Updated: Mar 22
What makes a toy open ended?
Open-ended play is a type of play that has no road map. Children direct their play in an infinite number of ways. It can morph and change from day to day or from minute to minute. With the same toy, friend, or cardboard box, kiddos can fly to the moon in one moment and arrest a pirate on the open seas in the next.
We talk about open-ended play in terms of toys a lot. Here’s why:
While kiddos do not need toys to make open-ended play possible, open-ended toys inspire children to create adventurous play stories. On the other hand, one-and-done toys outright "tell" children how to play. The toy directs how the play starts and finishes; there are limited and prescribed ways to play with them and then play is over.
What's so special about open-ended toys?
We love them and here is why:
1. Because they're good for little brains. They inspire the play that requires creativity, emotional intelligence, problem solving… all of the most difficult types of thinking to teach! It is the type of human thinking that computers cannot reproduce (otherwise known as 21st Century skills).
2. Because children can play together. The rules of the game are all self-made. Kiddos can involve others in their playtime (though they may need some coaching through difficult skills like sharing).
3. Because it's easier for us, grown-ups. With open ended toys, we can put out fewer types of toys at one time! They invent and reinvent with the same toys. We just let them work!
4. Because they make playtime last longer. Open-ended toys do not have a predetermined "end" point, so the play can go on and on. Once they get a new idea, watch them run with it!
Great! So, these toys will teach my kiddo to play independently, right?
Well, not exactly. It is important to mention that playing creatively is a skill. Playing independently is a skill. Both must be taught and practiced.
So, get down on the floor and show your kiddos how to create an awesome play story with toys! Include them in your play. Do this over and over until they start to direct the play themselves. Then, you can slowly start to remove yourself... when you want to!
Examples of open-ended toys vs. one-and-done toys:
Wooden blocks can be a city, a set of roads, or a bed for a baby doll. The possibilities are endless.
Animal figures can be part of a zoo, guests at a dinner party, or mayors of a city.
A sing-along toy that plays songs when you push a button. This might be entertaining for a while, but the novelty wears off and then there are not a lot of creative uses for such a toy. The purpose of this toy can also be substituted for a free membership to Spotify.
Do keep in mind that just because it has batteries does not mean it is one-and-done toy and just because it doesn’t does not mean it is open ended. It all has to do with the potential for creative play!
This is not to say close-ended toys have no value. Puzzles, games, and stackers will not last forever, but build important skills!
Happy play time, everyone!