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The Gift of Open Ended Play

Posted by Melanie Moore on

Have you ever given your kids a toy that has a very specific purpose? Something that does one thing. Kids LOVE it... for about 20 minutes. Then they want to move on to something else. Since the toy has been “mastered,” your child rarely comes back to it. This is close-ended play.

With open ended toys, your child can master using something in one way, then 20 minutes later use it completely differently! They keep coming back to something for years, changing how they play with it.

What is open ended play?
Open ended play means there are no precise rules to follow, no distinct boundaries. Kids can experiment and be creative. Whereas close ended play would be like a board game, there’s one way to play it and you must follow specific rules.

Is one better?
Does this mean close ended play is bad? Absolutely not!! Take a puzzle for example, it only has one purpose and is great for a kiddo to use their problem-solving skills. Or a board game, kids use logic and reasoning (plus they’re awesome for family bonding). But a child won’t come back to them in the same way as they would with something open ended. So, both open and close ended play are important!

Where do you start?
Setting up your home for open ended play can feel daunting but it’s really fun once you figure it out!! Here are some ideas:

Play silks
Playsilks are an amazing tool for open ended play. A green silk can be grass, a big silk can make a tent, a silk draped over the shoulders is a superhero cape. They open the door for so many ways to play.

Building blocks
Kids of any age can build with blocks. Whether it’s a young child doing basic stacking with wooden blocks, a toddler piecing things together with DUPLO, a preschooler using Plus Plus BIG pieces to develop fine motor skills while creating or school aged kids playing with LEGO. 

Playing house
While we may find adulting exhausting, kids love to pretend play (without all the real responsibility, of course!). A kitchen or kitchen accessories with play food, a doll with a stroller and bottle, there are so many great ways for kids to pretend play on their own, or with friends.

Loose parts
Once kids are old enough and we know things won’t be put in their mouths, loose parts are amazing for encouraging open ended play. They can be as simple as a bowl of pinecones, jar of marbles or the mandala pieces by Grapat. 

Arts and crafts
Art supplies are great for open ended play. For younger kids, you can store supplies away and bring them out when you’re ready. For older kids, a cart full of different materials can encourage independence and creativity. 

Small world
A wooden house or barn are perfect ways to get lost in play, paired with animals or figurines. Children love Playmobil. There are so many different sets depending on a kiddo’s interest.

Tips
Once you have open ended toys in the home… how do you encourage your kids to play? You can start by playing with the toys yourself. As your child joins you, slowly remove yourself from the play. Prompts can help – oh I wonder what will happen if you build a bridge for the horse? 

If you’re worried about the mess, start small. Bring out only a few things at once. And… you do have to embrace the mess. It’s worth 10 minutes of clean up if it gave you an hour of independent play, right?!

Don’t swoop in if your kiddo asks for help. Try helping without touching, “ohhh I see, your tower keeps falling over, I wonder what would happen if you used bigger blocks on the bottom?” 

Remember it’s okay if your child plays with something differently than you had imagined. The beauty of open ended play is the child leads. That means something you thought would go one way, may go the other. And that’s okay! 

We can help
If you’re unsure of how to start and you’d like some more guidance. Come into the shop and chat with one of us! We are just big kids ourselves and would love to figure out what would work best in your home.