5 Natural loose parts for outdoor learning

September 4, 2020

Here at Alfresco Learning we are always raving about natural loose parts. They are our ‘go to’ resources to take the curriculum outdoors and no, they are not just for Early Years! In fact, we love them so much we own literally boxes of them! Most of our lesson plans inside the Outdoor Planning Hub list them as a resource too. So what’s all the fuss about? Why should you consider starting a natural loose parts collection? Read on to find out . . .

Natural loose parts are the ultimate resource for outdoor learning in terms of versatility. They can be used as manipulatives for maths, materials for D&T or they can be combined to create transient art and scientific diagrams.

We also advocate using them outdoors over your everyday classroom materials because they provide direct contact with nature for children. But they’re also much more practical to use. (Trust us, if you take your base 10 outdoors, you’ll never relocate all of your ‘ones’ cubes!) Having a natural loose parts collection prepared, makes taking your lessons outdoors seamless, simply combine them with some writing materials and you are away!

So if you’re looking to step outside with your class more this year, whether it be a maths lesson once a week, your daily phonics sessions or any other curriculum areas, it’s well worth owning a natural loose parts collection. Read on for our top 5 natural loose parts to get your collection started and enhance your curriculum-based outdoor lessons.


They could be beach pebbles, garden pebbles, large pebbles, small pebbles. Pebbles are just generally a fantastic resource to have. Leaving them plain provides opportunities to combine them with clay for small construction and they also work well as maths manipulatives. You could also use chalk pens and permanent markers to turn them into resources for maths and SPaG.

If you have concerns about sterilising natural loose parts, pebbles are a great one to choose as they’ll survive all forms of cleaning! Our dark pebbles were gifted from Muddy Faces.


There’s no complete piece of transient art without a few sea shells! Ours are a combination of beach collections and store bought from Country Baskets but if you live close to the coast you could collect your own from the beach. Use permanent markers to turn them into resources for phonics!


Autumn is almost here and soon leaves will be everywhere in abundance! Every year we collect a whole bunch of autumn leaves. They will store in a dry space for about 2 weeks at a time, but they can also be preserved by dipping them in beeswax.

Lots of varieties offer opportunities for skip counting in 5s using their lobes (the bumps around the edge!) but their colours at this time of year call for lots of artistic exploration. Leaves are not a durable loose part, but can still be written on and reused for a number of lessons.


There’s nothing better than a good old stick! Having a collection of sticks cut down to about 10/15cm in size provides a nice size to use as maths manipulatives.

Kept dry they will last you all year too! Head to your local woodland to get collecting those that fall to the ground at this time of year!

Wood Slices

Wood slices or wood cookies as they are sometimes called come in all different sizes. Large ones painted in chalk board paint present wonderful writing opportunities for all ages.

Smaller wood slices can be used in a similar way to the other natural loose parts in this list. We purchased ours from Country Baskets but we have known many educators take the opportunity to ask tree surgeons to create some when a tree has been taken down, so keep your eye out for opportunities!

Has that got you feeling inspired?

If you would like more ideas about how to utilise natural loose parts in your curriculum lessons outdoors, subscribe to our Outdoor Planning Hub. It is full of lesson plans detailing exactly how to utilise these fantastic (and mainly free!) resources. There are both individual and school subscriptions available, with new content added regularly!

Inside is also a detailed guide about natural loose parts to support subscribers; sharing more natural loose parts to collect, how to prepare them for learning and how to store them for longevity.