What Is Open-Ended Play?

We often hear the term “open-ended play” loosely thrown around. We are told that this is the best kind of play… but what does it actually mean and how do we do it?
Open-ended play is play which is not limited to just one or two scenarios. It is open-ended and the game/activity/environment can change as the child’s imagination changes. For example, a stick from the garden will cause open-ended play as it can be a fishing rod, whipper-snipper, sword or lance. Whereas an electronic game-pad only allows a game with a set of predetermined rules to be played.
Providing children with resources that are open-ended will enhance their cognitive development and draw on their imagination. This will provide the basis for them to discover their own personalities and develop their own interests. It has been proven time and time again that extending on a child’s interest through their play will dramatically enhance their learning. Children’s enthusiasm for learning will grow as they can closely relate to what is being taught. Children will naturally become more engaged and wanting to learn.

By learning, I’m not talking about sitting in a classroom, I’m talking about playing in the garden, at the park or around the home. I’m talking about the lessons that can only be gained from experience – watching bugs, playing with sand, collecting leaves, stones and flowers.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on resources or toys to give your child/children the best foundation for learning and play. You may be pleasantly surprised to find you already have the key ingredients for open-ended play. Check outside or down the park and you will find an abundance of fantastic resources at your loved one’s fingertips. Check out natures playground to find these awesome (and free) toys:
• Sand
• Water
• Rocks
• Sticks
• Gravel
• Leaves

All these natural and readily available resources are classed as “open-ended” play materials as they can be one of many things. Each child will interpret their own use and this may even change from one play experience to another. Providing children with basic gardening tools is one way that offers that opportunity to explore these diverse materials.
I have spoken about wooden blocks before and the importance they have in a child’s life. I am yet to meet a child that has lost interest in them or doesn’t use their imagination during play. I know this because as the child grows, so does the type of masterpiece they create with their blocks. Why wouldn’t you invest in something long term for children if that’s possible? I mean, how often do children outgrow toys or they are no longer cool enough? Too often for my budget if you ask me!

Open-ended play allows children to grow and reach their potential. They are not limited by the primary function of the toy, but limited by their imagination. Toys which provide opportunities for open-ended play tend to have a longer playing life and certainly captures children’s attention for longer. If you find that your loved one is not engaged by an open-ended resource, try to encourage their imagination. Sometimes children need a small amount of prompting to get their creativity flowing (particularly children that are not used to using imagination). Sit down with them, get them (and their siblings) started, then sit back and watch as they take charge. Next time you’re in the garden, throw a shovel or rake in front of your loved one and get them involved. They will learn so much from it and create memories that will last a lifetime.