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  • Writer's pictureOur Playful Learning Journey

Loose Parts Play-Based Learning Ideas: Ways to use Grapat Mandala

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

We love our Grapat mandala pieces for learning & play. Here are some of the ways that we use these loose parts for learning through play.

Wooden sectioned tray filled with Grapat mandala pieces ready for play
Loose parts play tray with Grapat Mandala

Grapat mandala pieces are a fantastic resource for open-ended play and learning experiences as there are so many different ways that they can be used!

We have a nice size collection of different Grapat mandala pieces in a range of colours, which means we can use them for all kinds of counting, sorting and other fun learning ideas. We usually store ours as pictured above in the Nesk Kids Storage box. One of the great things about the mandala pieces is that you can build up your collection slowly, with each set costing around $25-30 Australian dollars.

They come in a range of beautiful colours and shapes that are perfect for making learning fun!

Counting and learning numbers

The mandala pieces are perfect to use as counters for maths play and learning. As shown below they can be set up in an inviting way to encourage children to practice counting.

In this invitation to count below the mandala pieces were displayed in a star shaped tray that was from Modern Teaching Aids. The coloured plates were a DIY project using bamboo plates from Kmart. We simply painted them with some watercolour paints to match the colours of our Grimms rainbow. They can be used for colour sorting activities too and are a handy resource to have.

Star shaped tray filled with colourful Grapat mandala loose parts and number sorting trays on a table
A rainbow coloured invitation to count

The picture below is a more open-ended invitation using numbers and mandala pieces. I set this up using the same tray of mandala pieces and added our Freckled Frog number discs around the outside and a die too.

This type of invitation could be used for:

  • Counting the mandala pieces

  • Rolling the dice - for counting, adding or subtracting

  • Recognising the numerals and matching quantities to the number discs

  • Ordering the number discs from smallest to largest, or largest to smallest

  • Finding which number comes before or after a chosen number

  • Creating a number line using the numbers and matching the amount with mandala pieces.

Tray of rainbow mandala pieces, with number discs set around as an invitation to explore numbers
Open-ended invitation to explore numbers

For such a simple invitation to play there are so many possibilities with how a child might use these materials. I wonder if you can think of more ways that this could be used?

Exploring Number Using Five and Tens Frames

This is a great way for children to develop the understanding of numbers to 10 and their relationship to each other. We made a five and tens frame using cardboard and clear contact paper over the top. This means we can write on them with a whiteboard marker and wipe it off.

Some ways this can be used:

  • Modelling numbers e.g. can you show me 4? 9?

  • Developing an understanding of addition e.g. You have 6 here, how many more do you need to make 10?

  • Exploring numbers that make 5, and friends of 10 (number combinations that add up to 10)

  • Subtraction -You have ten, if you take-away 3, how many will you have left?

  • Add in some dice and make the number you rolled on the ten frame using loose parts

Loose parts (mandala, butterflies, fairies) being used on a tens frame
Loose parts play using five and tens frames

Counting and Adding Through Play

This was a little counting game that I played with Miss 4. She decided what to do with the loose parts and die. We took turns rolling the die and then counting out that amount of mandala pieces adding them to the top of one of the little cakes, which were actually rings from our Grimms stacker on a baking tray from the kitchen. Miss 4 enjoyed playing schools and fairies too, while working on her counting skills.

Tray of Grapat mandala loose parts and dice set up as a game
Counting numbers game using loose parts & fairy cakes

Learning About Patterns

Patterns are an important concept to understand in maths. The mandala pieces are great for creating simple and more complex patterns. In the photo below we paired our mandala pieces with our Treasures From Jennifer hundreds board (bought online from Reverie Craft).

You don't need a hundreds board to do this, as the pieces could be easily arranged in patterns on any flat surface.

Miss 4 and I played this as a game. I started a pattern and then she had to finish it. Here we just focused on simple AB patterns. I also hid a jewel underneath a few of the mandala pieces as a little treasure hunt for Miss 4 because that is how she decided she wanted to play with this.

Wooden hundreds board filled with coloured mandala pieces arranged in colour patterns
Pattern making using our mandala pieces

Small World Play

We love using our mandala pieces in small world play. Their size, range of shapes and colours means they can be used in so many different ways. Below you will see an ocean small world created by Miss 4 using her ocean figurines (mostly Collect A brand from the Creative Toy Shop), a blue silk and the green tree mandala pieces as seaweed and food for the animals.

Blue and green silk, with sea creature figurines and mandala loose pieces
Mandala pieces are great for small world play

This small world play led to learning about coral, The Great Barrier Reef and talking about people littering and destroying our precious oceans. We used the mandala pieces to create a colourful coral reef. Miss 4 enjoyed this and it was the inspiration for some rich learning about some simple science ideas.

Rainbow Grapat mandala pieces arranged to make a coral reef on a blue silk with ocean animal figurines
Beautiful coral reef created using mandala pieces

Here is another example of using loose parts for small world play. I set up this little bee themed small world for Miss 4 as she was enjoying learning about bees. We read about bees in one of her books and she enjoyed playing with the bees pretending to collect the pollen or nectar from the flowers. This invitation to play was based on Miss 4's interests, which resulted in lots of engaged play.

The possibilities for using mandala loose parts in small world play are endless.

Bee small world set up for play using wooden toys and loose parts
Bee Hive Small World using Mandala Pieces as Honey

Sensory Play with Loose Parts

Another way we enjoy playing with our mandala pieces is in sensory play. The small pieces pair really well with a range of dry sensory bases. The set up below ended up being used with dinosaurs and the mandala pieces became the balls in the ball pit for the dinosaurs. Just using a few colours can create a very inviting sensory tray.

Sensory tray filled with chickpeas, bowls, scoops and tray of Grapat mandala pieces
Sensory tray using mandala pieces

Here is another example of a coloured themed sensory tray using rice as the base. This pink and red themed tray was for Valentine's Day. We used some pink Grapat flowers and then Miss 4 chose lots of other loose parts to go into the tray. A simple yet engaging way to play with loose parts.

Black play tray filled with pink rice, bowls, scoops and pink and red loose parts
Pink & red heart sensory tray

Mindfulness with Mandala pieces

Being in the present moment is an important skill to develop, especially in our children. Mindfully creating a mandala is a great way to practice being in the moment and focussing on one thing at a time.

Miss 4 and I enjoy creating mandalas together. Sometimes they look pretty and colour coordinated and sometimes they do not. It is a lovely calming time that we spend together.

Loose parts and a board/tray to create on could be set up at home or in the classroom to invite children to create their own mandalas. A range of loose parts would work well for this - shells, buttons, jewels, crystals, wooden discs etc.

The wooden round pictured below were made by painting branch off cuts with coloured water colour paints in a rainbow of colours.

Colourful mandala using Grapat loose parts for play
Mindful Play - Creating a Mandala using loose parts

This is another mindful play invitation using a little tray filled with some kinetic sand and some orange mandala pieces and Grapat rings. This was a very calming way to play by using the cones and rings to make patterns in the sand and then clear the patterns away and start again.

Wooden tray filled with sand and orange wooden loose parts for play
Mindful Sand Play Tray

It was also a great way to focus on colours and could be created using a range of different colours.

Loose Parts Play Tray

A tray of loose parts is a tray full of possibilities for imagining, creating, playing and learning. The tray below is a bamboo cutlery tray from Kmart. I filled it with some of our mandala pieces, Grimms coloured mushrooms, mini flowers and some other bits and pieces.

Wooden tray filled with coloured loose parts for play
A tray of colourful loose parts is full of possibilities for play

The photos below show some play that was created from this tray. Some of the pieces in this tray were used to create a little garden small world and a mandala that Miss 4 and I made together, with extra pieces added in too. She then used the mandala to play as a little pretend garden for her toy figurines.


* Please note all the above play and learning ideas were supervised by an adult. Small parts are a choking hazard and are recommended for children ages 3+.


I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the ways we use our mandala pieces for playful learning. These ideas have focussed on using these wooden mandala pieces, however, the ideas above could be adapted to use with whatever loose parts you have at home e.g. beads, shells, plastic container lids, buttons, coloured glass gems etc.

Whilst we enjoy using our mandala pieces,

it is the concepts that can be explored with them that make them great for learning, something that can be applied to any loose parts.

Until next time, have fun learning in a playful way!

For more fun play and learning ideas visit the home page.

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Mindfulness Mats for Kids

For ideas for using our mindfulness mats

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