How to Get Started With Open-ended Toys
Open-ended toys are starting to gain a lot of momentum as parents become more conscious of the environmental impact of their toy choices as well as the developmental benefits to offering open-ended toys to children. It can seem really difficult to get started with open-ended toys, there are so many brands and so many options. In this blog we’ll explain a bit more about how to get started with open-ended toys and what the benefits of open-ended toys are.
What are open-ended toys?
Open-ended toys are any toys that can be used in multiple ways. They have more than one use, and can be used in multiple settings easily. Open-ended toys are commonly blocks, building platforms, loose parts, silk scarves and many more items. An example of a toy that isn’t open-ended is one that commonly uses batteries to operate and only does one set thing. It can often be really difficult for children to distinguish more uses for battery operated toys, as the child often thinks the limitations of the toy are what it is meant to be for.
As an example, if you have a battery operated toy cash register that flashes and makes sounds, a child will often only use the toy in the sense of it being a cash register. They won’t pretend it is anything other than what it usually says it can do.
If you make a cash register, using blocks, building platforms and loose parts, you are building something specific to the play that you are engaging in, and you can also use those same items later in a completely different way to suit the next game or idea your child has.
What makes open-ended toys ideal toys?
The beauty of open-ended toys is that because you can use them for so many different applications, so you don’t need as many of them. By having the right mix of open-ended toys you can create almost anything, and you can keep the clutter in your loungeroom to a minimum.
As well as not needing as many toys, there are a lot of developmental benefits to having open-ended toys. It promotes so much learning, as well as not “talking” to your child the way that closed-ended toys do. When a child is playing with a toy that “talks” to them or makes noise, their play is often reactionary, they are waiting for the toy to do something while they are playing. With open-ended toys, their play is proactive, they are thinking ahead or adding elements as they are playing and this takes a lot of brain muscle!
Open-ended toys open the door to a lot of creative play and an increase in new ideas for play. They also allow for play to replicate ordinary life.
Do open-ended toys need to be wooden toys?
Not at all! Mostly commonly open-ended toys are wooden, but they can also be plastic. Lego and Duplo are great examples of open-ended toys are that plastic, as you can re-use them in many different ways and in many different play scenarios.
If a toy can be used in many different applications, as pretend food, a pretend phone or money or anything else, it is an open-ended toy. Regardless of the material that it is made from.
How does open-ended play help my children?
Open-ended play provides an avenue for children to develop a wide range of skills such creative thinking and forward planning, stretching and expanding their cognitive skills in a low pressure environment which is ideal for learning. There is no right or wrong way to play with open-ended toys, which means there is no pressure for children to have the right answer on what a toy can be.
Open-ended play allows children to play with no rules or guidelines, so this increases their imagination and allows for them to incorporate different ideas into the one play session. It also makes the play more fun, as children aren’t worried about not playing the “right” way, they can create whatever they want!
Removing the right or wrong from play seems so simple for the benefits that it provides. Encouraging open-ended play fosters an environment where children will direct play, they will make decisions and they will engage their imagination at the same time. This helps them later in life, with creative problem solving and a strong foundation in decision making.
All this learning is happening unconsciously, which is what makes open-ended toys and play such a great thing for young children.
How do you promote open-ended play?
If your children are new to open-ended play, regardless of their age, you might need to start off by setting up an invitation to play. This is where you can create a scene, maybe you create a “cake” using a wooden rainbow and some building platforms. Then you set out loose parts in a basket and ask your children to decorate the cake. As they are finishing you can ask open questions about what else this play scene may need. Having this prompt of a cake, children will then start to take the reins on the play and start adding pieces like people to celebrate, who might need chairs that are made from blocks and so.
Once your children have started to become comfortable with the concept of open-ended play you may find that you need to set a scene. When you ask “what should we play” the vast options are overwhelming for children. After some prompts they will take over quickly, so if you suggest setting up a shop, let them choose what kind of shop it is. You can then ask “How should we make a cash register for the shop?” If you find that your children are still overwhelmed, sometimes selecting only one or two items to use can spark their imagination and they will take over.
As your child becomes more comfortable with open-ended play and toys you’ll find that you don’t need to set up any play scenes or invitations, you don’t need to prompt them and they will be excited to create on their own. The earlier you introduce open-ended toys and play the earlier you’ll see independent play with open-ended toys.
What about older children who haven’t played with open-ended toys?
It’s important to remember than engaging well in open-ended play is like training for a marathon, each time you set up and engage in open-ended play your child will find it easier to make decisions and direct the play. If open-ended play is all they know from a young age they’ll become experts in no time and you’ll be amazed at the creativity young children have! If you have an older child who is used to close-ended toys, all is not lost. But they will take some extra time getting used to the different play and needing to direct their own play. They will still reap all the benefits of open-ended play with increased imagination and creativity as well as great decision making and cognitive skills.
What are some key open-ended toys to have?
Unstructured play that incorporates a lot of open-ended toys provides an intellectually stimulating environment with unlimited possibilities, but it can be overwhelming to start with. It can be hard to know what to invest in or what you can repurpose.
It’s best to look around your own house for open-ended resources. Children are wonderful collectors of rocks, pinecones or sticks and while it can be tempting to throw these items out immediately, they make great natural loose parts that can be incorporated into open-ended play. The more items you can find like this that you already own, the less things you will need to purchase immediately to get started with open-ended play. This allows you to invest in good quality items that will last throughout multiple childhoods and be versatile to be incorporated in many different play ideas.
By investing in a good range of open-ended toys you will find that you actually need far less toys. Some great pieces to have to get started are:
Loose parts – these can be mandala pieces, buttons, rocks etc
Balls – especially small ones that can be used in different ways
Vehicles – these don’t have to be a specific type
Roads – especially ones without colouring or lines
You’ll be amazed at how many ordinary items can be used for open-ended play and the creative ways that your children will incorporate them in play.Following all these steps, you’re ready to get started with open-ended play! Remember to tag us in your play photos, we absolutely love seeing all the open-ended play that happens with our blocks and building platforms.
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