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Acquiring Open-Ended Resources And Loose Parts

Collecting open-ended resources and loose parts for your setting can be a fun challenge, not just for you, but for your staff team too. For me, it is where the inspiration began. I had started doing some research and joined some fantastic Facebook pages where I had seen amazing hauls of treasures people had acquired. I remember looking at the authentic resources and unique pieces, just imagining all the wonderful ways the children could use them and how much enjoyment they would get.

Types Of Open-Ended Resources

Loose parts and these types of open-ended play materials can often be acquired for free or very little money, and they offer a bonus: they encourage you, and the children's parents, to reuse, renew, and recycle.

Before you start

Before you start looking at how you plan to source these materials, it is important to ask yourself some questions (it can be very easy to go a bit wild and start gathering things just because they look like something you should have, but it is always important to focus on what benefits they will have for the children). Below are some questions you should ask yourself: 


  • What do I have already? Do you have another resource for this purpose? 

  • Who will the resource benefit and in what way? 

  •  Do I have enough storage for this? 

  • Are there any potential risks/safety concerns and how can these be managed? 

  •  Can you find this resource elsewhere for less or free?

Car boots

Car boots are one of my favourite places to acquire loose parts, you can find some wonderful treasures and they are often much cheaper than charity shops. They are also a wonderful place to find lots of authentic items such as tea sets, utensils etc as 

well as some great larger pieces that can be restored and upcycled. Below are some pictures of items I have gathered from car boot sales. 


It is also worth discussing with family and friends what kinds of items you are looking for. I have an Aunt who goes to car boots. I gave her a list of items I was looking to acquire and she came back with all sorts of wonderful treasures for us!


                              Make sure you barter on price and let sellers know what you intend to use the items for, you would be surprised how much people are willing to give for very little or nothing if they know it is to benefit children.

Charity shops

Charity shops can be a bit more expensive than car boot sales, but also offer a wealth of loose parts and authentic resources. They can be very hit and miss, so don’t be put off if you don’t find anything on your first couple of visits. If you visit the same local charity shops, you can even ask the assistants to hold items for you. If you explain you are from an early years setting and how you will be using the items to benefit the children, I find many are happy to oblige, and even see it as a little challenge!


As with car boots, I also find these places excellent sources of inspiration - I will come across a unique item and come up with loads of exciting ways to incorporate this into our provision. E.g. our collection of elephants pictured below.


Here are some examples of the kinds of wonderful items we have collected from charity shops – one person’s trash can certainly be another’s treasure! 

Friends and family

You would be amazed what people have stored away in their drawers, cupboards and sheds that they no longer use or are intending to throw away. I found that putting a post out on both my nursery and personal Facebook page with the title “Are you up for a scavenger hunt?!” with pictures of the types of items I am looking for was a great way to source items. Friends and family would come forward with great items, and I was then able to update my wish list and re-post. You can view the post here:

I am also fortunate that my dad is a joiner, so he donated lots of old tools, pipes, guttering, tiles etc. I also asked friends whose partners were in trades to collect items for me. Its amazing how resourceful you become when on a tight budget -  used offcuts of wood to sand and paint to make houses, and scaffolding boards to make tables and shelves. A few of my favourite donated items have been handle bars from old children’s bikes, old typewriters and bucket loads of shells, sea glass and pottery from my grandma. 

Scrap reuse stores

Scrap stores are fantastic places! They are full of useful resources that have been salvaged from landfill. They often charge a small membership fee and then allow you to fill a trolley with all kinds of weird and wonderful materials. Their stock is continually rotated and replenished so each visit you tend to find new exciting items. This is a very cost effective way to stock up on consumable loose parts used for art activities, and is also a great way to promote recycling within your setting. There are scrap stores nationwide – here is a link to find your nearest:


Electrical wholesalers

Electrical wholesalers are excellent for sourcing an endless supply of cable reels and pallets. They often have them in all shapes and sizes. They have to pay for them to be taken away so are often more than happy for you to take them. If you do not have an electrical wholesalers local to you, it is also worth asking electricians. Cable drums can be a great resources, not only for open-ended play indoors and out, but also for storage or large furniture, as well as pallets. 

Dairies, bakeries and shopping deliveries

These are great places to ask to donate old crates, which are fantastic to use for deconstructed role play. It is great to collect a variety of crates of different sizes. If you get shopping delivered to your setting by your local supermarket, it may be worth asking the driver if they have any spare, as they have to be replaces regularly for health and safety reasons. 


We will look at how to involve parents in your journey further in the module, but a great way to get them involved at this stage is to ask them to help you source items. This can be from home, for example items they would usually put in the recycling, You can use the scavenger hunt post I shared above on your settings facebook page, which they can also share with friends and family. You can also make a poster of the same format to print and display or send home as a newsletter. Another idea is to give zip lock bags for them to take home and fill, putting one out as an example.


Another way we have got parents involved in the collection process, as well as the children is to set the task of collecting natural loose parts. For example, in Autumn we sent home nature collection bags, for them to fill and return. Parents then loved seeing observations on children’s tapestry accounts of how the items were used.

Calling all nature detectives

Getting out into the crisp autumn air with your little one and collecting lots of exciting treasures to share and explore with their friends at nursery - what could be better!

Autumn is a great time of year to head outside and see what things you can find. It is a wonderful season for discovering and a great way to have your child connect to their natural environment and recognise significant changes that can come about from one season to the next. There are so many beautiful colours and exciting treasures to be found!

So find somewhere outdoors you can explore, it doesn't have to be a big nature reserve, although it can be if you want, a small park area, green space or even your garden can be great too.

At nursery children will be encouraged to share what they have found with their friends, opening up dialogue about their adventures and learning new vocabulary. We plan to build a huge collection of Autumnal loose parts that can be used for all kinds of exciting activities.

Saw mills and tree sugeons

Do you have any local to you? Perhaps your setting uses a tree surgeon to do routine checks? They tend to dispose of offcuts, so it is worth asking them if they would donate some logs and stumps, or cut you some tree slices from branches. They may also be able to offer you chippings too.


Often haberdasheries or fabric stalls in market places have lots of offcuts and roll ends that they would be willing to donate to a worthy cause. The cardboard rolls that the fabric comes on can also make great additions to your collection. As with other places, it’s always worth mentioning what you plan to use them for, you never know, they may have some buttons going spare too!

Shops and supermarkets

Shops often have lots of cardboard boxes going spare from deliveries and are happy for you to take them off their hands. Other packing materials may also come in handy, such as tubes, bubble wrap and corrugated card. Boxes are one of our favourite open-ended resources at Roseville Nursery, as you will see further into the module. 


Garages are great for sourcing tyres free of charge. They usually have a tyre cage where they store old tyres that are waiting to be disposed of. Tyres are extremely versatile and can be used both indoors and out (remember to empty stagnant water from tyres left outside. We use tyres in our deconstructed role play area, as well as to create upcycled free or cheap furniture around the room. It is important to ensure tyres are safe and have no sharp wires poking out.  Below are a couple of ways we have used tyres for furniture at Roseville Nursery. 



 If you are using tyres to make a table, ensure you get them all the same width to avoid it wobbling.

Creating a drop off point

A great way to collect loose parts is to use places like tourist information centres, community halls or local libraries as a drop off point. These places are usually keen to get involved in community projects, especially if they are benefitting children. You can ask them if you can put up a poster and some information leaflets explaining the types of resources you are collecting and ask members of the public to drop off any donations, which you can then pick up on a weekly basis.


                    Write yourself a wish list and consider what you can acquire for free, where from and how you may fundraise to afford ‘bought items’.

                    We would love to see your hauls and collections. It is a great way to give inspiration to others in the group -  you may come across things people have never thought to search for! Next time you gather some amazing open-ended resources, post them onto the collective members group with the hashtag #trashtotreasure 



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