"Open-Ended" Play - What's all the fuss about?

Some of you may know me as Kian's mum from @raising.little.k on Instagram. You would know that open-ended play is a significant component of our day-to-day routine. 

So, what is "open-ended" play?

Put simply, open-ended play is child-directed play which is unstructured and with no boundaries and no end goal. The child is encouraged to lead their own play creating limitless play opportunities. There is more than one outcome or purpose. The child cannot make mistakes as there is no "right" or "wrong" answer. There are no rules. There are no instructions. The child is given the opportunity to play as they want and not as we (adults) want or expect them to. 

What are "open-ended" toys?

Open-ended toys are toys which support spontaneous play. They are toys which are multi-use and can be used in different ways. They grow with the child and give the best return on investment. For example, the backbone of any toy collection are wooden blocks. In the child's hands, a block can be anything they want it to be. One child may see a block as a car, another may see it as an ice cream. Whilst toys have their value, there are a plethora of open-ended materials at our disposal both in the environment and in our homes. 

My top five open-ended toys are:

  1. Wooden Blocks 
  2. Magnetic Tiles
  3. Art Supplies (including Playdough)
  4. Animal Figurines
  5. Loose Parts

My top five open-ended materials are:

  1. Cardboard Boxes
  2. Nature - e.g. leaves, rocks, water, playground
  3. Treasure Baskets 
  4. Kitchen Utensils and Containers
  5. A blank piece of paper 

Why is "open-ended" play important?

Open-ended play plays a vital role in the child's learning and development.

  • The child is able to take the lead, teach themselves and build their independence, patience and confidence
  • The child is able to express their innate creativity and stretch their imagination as each child thinks of different ways to play 
  • The child is able to practice their decision-making skills and problem-solving skills as they decide how they want to interact with the open-ended toy/material
  • The child is able to take risks and experiment/think outside the box without the fear of making a mistake or not doing a good job

What is your role in "open-ended" play and how can you encourage it?

Whilst it may be difficult to not direct play or correct the child, your role is to simply be their partner in crime! 

You can encourage "open-ended" play by providing the child with "free time" and access to open-ended toys and materials. Remember, anything that can be used for more than one purpose is open-ended!

Is "closed-ended" play and "closed-ended" toys bad?

Absolutely not! Closed-ended play has its own importance and it's all about balance. Closed-ended toys have a pre-determined result and this explores a whole other set of skills. If you follow me on Instagram you will know we do a lot of "Montessori-inspired" activities, and for the most part, these are closed-ended yet are still of benefit. Watch this space as next month I will talk all about "closed-ended" play and why it should still be incorporated into the child's play.

Thank you for reading.

Lenisha xx

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