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What are open-ended toys?

An open-ended toy is one that encourages children to use their imagination and has no specific outcome or goal for play. For example; a Playsilk can be used as a superhero cape, water in small world play, a mermaids tail, a carrier for a beloved doll or even to build a cubby house. There is no predetermined way to play with an open-ended toy, it is completely up to the child and allows them the freedom to explore their ideas.

Close-ended toys are those that present a child with limited ways to play. A good example of a close-ended toy is a battery operated activity centre that makes noises and flashes when the buttons are pressed. These toys don't encourage children to use their imagination, there is one way to play with it and often that means children will only engage with this toy for a short period of time. Close-ended toys can sometimes give children a sense of order and a short-term feeling of accomplishment but little freedom to be creative. 

What are the best open ended toys? 

There are sooooo many choices out there when it comes to open-ended toys. Here's our roundup of the five essentials for any open-ended playroom:

  1. Large Stepped Blocks - these bad boys are a one stop shop for all kinds of open-ended play. 
  2. The Foundation Collection - this collection is the perfect starting point for open-ended play. 
  3. Playsilks - the ultimate toy for all kinds of role play and dress ups! 
  4. Coins and Rings - loose parts are a must and can be used for threading, pattern making, pretend play and more 
  5. Nesting Bowls - a great first toy and essential for little ones under 18m 

Benefits of open-ended play

  • Children have the opportunity to explore creative ideas, test their theories and problem solve. In other words, they are doing science stuff! If we had x-ray vision we would be amazed at the fireworks going off in their minds as new and exciting connections are made. 
  • It helps our little ones develop critical social and emotional skills. Whether they are playing alone or with other children, they are constantly developing new and innovative ways to communicate. Through role play they have the opportunity to act out familiar situations, or explore their feelings about something unknown, in great detail. When playing alongside other children, there is much negotiation to be done! Leadership skills are developing by the second as they fervently discuss where the next block will go. 
  • Open-ended play assists in the development of gross and fine motor skills and builds hand-eye and bilateral coordination. Sorry to get all science-y, but it's true! Playing with open-ended toys (like blocks and peg dolls) is one of the best ways to develop these essential skills. 
  • Fosters creativity and imagination in an environment without judgement or fear of making mistakes. Fear can be one of the biggest barriers to learning and this is especially true for children. Children need an open environment where they have the freedom to test every creative idea they have and not feel judged if it doesn't work out. There is no right or wrong way to play with open-ended toys!

Having trouble getting your child to play with open-ended toys?

This can be tricky especially for children who are used to battery operated toys or lots of screen time, you might find they are completely uninterested when presented with a pile of blocks. Their brains have been conditioned to expect an easy dopamine hit from the fast-paced interactions they are used to. But the beauty of our everchanging brains is that we have a wonderful ability to adapt to new things! 

If your little one isn't used to open-ended play, here's what we suggest:

  • Play with them! Our children learn best when we lead by example. Benjamin Franklin once said; "show me and I'll forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn". Sit with them, talk with them, brainstorm with them. Your presence and reassurance will give them the confidence they need to try something new. 
  • Limit screen time. Give them as much opportunity for play as possible! This can be a scary step for us as parents but you'll see the benefits pretty quickly.
  • Present the toys on an open shelf and rotate them once a week. Sometimes just changing the way we present the toys is enough to get their creative juices flowing. Try presenting only a small amount of toys at one time and try to make them complimentary to let play develop as far as they would like. Then once a week (or however often works for your family) pack those toys away and present a new selection. You'll be amazed at the effectiveness of a toy rotation and wonder why you didn't try it sooner!