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The benefits of open-ended toys

child in a cardboard box free open-ended toy
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The benefits of open-ended toys

child in a cardboard box free open-ended toy
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stick the ultimate open-ended toy

What do we mean by ‘open-ended toys’?

Toy companies tell us that in order to optimise our children’s development we must buy specially designed educational toys. However, this is the opposite of what play experts have found. Children and babies learn more when exploring everyday objects; particularly natural objects, such as sticks, pine cones, stones than fancy toys. These simple objects and open-ended toys offer a huge variety of play opportunities.

Open-ended toys offer endless variety of play opportunities. They encourage free play and creativity not bounded by limitations nor the intentions of the manufacturers.  Open-ended toys include, for example, sand, clay, blocks, loose parts, blankets, play silks.

Play matters

It is through play that children learn. They learn new skills, test boundaries, learn social expectations, and also process and cope with emotional events all through play. Teachers recognise that children absorb information and develop understanding best when teaching is playful. But for a child to truly gain from play, it needs to be free, self directed, open-ended and purposeful. So this kind of play happens much less often with the predetermined rules or expectations that closed-toys present.

Open-ended vs closed-ended

Car garages, Spider-Man figurines and puzzles are all closed-ended. They have rules and expectations on how to play and therefore limit the child’s imagination and creativity. For example, Spider-Man can only be Spider-Man. However, an open-ended toy, such as a wooden peg doll or a Grapat Nim can be a farmer, child, nurse, princess or Spider-Man! The play potential of these toys is more versatile than that of more prescriptive toys.

Are open-ended toys expensive?

The key here is to find a balance. All children occasionally want a flashy toy, or their favourite character, and that is fine. However, you can ensure there are also enough plenty of open-ended play resources in the mix. 
Open-ended toys can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. Sometimes the most inspiring items are actually common household objects; for example, children a cardboard box entertains children for hours! 

Treasure baskets are hugely valuable, and cost effective play objects, and you can often put them together from found objects! Even some of the more expensive open-ended toys are often cost-effective in the long term. Your child will grow out of favourite when their interests move on. Consequently leaving those character toys redundant in a relatively short time; often only months or a couple of years. On the other hand open-ended toys inspire play for longer; children adapt the ways that they play with them as they get older so they can offer years of fun.

When you’re looking to buy toys for your children, perhaps for birthday gifts, I highly recommend thinking about open-ended toys.


​Kristy Munday: Raising Myself and ToddlerCalm Cambourne

I’m Kristy; Mummy to Lana and wife to James. We live just outside Cambridge. I’m passionate about becoming compassionate in all aspects of my life; to children, adults, the environment and animals. I love being outside in nature when it’s not too rainy, cold or hot. I also enjoy watching a movie, reading a book and generally sitting doing nothing. My role is supporting parents through their most challenging times, helping them parent their way with confidence, compassion and consciousness.


Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Baby play, Child learning & development, Childhood play & learning, Toddler play
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