What is Open Ended Play?

What is open ended play?

We hear the words "open-ended" all the time when we are talking about children's toys and children playing. But what doe that mean mean and why do we want that?

Open-ended play is the type of play that happens when kids don't have strict rules and guidelines to follow. A board game has rules and a certain way things need to be done in order for it work properly. Open-ended toys don't have these rules. It allows your child the freedom to explore their own creativity and use their imagination. 

A set of blocks is a perfect example. They can be turned into a tower, a castle, a house, a car, an entire town, or anything else your babe wants it to be. I have seen my 2 year old use her blocks as food when playing "family". The options are endless, making it open ended. 

Other examples for open-ended toys are sand, clay, a cardboard box, magnetic tiles, dolls, animal figures, and even a mud kitchen. 

But why is open ended play important?

Open-ended play is often independent. It allows your child the space they need to learn and grow on their own. They gain confidence while they get to make their own decisions. It allows them learn their limits, test their limits, and grow! 

It also provides a space for them to learn about playing with others and leadership. Kids see their parents making choices all.day.long. and they want to emulate that. Playing in an open-ended situation with other children, (the park, a play date, etc), helps them learn about leadership and working with others. A child will learn all about working though conflict while they engage in open-ended play with others. They will naturally have disagreements about how the play should go and let them! They will find a way to work it out. It might be taking a break, changing the game, or trying something different. All of these outcomes teach our children amazing things about conflict resolution and the best part is that they are coming up with it on their own!

How do I encourage open ended play?

After a while, open-ended play will often happen naturally. However, if this is new for you child they may take some time to adjust. If they are used to having you play with them and entertain them then try some of these tips. And remember, that change can take time!

  • Set up a little play station for them. Set out the barn animals and a barn. Show them that they can play with it. An invitation to play often helps spark some imagination and allows for more open-ended play.
  • Give them fewer options of toys. Sometimes a child can be very overwhelmed by the number of toys around them. Choose a few and leave them out. Put the rest away. Just taking some away for a while will help get their creative juices going. 
  • Let them bored! This one is big! Let your child get bored enough that they will go find something to do. 
  • Follow their lead. Ask them what they want to do. If they are really into a specific toy or theme then go with that. Your child is more likely to engage in open-ended play if they are interested in it. 
  • Make sure the space is safe. This one is mostly for you. If you know that your child is safe you will be less likely to interrupt, try to manage, or hover over them while they play. 

Open-ended play can happen inside, outside, morning, afternoon, and anywhere! Encourage your child's growth and creativity. You will see them begin to grow and shine and you will love to watch it happen.