The Benefits Of Open-Ended Play

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!

Opened ended play
Photo by Syrie Wongkaew

You’ve probably heard of active play and sensory play, but what about open-ended play?

Every bit as important, open-ended play is any type of play that doesn’t have set rules, limitations or defined outcome. Open-ended play can include playing dress-up, using sidewalk chalk, experimenting with blocks or setting up a play kitchen — anything that ignites the imagination and fuels creativity.

When you remove boundaries as well as the pressure of needing to complete something, kids are able to let their minds run free without the fear of failing. They can safely explore an object, nature or persona, enabling them to draw conclusions, form opinions and build confidence. Essentially, open-ended play helps children understand the world around them and encourages them to develop a sense of self.

 

How does open-ended play benefit children?

  • Encourages children to think critically, reason and self-regulate
  • Ignites the imagination and creativity
  • Provides a calming way to help process emotions
  • Helps children develop independence and build leadership skills
  • Promotes cognitive flexibility and social awareness
  • Strengthens hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and vocabulary

When it comes to choosing toys and materials for open ended play, it’s important to look for items that are free of rules and limitations and able to be used in a variety of ways.

Here are our favorite open-ended play toys and activity ideas:

 

Stacking Cups & Rainbows

 

 

three babies playing with Mushie stacking cups on a bed

 

Versatile toys like 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.

 

Mushie Stacking Cups

 

Mushie Stacking Cups

 

$14.99

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Wee Gallery Bamboo Nesting Bird

 

Wee Gallery Bamboo Nesting Bird

 

$26.95

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Dena Large Neon Rainbow

 

Dena Large Neon Rainbow

 

$59.99

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Babai Creative Balancer

Babai Creative Balancer

 

$39.99

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Block sets

 

Rock Blocks Frosty Set of 16

 

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 Guidecraft to the colorful wooden ‘Rock Blocks’ to the Tender Leaf Toys Wagon with Blocks that doubles as decor, they all offer a fun open-ended play experience.

 

 

PlanToys 40 Unit Blocks

 

PlanToys 50 Unit Blocks

 

$70

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Guidecraft Outdoor Hollow Blocks

 

Guidecraft Outdoor Wooden Hollow Blocks

 

$999.95

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Guidecraft Wooden Unit Blocks Set B

 

Guidecraft Wooden Unit Blocks Set B

 

$99.95

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Papoose Rainbow Stack

 

Papoose Rainbow Stack 

 

$50

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Tender Leaf Wagon with Block

 

Tender Leaf Toys Wagon with Blocks

 

$84.99

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Rock Blocks Frosty Set of 16

Rock Blocks Frosty Set of 16

 

$57.99

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Miniland Eco Beams Building Set

Miniland Eco Beams Building Set

 

$31.98

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Guidecraft PowerClix Solid

Guidecraft PowerClix Solid

 

$99.95

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Loose part toys

 

Let Them Play Sticks and Blocks Set

 

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 lacing/building/stacking/wearing natural loose part play kits from Let Them Play and Babai.

Kids also love the Safari and Farmyard animal sets from Tender Leaf Toys that bring to life their miniature worlds.

 

 

Babai Lacing Toy Set

 

Babai Lacing Toy Set

 

$44.99

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Let Them Play Sticks and Blocks Set

 

Let Them Play Sticks & Blocks Building Set

 

$47.50

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Let Them Play Rainbow Disc

 

Let Them Play Rainbow Disc & Thread Kit

 

$25

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Let Them Play Starter Set

 

Let Them Play Starter Set

 

$44.50

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Papoose Rainbow Ball Bowl Set

 

Papoose Rainbow Ball Bowl Set

 

$160

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Grapat Nest Bowl

 

Grapat Nest Bowls

 

$83.60

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Tender Leaf Toys Safari Colletion

Tender Leaf Toys Safari Collection

 

$59.99

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Tender Leaf Toys Farmyard Animals

Tender Leaf Toys Farmyard Collection

 

$57.99

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Imaginative play

 

Tender Leaf Toys Fantail Hall

 

One of the most fun ways to engage in open ended play is to make-believe. Role play toys like cash registers, doctor sets, costumes, play kitchens, teaching toys, 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.

 

Wiwiurka Moon Doll Stroller

Wiwiurka Moon Doll Stroller

 

$120

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Ellie & Becks Ellie Crib

Ellie & Becks Co. Ellie Doll Rattan Crib

 

$139

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Ellie & Becks Quinn Day Bed

Ellie & Becks Co. Quinn Doll Rattan Day Bed

 

$139

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Ellie & Becks Co. Aria Doll Rattan Changing Table

 

Ellie & Becks Co. Aria Doll Rattan Changing Table

 

$199

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Ellie & Becks Hazel Crib

Ellie & Becks Co. Hazel Doll Rattan Crib

 

$189

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Ellie & Becks Clara Cart - Pink

Ellie & Becks Co. Clara Doll Rattan Cart

 

$199

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Ellie & Becks Harlow Pram

Ellie & Becks Co. Harlow Rattan Doll Pram

 

$199

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Let Them Play Story Scene Bundle

 

Let Them Play Story Scene Bundle

 

$150

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Let Them Play Mushroom Set

 

Let Them Play Story Scene Mushroom Set

 

$79.50

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wooden people toys

 

Let Them Play Tree People

 

$29.50

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Papoose Deluxe Mouse House Set

 

Papoose Deluxe Mouse House Set

 

$200

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Papoose Toys Fairy House Set

 

Papoose Fairy House Set

 

$225

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Make Me Iconic Doctor Kit

 

Make Me Iconic Doctor Kit

 

$64.99

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Make Me Iconic Beauty Kit

 

Make Me Iconic Beauty Kit

 

$69.99

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Make Me Iconic Dentist Kit

 

Make Me Iconic Dentist Kit

 

$64.99

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Milton & Goose Essential Play Kitchen - Natural

Milton & Goose Essential Play Kitchen – Natural

 

$649

Available in more colors

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Milton & Goose Pantry Set

Milton & Goose Pantry Play Food Set

 

$48

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Milton and Goose Veggie Set

 

Milton & Gose Veggies Play Food Set

 

$32.99

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Tender Leaf Toys Breakfast Tray

 

Tender Leaf Toys Wooden Breakfast Tray

 

$31.99

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Janod Green Market Grocery

 

Janod Toys Green Market Grocery

 

$120.99

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Tender Leaf Dovetail House

 

Tender Leaf Toys Dovetail House

 

$259.99

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Zephyrs Nest Play & Learn Tray

 

Zephyr’s Nest Play & Learn Tray Bundle

 

$95

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Arts & crafts

 

The Dough Parlour Collector Set

 

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.

Other great open ended play options include chalk or good old fashioned paper and crayons.

 

A box of kids Non-toxic crayons shaped like rocks

 

Just Rocks in a Box – 64 Crayons

 

$30

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Kid Made Modern Studio in a Box

 

Kid Made Modern Studio in a Box

 

$39.99

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Dough Parlour Collectors Set

 

Dough Parlour Collector Set

 

$80

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Let Them Play Playdough Kit

 

Let Them Play Dough Kit

 

$25.50

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Twee Sushi Chalk

 

Twee Sushi Roll Sidewalk Chalk

 

$27

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Kid Made Modern Wondrous Watercolor

Kid Made Modern Wondrous Watercolor

 

$16.99

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Active play

 

Wobbel Original Board with girl

 

Wiwiurka Climbing Furniture Combo

Wiwiurka Climbing Furniture Combo

 

$750

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Wiwiurka Climbing Arch with Reversible Ramp

Wiwiurka Climbing Arch with Reversible Ramp

 

$425

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Wiwiurka Baby Tadeuz

 

$230

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Available in more colors

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Wiwiurka Foldable Triangle with Rock Climbing Board

 

$510 – $535

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Available in more colors

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Wiwiurka Foldable Triangle With Reversible Ramp

Wiwiurka Foldable Triangle with Reversible Ramp

 

$490 – $515

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Wiwiurka Climbing Arch - Natural

Wiwiurka Climbing Arch

 

$250

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Wiwiurka Rocker Balance Board XXL

 

$415

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Wiwiurka Double Rocker Balance Board - Natural

Wiwiurka Double Rocker Balance Board

$335

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Wiwiurka Wooden Balance Beam

Wiwiurka Wooden Balance Beam

 

$145

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Wiwiurka Jungle Gym Bars Combo

 

Wiwiurka Jungle Gym Bars Combo

 

$250

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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!

Wobbel Original Board

 

Wobbel – The Original 

 

$159

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Wobble Baby Mouse Gray

 

Wobbel – The Original with Felt

 

$199

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Sensory Toys

 

PlanToys Sand Play Set

 

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 Tender Leaf Toys My Forest Floor, they’ll be entertained for hours.

 

Guidecraft Jumbo Sensory River Stones 

 

Guidecraft Jump Sensory River Stones

 

$89.95

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Miniland Sensory Balls

 

Miniland Sensory Balls

 

$41.98

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Sprout Dish Washing Station / Sensory Table

 

Sprout Dishwashing Station / Sensory Table

 

$400

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Q Toys Tree Blocks

 

Q Toys Tree Blocks

 

$100.99

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