What is open-ended play?
Children are naturally curious and explore the world around them through play experiences. Open-ended play can be described as play that has no pre-determined limitations and no fixed answer – children simply follow their imagination to allow the play to go in any direction their creativity takes them. As there are no set outcomes, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with open-ended play.
Playing with open-ended materials with multiple uses and limitless possibilities, such as non toxic molding clay, fabric/ wooden puppets, kid safe crayons, wooden blocks and other loose parts, allow for imaginative play. There are no rules to follow, no expectations, no specific problems to solve, and no pressure to produce a finished product when engaging freely in open-ended play. In contrast, closed-ended activities have a determined outcome, a right answer, and a restriction on individual differences.
Benefits of Open Ended Play:
#1: OPEN ENDED PLAY IS A GREAT AVENUE FOR EXPLORATION
Children are natural born scientists, and they have an incredible ability to teach themselves so much! When we give our children the time and space for open-ended play, they get to test out ideas and concepts. In the featured image, the children are exploring gravity, physics, and design while playing with this Goki Set of wooden blocks. The fact that the base block need to be larger than what goes on top can only be learnt though open ended stacking toys or building bricks. Interlocking blocks will fail to teach this phenomenon.
#2 OPEN ENDED PLAY PROVIDES A LOW-STRESS ENVIRONMENT WHERE CHILDREN ARE LESS AFRAID OF MAKING MISTAKES
Fear of making mistakes is one of the greatest barriers to learning – in adulthood as well as childhood. 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. Imagination is enhanced, and the ability to think symbolically and abstractly builds creativity and intelligence and enhanced learning is a natural outcome. So, if you give your child a dress-up doll, they might put on the dungarees first and then the tshirt and realise its needs to be done in the reverse order, This can be a valuable life lesson and teach them that if they have an overaller or jumpsuit the t-shirt goes inside and the dungaree comes over that.
#3 OPEN ENDED PLAY HELPS CHILDREN DEVELOP SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
As children communicate with one another in open ended play, they learn how to read social cues and respond appropriately. They are able to do this because of the low stakes environment created by open ended play. Children explore a range of emotions through pretend play. As they express and respond to the emotions expressed by their peers, they develop emotional intelligence. Social and emotional abilities are developed as children role-play with “what-if” possibilities that strengthen their understanding of the world around them and consequences to actions. They also learn empathy, cooperation, problem solving, and leadership skills through make-believe play. The creative nature of open-ended play also enhances cognitive skills, such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to control emotions and behaviour, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
#4 OPEN ENDED PLAY PROMOTES SELF LEARNING
Listen in on your child’s play, and you will see that they are teaching themselves all sorts of interesting things through their play. Left alone with open ended material pre-schoolers were observed to have spent hours exploring numbers and one to one correspondence with a number bar. A pretend play pizza corresponds to the pie chart they just learnt about in school.
#5 OPEN ENDED PLAY CREATES THE IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCES TO DEVELOP HIGHER ATTENTION SPANS
Flow, also described as “the zone”, is a fully immersed mental state that optimizes learning. Open ended play is a wonderful way for children to enter this state. A child’s play provides structure, live feedback, and just enough challenge to keep them learning. Open-ended play activities have been found to be related to ideational fluency which allows children to be able to have more divergent reasoning and a greater variety of ideas when interacting with materials and others.
A balance of play materials enhances the quality of children’s play. It has been discovered that the attraction between nonrealistic and realistic play materials is related to the age of the child. Realistic props, such as dolls and play kitchens, are more desired by two- and three-year-olds, which encourage more symbolic play. Four-year-olds enjoy a blend of realistic and nonrealistic props. Five- and six-year-olds engage in more pretend play with nonrealistic materials. All children love age-appropriate art supplies, such as fabric, crayons, slates, paints, and scissors, stones, branches, which allow for hours of creative open-ended play
HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE OPEN ENDED PLAY?
#1 GET OUTSIDE
Nature is the perfect environment for inspiring open ended play. The more natural environments and materials kids are exposed to the better they learn
Items from nature: sticks, rocks, grasses, leaves, and nuts
#2 INVEST IN QUALITY TOYS
Always put a lot of thought into what you are giving your kids. They take it as an indication of what you might like them to do. A good indication of open ended play is something that can easily be shared. That if someone joins in, its looked at positively and a possibility of more fun! Also toys that can be mixed and matched. So, for example if you have a train track, you can add marbles and make it a marble run or run your play car over it. Place pretend animals beside it make it into a zoo.
Best Open Ended Play Toys: Finger puppets, wooden blocks, art supplies, non toxic clay, toy animals, pretend play items
To check out a wide range of open ended toys visit the website of Toyroom