Has this happened to you? A beautifully wrapped toy is given to the child and the child leaves the toy aside and ends up playing with the cardboard box it came in instead? I am sure this scene has played out in your parenting life at least once so far. What is it about nondescript materials like boxes, kitchen tools, and fabrics that attract a child’s attention so much?
All of these are open-ended in nature and provide the child with an opportunity to manipulate the materials in any way he likes. This type of open-ended play allows the child to express through play. Express how he likes things, what order he wants to put these materials in, how he wants to build using these, or mimic the world he sees around him.
And while you don’t need many toys for your child to make such creative games of his own, a few well-placed open-ended toys can allow the child the tools he needs to express his creativity through play.
WHAT IS OPEN ENDED PLAY?
Open-ended play or free play is play that has no rules or instructions. The child is free to use his creativity and imagination and play a means to express. There is no right or wrong way to play when using open-ended toys.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF OPEN-ENDED TOYS?
- Boosts creativity and imagination.
- Allows the child an opportunity to practice independent play.
- Encourages problem-solving.
- Good for motor skills.
- Encourages communication and expression.
- Allows the child to interact and learn from his environment.
- Social and emotional skills development when child practices role play.
- Teaches the child self-regulation.
Disclaimer: Before we discuss different types of open-ended toys you must note that all play must be monitored by adults. Especially when the child is still mouthing toys, some of these toys can pose a choking hazard. Never leave the child alone with toys that contain small parts. Better yet, buy age-appropriate toys. I mention the appropriate age for each toy listed below as a reference.
THE BEST OPEN-ENDED TOYS FOR TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS
Stackers can be the first open-ended toys your child is introduced to. They encourage hand-eye coordination, the beautiful rainbow colors attract and hold the child’s attention. Besides rainbow stackers add a level of whimsy to the child’s playroom.
As the child grows older he can use the rainbow stackers in different ways in pretend play games. These are a must-have in every child’s toy collection.
Including different types of blocks is another great way to keep a toddler busy in independent play. For younger toddlers start with Mega Bloks (Age 1-3) Lego Duplo (Age 2-4) gradually moving on to Lego Classic (age 4 and above)
Blocks are one of the most versatile toys that can be used by children for many years. Toddlers and Preschoolers use such blocks to sort by color, arrange in order, build, create scenes during pretend play. The play ideas with blocks are limitless.
One type of toy that is very effective in helping with fine motor skills is a construction set. Toddlers need to use their fingers and wrists in a very coordinated manner to get the construction set to work. You can start with this type of builder set for younger children ages 3 and above and as the child grows older you can move on to more complex construction sets like this one.
Magnetic Tiles are creative open-ended toys that encourage hours of independent play. A good time to introduce magnetic tiles is after age 3. The child by now has stopped mouthing toys and is more interested in creating larger builds using blocks. The magnetic tiles don’t fall off if the child builds larger and larger designs.
These are usually an investment buy, but well worth the price in my eyes since we have used this toy the most since we bought it.
Toddlers can start with simple finger painting and as they grow older try using different natural materials like cotton balls, leaves, flowers, or vegetable skins for art or different techniques like wet on wet painting.
Children love painting and playing with colors. Not only is art good for fine motor skills it also helps the child calm down and feel more relaxed.
Rolling, molding, and pinching the dough into different shapes improves fine motor skills. In fact, playing with play-doh is recommended as a pre-writing exercise.
All such activities that involve the use of hands help the child feel more calm and confident in his being which is why such activities as art and play-doh should be part of the daily toddler routine.
Wooden Figurines or Animal Sets
These beautiful wooden animals and peg dolls are perfect for endless pretend play games. You can include them in different sensory bins for the child or the child can dress the dolls, paint them, play little people games. Such toys bring the child’s creative play alive.
Pretend Play Sets
Every toddler and preschooler goes through phases of obsession with a particular theme mimicking real life. You may find your toddler trying to set up a pretend restaurant, kitchen or playing pretend doctor games. Invest in a few good quality pretend play sets that the child enjoys and watch how the creativity and imaginative play flows.
If your toddler or preschooler is obsessed with vehicles, there is no better option than different types of vehicles as open-ended toys. Here are some really cool vehicle sets I am sure your toddler will love;
Sensory play helps the child find his calm on a rough day. Build a sandpit or set up a sandbox with kinetic sand with some tools like toy shovels or scoops. Depending on what interests your child you can add as many toys to create a fun and engaging sand bin for the child. Ideas like themed sand bins are also a great way for the child to learn as he plays.
At other times you don’t even necessarily need toys to create an open-ended play environment for your child. You can build a tray with bits and bobs from the house like bottle caps, some threads, silky scarves, different shaped stones or seashells, small twigs from the garden and create an invitation for the child to play and use these materials in his play. To know more about how you can use loose parts in play read here.
I hope these ideas help you set up a creative play space for your child. You don’t need all of these, just a few that you feel your child may enjoy and then watch the child use these in different ways.
Do write to me in the comments what open-ended toys your child loves to play with? Did I miss any?