What is it?
How can I provide open-ended play opportunities?
I will be answering and explaining frequently asked questions that I receive about open-ended play in this post.
What is Open-ended Play?
I’m going to answer this question as simply and easily as possible, children are naturally curious and explore the world around them through play experiences. This is why experiencing learning through play is so valuable. Open-ended play can be described as play that has no pre-determined limitations, children simply lead with their imagination to allow the play to go in any direction their creativity and interests at that time, takes them. As there are no set outcomes, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with open-ended play.
One of the most valuable assets to open-ended play is that its not limited by developmental stages, milestones or ages. How your child explores the world, toys and resources that you provide will be completely controlled and determined by them. Children as they grow, yearn for independence and control, the more open-ended play opportunities available to them the more that will be fulfilled. With play that emphasizes the process or experience rather than the final product children will be able to build on who they are as a person and what interests and makes them happy.
What are the benefits to Open-ended Play?
Providing opportunities for children to lead their own play that supports their early development will have long lasting benefits for your child/children in so many ways.
- Helps build confidence and self-esteem; Fear of making mistakes is one of the greatest barriers to learning – adults experience this as well. Open ended play provides a low stress environment where children can take risks. Play is one space where it is safe to make mistakes. This makes play one of the greatest tools for learning. Open ended play can teach children that it is okay to make mistakes, and that making mistakes is one of the most important ways we learn.
2. Helps build social and emotional intelligence ; As children communicate with one another or parental figures in open ended play, they learn how to read social cues and respond appropriately. They are able to do this because of the low stress environment created by open ended play. Children explore a range of emotions through pretend play, and its a great opportunity to help highlight those and honour those processes throughout. As they express and respond to the emotions expressed by their peers and adults, they develop emotional intelligence.
3. Allows children to teach themselves; when your child/children are playing and exploring, you will see that they are teaching themselves through their play. They will discover physics theories, language, discovery with their senses, the list goes on and on.
How can I provide Open-ended Play opportunities ?
My two suggestions to help provide Open-ended Play opportunities more often for your child/children involves which toys, resources, and materials are provided for them to play with as well as environmental and routine changes that can help support open-ended play.
Part 1 ; What kinds of materials and play equipment encourage open-ended play?
Simple materials can provide so many possibilities for developing and fostering your child’s creativity and imagination. Here are some examples of toys, materials and resources that are considered open-ended. You probably already own many!
Blocks: There’s no one way to play with blocks, making them the perfect foundation for open-ended play. Because there are so many different blocks on the market I recommend starting your child’s collection with blocks that can be versatile and provide many opportunities to explore at different ages and stages.
Play–Doh: Play-Doh is probably already in your home or you can easily whip up a home made batch. Your child can create anything and everything out of Play-Doh that they can think of! I love setting up invitations to play with Play-Doh to help spark the creativity and or set the stage for a theme I would like to introduce, you can also pair it with items that your child’s interested in.
Small toy vehicles, characters and animal figures : Your child/children can create their own amazing worlds with these kinds of small toys if left to their own devices. I love to create dinner small world, and active world invitations for Amadeo and the children in my programs. Especially if your child/children are older and they aren’t used to playing and creating with their imagination setting up play invitations can be the little spark they need to continue and use their creativity and imagination to continue on the play on their own.
Boxes, cardboard tubes, empty bottles: Your child/children 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/ Sensory bases: I’ll use the example of sand, with Amadeo I use kinetic sand in his play invitations because it is the kind of excellent shape-shifter that children will be able to see all sorts of possibilities in.
Water : Most children LOVE exploring and playing with water and it’s a simple way to foster open-ended play. You can set up intentional opportunities or just know that during bath time they are developing and fostering those imagination and creative juices in their brain. Please be sure to always closely supervise kids when they play with water.
Craft materials: Glue, paper, feathers, paint, glitter (the herpes of craft materials lol). Providing these materials with no specific outcome is one of the best ways for open-ended play, creativity and imagination to be fostered.
Part 2 : 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 child/children to explore and create on their own, as much as possible.
You can help foster open-ended play by:
Scheduling free time: Free time is key, allowing your child to explore with materials and toys in their own time and in their own way.
Reducing screen-time: I’m a believer in having a balance of both, I have screen time and sometimes just the tv playing in the back ground while we do an activity or play in the other room, but finding the balance with your specific, child/ children will be key to helping support their open-ended play opportunities.
Avoiding micro-management: Allow your child the time and space to act out the possibilities of the play and take action – without your help.
Open-ended Play is appropriate for all ages, remember it is providing opportunities for your children to lead their exploration and discovery of what toys, materials, and resources are in front of them.