What Is Open Ended Play – The Tot Guide
When children engage in open ended play, they’re encouraged to use their imaginations, creativity and problem solving skills, which is crucial for their cognitive and physical development. But what exactly is open-ended play and how can you facilitate it? In this article, we break down the ideology behind open ended play and share our favorite multi-use toys!
Every bit as important, open ended play is any type of play that doesn’t have set rules, limitations or defined outcome. For example, playing dress-up, using sidewalk chalk on the driveway, experimenting with blocks that can be made into a myriad of structures or setting up a play kitchen that lets a child imagine they’re cooking their own breakfast or running a Michelin Star restaurant.
When you remove boundaries as well as the pressure of needing to complete something, kids are able to let their minds run wild without the fear of failing. They can safely explore an object, nature or persona, which enables them to make conclusions, form opinions and build confidence. Essentially, it helps them understand the world around them and encourages them to develop a sense of self.
Benefits of Open Ended Play
- Encourages children to think critically, reason and self-regulate
- Enhances a child’s imagination and creativity
- Provides a calming way to help process emotions
- Helps a child form independence and build leadership skills
- Enables children to have more cognitive flexibility and social awareness
- Strengthens hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills as well as a child’s vocabulary
When it comes to choosing toys and materials for open ended play, it’s important to look for items that are rule-free and able to be played with in a variety of ways.
Below, we’ve listed our favorite options as well as activity ideas.
Stacking Cups and Rainbows
Incredibly versatile, stacking cups and rainbows are wonderful for honing hand-eye coordination, teaching color recognition, and developing numeracy skills. While your child will surely begin to imagine a million and one ways to play with a set of stacking cups or rainbow, you can suggest using them as a stencil, collecting and sorting nature items, in the bath for water play or arranging as an abstract structure.
Another must-have for honing hand-eye coordination and building confidence, block sets are a true tried and trusted open-play toy. When playing with blocks, kids are able to keep their hands busy, while their minds imagine building a tower that will reach the moon!
At The Tot, we have been loving the variety of block sets that our vendors have been creating! From a classic multi-shaped set from PlanToys to the colorful wooden ‘Rock Blocks’ to the Uncle Goose ABC block set that doubles as decor, they all offer a fun open ended play experience.
Fantastic for sharpening fine motor skills, loose part play toys can give children the freedom to create mini worlds, while strengthening the muscles needed for holding a pencil, buttoning a sweater and tying shoes.
Our kids are currently loving the Nest Rings from Grapat. From wearing as jewelry to stacking to color sorting to stenciling to decorating a pretend fairy garden, they get a lot of use both inside and out!
Kids also love the Safari and Farmyard animal sets from Tenderleaf Toys that bring to life their miniature worlds.
One of the funnest ways to engage in open ended play is to make believe! Role play toys like cash registers, doctor sets, costumes, play kitchens, toy food and dollhouses can provide hours of imaginative fun! They’re also a great way to encourage siblings or friends to play together.
You can also try giving your tot transportation toys like trucks, cars and machines to help them discover how things work and demonstrate cause and effect. Encourage them to set up race tracks, zoom down a hall or set up a workshop at the kitchen table.
Arts + Crafts
One of the toughest things about being a kid is learning how to manage your emotions. It can often be anxiety inducing to enter a play group, start school or have a parent need to leave. By using craft supplies like play dough, children are free to manipulate and mold with their hands, while their minds begin to process how they’re feeling. (Adult coloring books are a thing for a reason!)
Other great open ended play options include chalk or good old fashioned paper and crayons!
Nothing is more multi-use than the Wobbel!
Seriously – this board can be used for balancing, sliding, yoga, stretching, as a stool, as a bridge, as a table, as a nap space, as a coloring board, and more! Available in two options: one with felt for use on wood or tile and one raw for use on carpet, your tot will love creating their own Wobbel world!
Playing in a sandbox or at the beach is the perfect place for kids imagine, think, feel and explore. Are they digging to the other side of the world? Trying to build a moat around their kingdom? Searching for the right sand/water consistency for their drip sand castle? By providing simple tools like the PlanToys Sand Play Set, they’ll be entertained for hours!
- Searching for activities and toys to help your tot reach important developmental milestones? Check out The Tot Play + Learn Sets. Designed by expert early learning educators, there are nine sets available for kids age newborn to six!
- Trying to make home feel like school? Visit The Tot Homeschooling Essentials Shop.