Using Backyard Loose Parts to Calm Kids

Thank you to our guest author, Rachel McFedries, Occupational Therapist.

What are “loose parts”? Loose parts are random things that can be used in play in different ways. They are ‘open-ended’, meaning that they have no set purpose. Large loose parts are ones that we can keep in our backyards for our kids to play with.

Some ideas of backyard loose parts:

  • Car tyres
  • Wooden reels
  • Small plastic reels
  • Planks of wood
  • Large or small pallets
  • Sticks
  • Bricks
  • Large pieces of plywood
  • Plastic or wooden crates
  • Plastic pipes

What age are backyard loose parts for?

Children from as young as toddler age benefit from being offered loose parts. Trust me – if you offer it and make it their norm from a young age, you will see some amazingly creative play!

When they are younger, you can create obstacle courses for them to crawl, climb, and develop their balance skills on.

As they get older, they will move the loose parts around themselves and use them in their play in all sorts of different ways. Think: building imaginary “campfires”, nuts, balancing on reels, fortresses, stepping stones, fairy houses – there’s no end to the possibilities!

How does playing with backyard loose parts “calm your kids down”?

Lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects is a calming activity for our sensory system. This is because it gives sensory feedback to our children’s proprioceptive system. This is the sense that tells our bodies the position of our limbs.

The proprioceptive sense is a grounding sense. Think about when as adults, we exercise – a “feel good” activity proven to improve mental health. For our kids, giving them LOTS of opportunities to LIFT, PUSH, and PULL heavy backyard loose parts gives them that “feel good” feeling!

When your child is lifting, pushing, and pulling large loose parts around the yard, they can get into a “flow” of meaningful play. This helps their sensory system to re-organise itself and self regulate. For example, if your child is having an over-active, frustrated moment, try re-directing them to large loose parts. You could say: “See how far you can push these heavy tyres down the driveway!” What an amazing benefit of developing a loose parts play area!

Find a full guide to developing a loose parts play area, including where to get them from, ideas for storage, and how to cope with any “mess” here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rachel is an occupational therapist who helps parents of preschoolers balance screens and play. Find out more about how she can help you at Rachmcf.com
You can connect with her over on Instagram, where she also helps parents balance their preschoolers’ screen time.

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