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!

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. 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 & Rainbows

 

 

three babies playing with Mushie stacking cups on a bed

 

Incredibly 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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Raduga Graz Mountains Small Arch Stacker AW19

 

Raduga Grez Small Arch Stacker

 

$35

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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 Uncle Goose ABC block set that doubles as decor, they all offer a fun open ended play experience.

 

 

Raduga Grez Shapes Building Blocks

 

Raduga Grez Shapes Building Blocks

 

$90

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Guidecraft Hollow Blocks

 

Guidecraft Wooden Hollow Blocks

 

$199.95

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Guidecraft Unit Block Set D

 

Guidecraft Wooden Unit Blocks Set D

 

$299.95

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Guidecraft Rainbow Blocks

 

Guidecraft Wooden Rainbow Blocks

 

$79.95

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Uncle Goose ABC Blocks with Wagon AW19

 

Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks with Wagon

 

$58

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Rock Blocks Frosty Set of 16

Rock Blocks Frosty Set of 16

 

$57.99

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PlanToys Water Blocks

PlanToys Water Blocks

 

$50

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Guidecraft PowerClix Solid

Guidecraft PowerClix Solid

 

$99.95

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Loose Part

 

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!

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

 

Let Them Play Sticks and Blocks Set

 

Let Them Play Sticks & Blocks Building Set

 

$45

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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

 

$39.50

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Papoose Rainbow Ball Bowl Set

 

Paoose Rainbow Ball Bowl Set

 

$160

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Grapat Nest Bowl

 

Grapat Nest Bowls

 

$77

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Tender Leaf Toys Safari Colletion

Tender Leaf Toys Safari Collection

 

$54.99

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Tender Leaf Toys Farmyard Animals

Tenderleaf Toys Farmyard Collection

 

$53.99

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Imaginative Play

 

Tender Leaf Toys Fantail Hall

 

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, 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.

 

Let Them Play Story Scene Bundle

 

Let Them Play Story Scene Bundle

 

$145

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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

 

$24.50

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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 and Goose Dairy Set

Milton & Goose Dairy Play Food Set

 

$48

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Tender Leaf Toys Fruit and Veggie Crates

 

Tender Leaf Toys Fruit & Veggie Crates

 

$39.98

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Tender Leaf Toys Breakfast Tray

 

Tender Leaf Toys Wooden Breakfast Tray

 

$31.99

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Tender Leaf Toys Till with Money

 

Tender Leaf Toys Till w/ Money

 

$34.99

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Tender Leaf Toys Fantail Hall

 

Tender Leaf Toys Fantail Hall

 

$399.99

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Zephyrs Nest Play & Learn Tray

 

Zephyr’s Nest Play & Learn Tray Bundle

 

$95

EXCLUSIVE

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Luke's Toys Educational Truck 4 Pack

Luke’s Toy Factory Educational Truck 4 Pack

 

$69.95

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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. (Adult coloring books are a thing for a reason!)

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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Crayon Rocks Rubeez Art Box + 16

 

Crayon Rocks Rubeez Art Box + 16 Crayons

 

$15.99

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Dough Parlour Collectors Set

 

Dough Parlour Collector Set

 

$79

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Let Them Play Playdough Kit

 

Let Them Play Dough Kit

 

$24.50

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Twee Sushi Chalk

 

Twee Sushi Roll Sidewalk Chalk

 

$25

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Kitpas Little Artist Kit

Kitpas Little Artist Kit

 

$49

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Active Play

 

Wobbel Original Board with girl

 

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 

 

$149

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Wobble Baby Mouse Gray

 

Wobbel – The Original with Felt

 

$189

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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 PlanToys Sand Play Set, they’ll be entertained for hours!

 

PlanToys Sand Play Set

 

PlanToys Sand Play Set

 

$30

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Sprout Dish Washing Station / Sensory Table

 

Sprout Dishwashing Station / Sensory Table

 

$400

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Guidecraft Sensory Rainbow Blocks

 

Guidecraft Wooden Sensory Rainbow Blocks

$89.95

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Continue exploring