Why you should introduce small-parts play with preschoolers

Sponsored Post¦ If you were to buy or collect a set of small or loose parts, an adult might question its purpose. A child, however, will take the pieces and immediately incorporate them into their play. The beauty of small-parts play is that it is child-led without any real boundaries or limitations Unlike battery-operated toys that children soon tire of, small-parts play is open-ended, with the same pieces being used in many different ways, encouraging both invention and problem-solving skills. 

Using small parts helps build your preschooler’s fine motor skills and early literacy and numeracy. They are also wonderful at supporting the nine play schemas. Here’s why you should introduce this concept into your child’s play.

What counts as small parts?

There are a range of toys designed for your preschooler that will help encourage small parts play. Think toys like building sets like Lego Duplo and wooden stacking blocks! However, it’s just as easy to find something at home – from bottle caps to beads, buttons, sticks, leaves, and stones. 

Tip: Make sure your toys or bits and bobs you find around home are appropriately sized for your child’s age to avoid choking hazards. Always supervise them while they’re playing with small items.

Fine motor skills

By virtue of their size, playing with small parts is particularly useful for nurturing your child’s fine motor skills. Activities like stacking, pinching and grasping are essential for building the muscles a preschooler needs for writing, along with other life skills like doing up buttons or tying shoelaces.

Small parts and play schemas

As they can be manipulated in an infinite number of ways, loose parts can support a child who is practising any of the nine play schemas. These schemas are natural developmental urges that a child has to play in a certain way, used to help them understand the world around them. You might see your child trying a skill repeatedly until they have mastered it and move on to the next one – or they may be learning to master multiple schemas at once. Providing your child with the opportunity to use small parts in their play can help them experiment more freely with each schema and thus master that skill sooner.

Examples include:

  • Enveloping: covering or wrapping themselves or objects. You might see your preschooler hiding things in drawers, placing small parts in bags, learning to use zips or playing peek-a-boo. Using play scarves to cover loose parts and placing loose parts into containers with lids are two great ways to encourage this schema.


  • Enclosure: drawing or creating fences or barriers. A child might use small items to create a ring around other toys or use sticks to build a fence for toy animals. Unlike the enveloping schema, the item is not hidden from view.


  • Connecting: connecting or tying objects together. Your child might be interested in threading beads onto a string, tying a scarf around themselves (or you!), building with classic toys like Lego or Duplo, or creating a railway with wooden tracks. As well as developing fine motor skills, they teach spatial awareness and cause and effect.


  • Rotation: spinning or turning objects like nuts or screws, spinning in circles and mixing cakes (real or imaginary). Place small parts in a bowl, then give your child a whisk or a spoon and see if they mix the pieces, or place balls in a tray of paint and have them roll them on paper.


  • Positioning: lining objects up or sorting them into categories. Children in this schema enjoy lining up or creating patterns with toys, vehicles, sticks or pebbles. This is the foundation for skills, such as setting the table, recognising differences and similarities, and early maths and science skills like classification and pattern making. Encourage this schema by giving your child opportunities to make patterns with natural materials and line up peg people, wooden coins or buttons.


  • Transporting: moving things from A to B. Your child might enjoy using a toy digger or bus to transport beads, acorns, or even Duplo pieces. This is a great opportunity to encourage fine motor movements by moving small pieces from one container to another. As their skills develop, introduce kid-friendly play tweezers to move each piece.

Other play schemas that are less conducive to small-parts play, but still important in your preschooler’s development, are:

  • Trajectory: if your preschooler is constantly throwing things, this is where they are at. It’s all about how things move, including themselves.


  • Transformation: combining or changing materials like paint, food or playdough to make something new.


  • Orientation: discovering how the world looks from a different point of view, such as hanging from monkey bars or lying on the ground.

Literacy and numeracy

Small-parts play can help you teach your preschooler the alphabet and early numeracy skills. Trace letters onto a piece of large paper and have them use small parts to form the letter – this is a great one to combine with a nature walk. 

Small parts are excellent tools to show preschoolers the value of numbers – one bottle cap to represent 1, two feathers to represent 2, etc. When they have grasped that concept, you can use the items to show them how 2 and 2 become 4. Using small parts to represent numbers visually will help them learn the concepts sooner than using them in an abstract sense.

When you first introduce small-parts play with your child, stand back and observe. Watch how they intuitively play with the pieces, and you will get an indication of which play schema they are naturally engaged in. Watching a child engage with simple pieces and use them creatively is magical, especially when you know they are gaining so much from their play.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post with Myer.

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