What is open-ended play and why does my child need plenty of it?

Child holding play doh house

Little people have big imaginations and when left to their own devices, with a few simple materials, they can make big leaps and bounds developmentally. Here’s why open-ended play is important for growing kiddos.

What is open-ended play?

Open-ended play is imaginative, child-directed play. It usually involves simple materials that can be used in a variety of different (and creative) ways and the sky is the limit, as your child concocts characters and experiences, experiments and discovers their place in the world. Yay for play!

Little girl painting

What are the benefits of this kind of play?

While it can seem like it’s all fun and free-styling, the truth is that open-ended play is vital to a child’s development.

Not only does it provide a bunch of healthy benefits, it has the delightful bonus of being about process, rather than any particular hoped-for outcome.  

Open-ended play fosters:

  • Imagination
  • Experimentation
  • Creativity
  • Independence
  • Problem solving.

This kind of play helpfully allows children to process things they’ve experienced in their day-to-day life and helps to develop long-term memory too. Who knew that things like sand and blocks and Play-Doh could be so impactful in little people’s lives?!

Why you should let your child lead their play

Let your little one take the lead! Open-ended, child-led play is vital to your child's development and it's so easy to make sure they get plenty of it. Let their imaginations run wild with these free-style play ideas! > http://babyolo.gy/2xqEZHl

Posted by Babyology on Tuesday, 26 September 2017

What kinds of materials and play equipment encourage open-ended play?

Simple materials provide a multitude of possibilities for clever, creative, curious little people.  You can start your open-ended play tool kit with things like:

  • PlayDoh: We love trusty, fun-filled Play-Doh. It’s the original and the best and kids love creating and playing with it! 
  • Blocks: There’s no one way to play with blocks, making them the perfect foundation for this kind of free-style, kid-led play.
  • Boxes, cardboard tubes, empty bottles: Your child can build with them, connect them, break them, put things in them … and they’re already sitting in your recycling bin, ready to play!
  • Sand: Sand is the kind of excellent shape-shifter that imaginative kids see all sorts of possibilities in.
  • Small toy vehicles and characters: Kids can create their own amazing worlds with these kinds of small toys (complete with adorably entertaining script) if left to their own devices.
  • Water: Most children LOVE exploring with water and it’s a simple way to foster open-ended play. Just be sure to always closely supervise kids when they play with water.
  • Craft materials: Glue, paper, feathers, paint, glitter (argh!). These are the things that precious playtimes are made of.
  • Dress-ups: Save old clothes for the dress-up box, or hunt them down in your local op shop. Hats, handbags, fancy shoes and feather boas are strongly recommended.
  • Musical instruments: Improvising with music is a wonderful way to foster open-ended play. Have ukulele, will explore – or something like that!

How can parents encourage open-ended play?

There are lots of ways you can set the stage for this kind of play – and it’s very, very important that you allow children to explore on their own, as much as possible. You can foster open-ended play by:

  • Scheduling free time: Free time is key, allowing your child to potter about with materials and toys in their own time and in their own way.
  • Reducing screen-time: Nix the screens in favour of play time and foster these kinds of free-style play experiences.
  • Avoiding micro-management: Allow your child the time and space to ponder possibilities and take action – without your help.

Little girl playing with blocks

Open-ended play activities 

There are lots of ways to create opportunities for this kind of play at your place. A few ideas could include:

  • Give your child a box of dress-ups and encourage them to try on different characters.
  • Set up a craft table in a corner of the kitchen and encourage your child to explore making things on their own terms.
  • Plonk some Play Doh on the kitchen table and provide some kitchen utensils to experiment with.
  • Find space in the backyard for a sand pit, complete with buckets, spades and moulds.
  • On warm days, set up a water play activity in the back yard or courtyard. Different sized containers, watering cans and empty plastic bottles can provide hours of fun. ALWAYS supervise children around water.

What’s the golden rule of open-ended play?

Allow your child to lead the play – you’re simply their partner in creative crime!

(This post is sponsored by Play-Doh – buy in store or online at Kmart, Target, Big W, Mr Toys or Toys R Us)

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