‘They’d rather play with the box the toy came in, than the toy itself’ are words we’ve all heard or said. When children choose the box over the toy it’s because they see some play value in it.

Children see play value in things that can be used in more than one way. Things like boxes, string, sticks, paper, pasta, cushions and material often make for the best play. These things, by themselves or together, become anything the child wants them to be. And, they are usually things lying around the house or easy to get hold of.

For outdoors, things such as sand, water, shells, fabric, buckets, boxes, rope, tyres, bottles, wood and are also easy to gather and don’t cost a lot.

These everyday items are known as ‘loose parts’ – anything that can be moved around, carried, rolled, lifted, piled on top of the other or combined to create interesting and novel structures and experiences.

By providing a few well-chosen toys but lots of loose parts we can make the play space better and help children to be in charge of their own play. Toys that have lots of uses – building blocks, things for arts and crafts and stuffed toys can be used lots of times in different situations. 

Loose parts:


Old curtains, sheets and become dens, stepping stones in a river or a wizard’s cape

Cardboard boxes

The list is endless – big, small, by themselves or together, they become houses, castles, cars

Cardboard tubes

Like the ones in wrapping become wands, swords, drumsticks or a trumpet!

Other junk

Food cartons for playing shops or kitchen, string and tape help children to create and change things