.)
  • places to tie things on to (railings, trees, etc)
  • Surfaces of different heights (steps, platforms, decking, etc)

What are loose parts?

A girl sits in a trug
Photo from Gylemuir Primary blog June 2016

Loose parts are found and collected items. The term encapsulates all of those things you find and play with as a child that are not classed as toys or created specifically for play. For example, playing with stones and shells on the beach or sticks and acorns in the woods.

For schools and nurseries unless you have a very natural outdoor space, natural found items can be hard to come by and need to be introduced along with more interesting items that can advance the play, such as crates, pipes, planks and tyres. When introducing these items to the playground it is the responsibility of the school to ensure the items are clean and safe to be played with.

What is loose parts play?

There are many different types of play, in our school grounds we want to offer the opportunity for children to play the way they want to and different types of play develop the skills they need as they grow up, we believe the best way to achieve this is through loose parts play. Loose parts allow children the right to choose, create and play the way they want to (Article 31 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Loose parts are not prescriptive like play equipment, a slide and trim trail are fun and good for active play but they have been designed by an adult and tell a child how to use it. The number of ways to use these pieces of equipment are limited.

Because loose parts haven’t been designed for play, the number of opportunities for use in play is limitless.

The Scottish Government’s toolkit on loose parts play is a very good resource that explains everything about loose parts, offers practical guidance and how to implement this in your school.

What are the advantages of loose parts play?

girl build a tower from tyres, palettes and crates
Photo from Gylemuir Primary blog June 2016

The Scottish Government’s toolkit on loose parts play provides this quote which sums up the thinking behind loose parts.

When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of ‘what if’ that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015).

Loose parts encourage children to challenge themselves and take risks, there are no rights or wrongs, best or worst, stupid or crazy ideas. Loose parts involve everyone, because all children know how to play.

How to set up loose parts in school

Good storage

There are a couple of shipping container companies on our procurement system. Check with procurement services regarding which ones are currently suppliers. You should think about storage being outside in the school playground where you hope the loose parts play will be situated. It means that the children are responsible for the taking out and putting away of the resources and it does not become just an adult’s job.

Think of ways to manage the collection and storage of the loose parts, is there a way to circulate the movement through the store to prevent bottle-necking? Can you create a pupil playground team that rotates the responsibility for tidying up the playground?

Source your loose materials

Children are listening to a talk about how to use loose parts
Photo from Sciennes Primary blog March 2015

Start collecting and storing items now. This is a sample list of loose parts and where to find them, it’s not exhaustive, these are just a few ideas to inspire you, the list is endless and once you start collecting resources you will see them everywhere!

When selecting scrap or recycled materials, make sure that they are suitable for play. Check sharp corners, rough edges, nails and protruding ‘jaggy bits’ and small parts and remove any batteries and cables from electronic goods like old phones.

Remember that with so many resources out there, you can afford to be picky!

  • Bottle and jar lids – ask parents to donate.
  • Buckets – Perfect for making a drum and makes a handy seat when all that drumming tires you out!, pick these up from hardware companies.
  • Clothes pegs – perfect for quickly clipping fabric when building a den or for
  • Steering wheels and tyres – try your local car garage!
  • Tyres should be scrubbed with a brush and hot soapy water on receiving them to get rid of any oil or dust.
  • Tyres should be in a good condition with no metal pins uncovered or sticking out of the rubber.
  • Tyres, as with all loose parts should be regularly checked for signs of damage and given a wash with hot soapy water if particularly muddy as muddy tyres discourage play .
  • Bicycle parts – Bits and bobs of recognisable resources and playthings are a good way to get kids imaginations working when playing with scrap, ask your local bike
    shop for old tyres!
  • Milk and bread crates – perfect for building a tower, seats for a den and holding poles and for den making and shelves.
  • Old fabric / curtains – whether you are building a stage or a home these are a must have! Try local stores like Ikea , B&Q and homebase who all have a community waste recycling programme or ask parents for donations of old fabric. TTS are a supplier on oracle where you can buy organza material for dens, quiet spaces etc.
  • Tarpaulin – for building dens or putting out on wet ground. You can try and find
    old ones, otherwise they are a cheap investment, you can buy these from muddy
    faces (on oracle).
  • Old suitcases – they might not be any good for a real holiday anymore but they are perfect for role play and storage! Ask for donations or look in jumble sales or charity shops!
  • Cardboard – for rolling balls through tubes or building castles; cardboard in all its
    forms is a must! Try Carpet warehouses for huge cardboard tubes and DIY stores for boxes
  • Garden canes or broom poles – these handy rods are multipurpose, their flexibility
    does make them perfect for building dens and sticking into the grass to create shelters. Pegs are perfect for quickly clipping fabric when building a den.
  • Swim noodles
  • Cable wheels – if you pass a shop being refurbished be sure to ask for some of these! Otherwise try writing to some of the larger companies like BT. Perfect for rolling, doing tricks and building transport!
  • Bins and brooms – from making noise making to tidying up…perfect! You can buy them from YPO on oracle.
  • Old traffic signs and cones – children love traffic cones! Saw off the tops and they are perfect to hold up sticks for den building, you can buy these from the Council
    Place department at Bankhead depot.
  • Guttering – all shapes and sizes are ideal for building cascades. Try local builders or off cuts or you can pick these up from DIY stores and cut them to size.
  • Old bags and hats – perfect for dressing up and role play, ask parents to donate.
  • Corrugated pipes – if there are any reconstruction or roadwork sites nearby ask if they are throwing away some of these. Some of them are even big enough to crawl
  • Palettes – local shops or factories or building sites will be your best bet for finding these. Splinters might be an issue but you can always let children know this before playing with them and you can always provide gloves for them to wear if they want to, or sand them down, this can be done with the children.
  • Planks of wood – great for building structures, be wary of nails, staples etc. and remove them. Like with palettes be careful of splinters.
  • Trinket boxes and tins – treasure for kids! Ask parents for old biscuit boxes and sweets tins.
  • Rope – the uses are endless! Try climbing clubs or centres for expired rope!
  • Old display mannequins – perfect for dressing up.
  • Chairs – remove the legs and the seats are ideal for role play and can even be made into balancing boards for rocking on.
  • Household items – from computer keyboards to phones, utensils, cutlery, pots and
    pans, children love these for role play and mud kitchens.
  • Random stuff – it’s worth asking larger shops if they have any ex window display goodies that would be an exciting addition to your loose parts.
two girls work together to lay netting over a frame made of cones
Photo from Gylemuir Primary blog June 2016

What paperwork do I need?


Organise a working group of parents, PSAs, teaching staff and representatives from all classes of children in school. These will be the people who lead the loose parts project and will help to inform your play policy for school. The playground committee will support the sourcing, gathering and maintenance of resources. They will also work out and support the process of tidying up after play. These jobs can be re-allocated to new children each term.

Loose Parts should be included in the School Quality Improvement Plan as loose parts play impacts upon the whole school and requires a whole school approach. This type of play requires a commitment from all members of staff from Facilities Technicians and cleaning staff to teachers and PSA’s.

There will be changes in how things are managed:

  • PSA team who will become adopt a play worker role in the playground.
  • Cleaning staff who clean floors after children have been playing out in all weather
  • Facilities Technicians who might need to fix or help maintain equipment
  • Teaching staff who want to use the resources for outdoor learning
  • Parents to be part of the plan and have a good understanding of this type of play and are on-board with their children possibly dirtying clothes, getting superficial bumps and scrapes from playing with larger pieces of equipment and creating and managing their own risky play.

Play policy

This needs to be developed, agreed and tailored for your school. This will be based on what your vision, values and aims are for your school and what your children and families’ needs are.

Your play policy will outline what children’s play needs are and what play means to them and how your play policy interrelates with your other school policies

If you don’t have a play policy in school, if a child rips a piece of clothing or gets a bump, parents might complain and then loose play becomes just a flash in the pan. In my experience, a play policy makes all members of staff feel supported to allow children to take safe risks, and use larger materials for play creatively, without the fear of retribution. It is a supporting document which you can consult with parents about and work with them to create.

Staff and learner training in loose parts play

A trainer is explaining to staff and children all about loose parts
Photo from Sciennes Primary blog March 2015

City of Edinburgh Council staff should book all staff members onto one of the regularly run training sessions via MyHR or book a training session for in-set or CAT direct through Louise Caldwell, Senior Early Years Officer.

After the training, choose members of your staff team who would like to deliver children’s workshop sessions in school. This requires an additional training day in school. Children’s workshops are the best way for alleviating staff fears regarding the use of loose parts and a great opportunity to invite parents to see how you plan to use the resources in school.


There is a lot of guidance on our guidance page for outdoor spaces but these are particularly helpful for loose parts.

The Scottish Government’s new resource is very handy, talking through how you go about implementing it in school. It’s on the Inspiring Scotland website, you can send the link to parents and staff who are interested. Inspiring Scotland: Loose Parts Play

This place is like a building site explores South Lanarkshire Councils experiences of introducing loose parts play and natural play into their playgrounds. Learning Through Landscapes: This place is like a building site!

The Loose Parts Manual: the DIY guide to creating a playground in a box is an informative guide for anyone wanting to implement loose parts play.