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Inexpensive & Beautiful Materials for Loose Parts Play

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Are you looking for ideas for loose parts play items that don't cost a lot? Here are some of our favourites ...

A wooden tray of loose parts as an invitation to play for children using playdough, buttons, gemstones, shells and beads.
An invitation to use coloured loose parts with playdough.


There are so many options when it comes to loose parts play for children and most don't cost lots. Read on to find out about some less expensive materials that are perfect for loose parts play and invitations.



*Important for Safety: Many of the loose parts listed here are small parts. They should only be used with adult supervision with children aged 3+ as they can be a choking hazard. Please always supervise the use of small parts.




Some of our favourite inexpensive small

loose parts play items:


Loose parts play invitation for a child to play with the light panel.
There are many options for inexpensive loose parts, such as pebbles, gemstones and sequins.

Glass stones

These glass stones, in a range of colours, can be found in craft shops, or at Bunnings. They are a fantastic loose part for invitations to play and create. With many possibilities for play, including small world, loose part creations, water play, sensory play and so much more.


Transparent pebbles

These blue larger transparent pebbles were an inexpensive find at a local discount store. These types of stores have lots of fantastic options for loose parts that don't cost a lot. Just make sure that what you buy is suitable for the age of the child you are using them with (e.g. no small parts for children under 3).


Craft sequins

Another inexpensive loose part that is lots of fun for in play invitations and for craft projects are sequins. These ones are from Clever Patch and as you can see above can be used on the light panel as an invitation to create.



Loose Parts From Nature

Printable mindful play mats for kids with leaves and green gemstones as an invitation to play
Green leaves and glass gemstones with our printable mindfulness mats.

These leaf outlines are part of the Mindfulness Mats for Kids, which you can read about here. They are a free download for our email list subscribers. We have printed out an A4 and A3 sized leaf to use with real leaves from the garden and glass gemstones. Subscribe at the bottom of this blog post to download and print to play now.



Items that can be collected in the garden or outside in nature make fantastic loose parts.


Some of these may include:

  • Leaves

  • Flowers

  • Sticks

  • Petals

  • Stones

  • Pebbles

  • Wood discs

Easy water play tray for kids using flowers.
Flowers are a beautiful loose part to use with water for play!

Alphabet rocks for children using a paint pen and pebbles from the beach.
By using a permanent marker or paint pen you can make some alphabet rocks. The capital letters are written on the reverse side.


Shells & Pinecones

This was an easy invitation to play with plain coloured playdough, shells and pine cones. Our pine cones were collected on a nature walk and the shells I bought in a jar from Educating Kids.


Both girls loved this invitation and played for a long time, creating and making prints. They ended up using the playdough and shells to make food in their play kitchen. A simple invitation, that led to lots of play.



Natural loose parts play idea for kids, using playdough, shells and pinecones.
Natural loose parts are great to use with playdough like these shells and pinecones.

Pom Poms

Pom poms are another fantastic loose part with so many possibilities for play! Add them into a sensory play tray like these two trays below for fun creating. Pom poms also go really well in the play kitchen for making pretend food and pom pom coffees.


Add pom poms to water for some fun sensory play, or add in for some creative play while crafting.


Lentil sensory play tray for kids using a Kmart black tray, lentils and pom poms.
Fairy wish tray using pom poms and lentils.

A fun sensory tray for children using rice, candles, pom poms and cupcake cases.
A fun sensory tray using rice, candles, cupcake cases and pom poms.

Coloured Chickpeas

This is another inexpensive loose parts option that can be used in many ways, for sensory play, with playdough .... there are many possibilities.


The rainbow chickpeas in the photo below were made by dying a couple of packets of chickpeas with food colouring and water and then drying them on low heat in the oven. I used the recipe for making these from @where_learning_meets_play on Instagram. The colours came out looking very vibrant! These will last for ages when stored in an airtight container after play.

Rainbow coloured chickpeas dyed with food colouring set up as an invitation to play for kids in a gray with Grimms wooden bowls.
Coloured chickpeas are a fun and inexpensive loose part for play and learning!

These chickpeas below were coloured using Crayola metallic paints. They make great loose parts for using with playdough as shown below. They can be used to decorate or make creations.


Free printable number leaves 1-30 for counting with playdough and loose parts for kids.
Using the chickpeas to count and match the number leaves.

Download these free printable number leaves 1-30 pictured above here in this blog post. They are a free subscriber download.



Beads

There are so many possibilities for using beads for play. They make a great item in a sensory play tray and are fun with playdough. They are also wonderful for working on fine motor skills by using them for threading onto string or pipe cleaners. We used beads for decorating playdough cookies (pictured below).


Playdough invitation to play for kids to make pretend biscuits and decorate with beads.
Playdough biscuits with beads for decorations.

If you want some more playdough ideas, check out this post: Play-filled Fun with Playdough.



Feathers

Feathers are fun to use with playdough or for art and craft activities. They can also be a fun loose part to use for imaginative play .


Playdough invitation to play for kids.
Playdough invitation to play with feathers.

Buttons

Buttons are another fantastic loose part for children. They are great for sorting, counting, creating art and using in play for many different purposes. We like to use our buttons for playdough play and even for pretend cooking in the play kitchen.


These buttons were from Officeworks and only cost a couple of dollars for a bag. We have a couple of bags of them.

Buttons on a Hey Doodle hundreds mat as an invitation to count.
Buttons on a hundreds mat as an invitation to count.

Gemstones, crystals and mini cubes

Gemstones and mini acrylic cubes from Pickwick and Sprout in Grimms wooden bowls.
Beautiful coloured gemstones and mini cubes are an inviting loose part!

Playdough invitation to play for kids with gemstones and mini acrylic cubes
Playdough invitation to play

These are such pretty loose parts that can invite all kinds of play and learning.


They could be used for:

  • decorating

  • counting

  • colour sorting

  • patterns

  • building with blocks

  • etc.

This is an invitation to play using the gemstones and playdough.







These one pictured were from Pickwick and Sprout and are called:

  • Counting gems ($12.99 for pack of 50)

  • Mini cubes ($12.99 for pack of 100).

  • Mini Gems (10 for $6.99 the largest gemstones pictured).


Playdough and loose parts including gemstones and mini acylic cubes
Playdough play

Smaller loose parts like these gemstones are also great for developing fine motor skills, as they require skill to be able to pick them up and manipulate them.


Picking them up and squishing them into the playdough here is a fantastic way to develop hand muscles and eye-hand coordination while being creative in some child led play.






Reusable Ice-Cubes

Reusable ice-cubes are another fun to use loose part with many options for stacking, using with playdough, imaginative play or even water play! They can be found online or sometimes in a discount store, which is where we got ours.


Sensory tray invitation to play for kids using coloured chickpeas, reusable icecubes and pom poms.
Sensory tray invitation to play using reusable ice-cubes.

Rainbow Loose Parts Jars

These pretty rainbow jars started off as a baby play toy. Now they are used as loose parts jars for pretend play e.g. cooking in the play kitchen, for small world props or for decorating playdough.


We used a range of things we had around the house to fill our jars such as:

  • Buttons

  • Ribbons

  • Feathers

  • Bells

  • Large beads

  • Small wooden pieces

  • Plastic greenery etc.

These jars are really easy to make using what you already have.


Rainbow loose parts jars for play.
Rainbow loose parts jars - perfect for loose parts play!

 
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Ways to store small loose parts for play


Storage that is clear allows the loose parts to not only look pretty, but be easily found for play. We use clear containers for these reasons. They look beautiful on display when not being used and are easy to pack away and find when needed. Our containers and jars are plastic as they are safer for the girls to use than glass.


We use a variety of containers to store our loose parts and use bowls and trays when we are ready to play to display the loose parts in an inviting way.



Here is a list of some of the storage that we use:

  • Trays - used for displaying in an inviting way for an invitation to play. This flower sorting tray is from Modern Teaching Aids.

Rainbow coloured sorted loose parts in a star tray for kids as an invitation to play.
Loose parts look pretty presented in a tray.
  • Mini candy jars - plastic from Kmart Australia found in the party section. These are the perfect size for storing little loose parts.

Mini candy jars from Kmart Australia to store loose parts and art supplies for kids.
These jars display loose parts in a lovely way.
  • Round plastic storage containers from Kmart Australia in the kitchen section.

Loose parts and playdough stored in plastic containers from Kmart.
These containers are perfect for playdough and loose parts.

  • Bamboo lid containers from Kmart Australia from the kitchen section.

Bamboo storage containers from Kmart with loose parts.
These bamboo containers work well too
  • Baskets - These look very inviting!

  • Display on a pegboard or on shelves when not being used


These are just a few ideas. There are lots of different ways to store small loose parts depending on your needs and budget. Recycling containers, jars and boxes is another way to find storage, while being more environmentally friendly.


Let me know in the comments below how you like to store your loose parts collection.


 

Free Download: Inexpensive Loose Parts Resource List


For quick and easy reference I have created a free printable loose parts resource list for you to download and print.


There is space in each box for you to add your own ideas too, as I am sure you have lots of other great loose parts suggestions too!



Click to download your copy of 'Inexpensive loose parts resource list"


Inexpensive small loose parts resource list
.pdf
Download PDF • 3.16MB

If you like this free printable make sure to subscribe to the email list below to access the VIP Free Playful Library to download and print more free resources to support your child's play and learning.


 

Loose Parts Play


There are so many options for different loose parts to use for play and learning with your child and/or students. There are many more loose parts that I could have added to this list.


I hope you found some inspiration that you can use with your child to inspire their play.


I think it it nice to look at some options that don't cost a lot, as sometimes with social media it is easy to get caught up into thinking that loose parts must be expensive and new to be valuable


What are some of your favourite loose parts to use? Were some of them mentioned above? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram @our.playful.learning.journey



Until next time, have fun learning in playful way!


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