Open ended play is the ability of a toy or object to have multiple purposes in play only limited by the imagination of the child using it. It has no set purpose and can morph as play and interests change and progress.
Open ended toys also grow WITH your child they can be used over and over for years not just during their current development milestone as some close ended toys are intended.
Why do I care as a Parent and Educator?
The importance of providing open ended toys is to encourage;
• creative thinking
• problem solving
• Adaptability (the ability to adapt as the play changes)
These are important skills and ones that transfer into adulthood. They encourage independence and creativity in little minds and little hands.
What does open ended play and toys look like?
The difference between an open-ended toy and a close ended one is very simple. A close ended toy already has a predetermined use. For example, a wooden slice of tomato, is just that, it can’t be anything else as it is painted and only represents a tomato. Now an open-ended version of this would be a slice of plain wood or even things like felt balls that could be used as any kind of food, and can be adapted and changed as the child’s play progresses. Felt balls are a great example as they can easily change as the child’s interests do too. They can be used as food in home corner play, as balls, as food for animals, as an ocean, for sorting and fine motor practice, bushes or trees in small world play or really wherever the child’s imagination takes them. Blocks or Connetix tiles are another brilliant example of an open-ended toy. They can be used to build cities, roads, towers, ball runs, used in nature play and allow a child’s creativity to exude as they create and grow with the child’s abilities. The older the get the bigger and more creative their building and creations usually get too.
Benefits of open-ended toys
Open ended toys also allow for lots of problem-solving opportunities. A child has to really think about how and what they can use to “fix” their problem as their creative play progresses. By encouraging these skills children learn to think outside the box, allow for choices, cognitive development, flexibility, use lots of trial and error techniques, think out loud and work through their problem with patience, persistence and resilience. These are such important fundamental skills that really help them as they grow and move through school and into adulthood. A child who is confident in these areas will be one who grows into an adult confident in these exact same areas. Think about how often these skills are needed in daily work and home life for both children and adults?!
Open ended toys also provide a lot more engaged and in-depth play as they child can swiftly move and change their purpose. Closed ended toys although sometimes great (like puzzles and board games) they have a single purpose which does not allow for more or less then what the intended purpose was. It limits creativity, and often does not allow for extension of the play. Once both a puzzle and board game are completed the play stops, compared to an open-ended toy or play, there is no end just a continuation of where it was last stopped.
Having just a few amazing open-ended toys as opposed to lots of closed ended toys will make their play more enjoyable and the clean-up for us as parents less too. The cost for these toys may be a little more expensive up front however; over the long run it will be less as these kinds of toys with stand the rougher play, they grow and develop with your child as their abilities, interests and play changes and grows.
Our personal favourite open-ended toys
Personally, my children prefer and love their open-ended toys.
Some of these favourites include;
• Wooden blocks
• Connetix tiles,
• Building slats
• Play silks
• Kontu Stem Blocks.
• Felt balls
Most of their small world play or imaginative play consists of some or all of these open-ended toys. They have definitely stood up to some pretty rough play and are still going strong. My Children don't go a day without playing with some form of construction play with either blocks or Connetix tiles. They have used them for building roads, towers, bridges, outside for nature pressing, window light play, on DIY light boxes etc. These would have to be some of our most used toys. Playsilks get used for all of our super hero role playing or for small world grasses, oceans, waterfalls and sand set ups. Our Kontu Stem blocks get used for counting, haybales for feeding their aniamls, steping stones, horse gates truely whatever they want to create.
Our open ended toys have created such a magical world for my little ones and I am truely amazed at how much engagement they continually bring to their daily play.