What Is Open-Ended Play and How Can it Benefit My Child?


1. What is open ended play?

2. What are the benefits of open-ended play?

3. What are some examples of open-ended play ideas?

4. What are some disadvantages of open-ended play?


As well as finding the best ways to help children learn, it’s also important to consider the best ways to help them play.

When we were children, we remember our most coveted toys and how we’d spend hours with them (Miami Barbie and her jeep, thank you 😉). Just as education shapes us, our playthings can help carve out our characters too, which is why opening up your child’s world to new ways of enjoying downtime is central for their development. 

Imagine a world where playtime didn’t involve a tablet, TV, or video game. 📺 Imagine a world where playtime benefitted your child in key ways, where it let their imagination run free and allowed for crucial cognitive development while also promoting their creativity. 

Well, there’s no need to imagine because this type of playtime exists and everything you need to start engaging your little one is either already in your home or super-easy to find. Let us introduce you to open-ended play.toddler_play_toy_colorful_floor_ball

What is open ended play?


Open-ended play is a chance for your child to entertain themselves freely by creating, making and storytelling to their heart’s content with a whole range of crafty tools and materials – no nifty gadgets needed.

Kay Tibbles; co-founder at Every Cloud Therapy explains how vital play is for children and their learning, stating; “children use play to communicate the way they understand the world and to process their feelings about it. They also express how they wish the world could be through play.” 

Jigsaw puzzles join to create a final picture, board games wrap up with winners and losers, and movies have a beginning, middle and end – open-ended play represents the opposite of these tried-and-tested playtime activities.

Simply put, open-ended play experiences have no limits, there’s no one “correct” way to play, there’s no end goal and it only stops when (and if!) you allow it. 😄


What are the benefits of open-ended play?


  • It allows children to make choices; they don’t have to follow step-by-step rules, and they don’t have to follow a particular narrative or train of thought – their trains can go wherever they like! Choo choo! 🚂
  • Allowing children this freedom of thought can strengthen their cognitive skills – including decision making – because they’re building their own story and creating for themselves – no holds barred. And because no rules or guidance are needed, children can also develop more independence and confidence.
  • Touch, feel, squeeze, bounce, smell 🖐️👃👀… Discovering new resources and materials while imagining them being used in different ways can allow for your child to expand on their sensorial exploration – a fundamental benefit of open-ended play. 
  • It’s cheap! You don’t need to head to the shops to buy the latest game or toy because everything you need for open-ended resources is already at home in the cupboards or in the recycling bin! Plus, you won’t need to turn the house upside down looking for batteries 🤣
  • Open-ended play experiences use up energy in ways that watching TV and playing video games won’t, and your child won’t be burdened by the idea of rules to follow. Also, this kind of playtime can really help children let off steam, which will hopefully allow them to get back to structured tasks with a refreshed mind

What are some examples of open-ended play ideas?


Leave your toys with bells and whistles at the door and put down your new-fangled gadgets, because only the simplest play materials are required here.

Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut, advocates: 

“One trend that is emerging from our studies can serve as a guide to families as they choose toys: Basic is better. The highest-scoring toys so far have been quite simple: hardwood blocks, a set of wooden vehicles and road signs, and classic wooden construction toys. These toys are relatively open-ended, so children can use them in multiple ways. Simple, classic toys would be our recommendation for families.”

Check out our favourite open-ended activities that are sure to have your child basking in playtime for hours 👇

  • Blocks in their many forms: Lego, magnetic blocks, wooden blocks, Stickle Bricks – these toys offer infinite storytelling (and building!) choices for your child.
  • Arts and crafts just got a whole lot more interesting! 🎨 Lavish your little one with as many artful tools as possible so that they can get creating: paint, chalk, clay, play dough, pastels and brushes are some more traditional options, but if you want to add some quirkiness to proceedings, try cardboard tubes and boxes, recycled food containers, fabrics, string/thread, buttons, ice lolly sticks and sponges – these will surely get sensorial exploration underway. Just don’t forget the glue 👍
  • Discover peak levels of fun and frolics in your very own garden while not spending a penny; twigs, sticks, stones, mud, leaves, pinecones, and seashells may seem everyday to us, but to children, it’s just the opposite. Plus, the feeling of being outdoors in the open air will really amp up excitement levels 😄


What are some disadvantages of open-ended play?


  • While all open-ended play ideas will get the fun cogs churning, they can be a little messy (hello mud, water, paint, sand and play dough!) but if you’re well-prepared with your favourite cleaning products and keep designated play areas free of any valuables, clean-ups will be a breeze. 
  • While implementing structure goes against the nature of open-ended play, children can crave order and to be corrected. In this case, mix sessions of open-ended play with close-ended play i.e., playtime with purpose, and watch your kids enjoy the best of both worlds. 

No matter how you approach open-ended play for your child, what’s most important is that you’re giving them the choice and, most importantly, the freedom to pursue these sessions in any way they want. And just as they will appreciate this method of learning via creativity, you can experience new highs by watching them bloom.