What Is Open Ended Play

What is Open-Ended Play?

Open-ended play is any type of play that has no rules to follow and no ‘correct’ or fixed outcome; play is open-ended; the possibilities are infinite; there’s no win or lose situation and no signal to stop playing. OEP encourages children to be more imaginative and creative, it helps them to develop self-confidence and a sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity.


Does this mean Close-Ended Play is a bad thing?


No, not at all. If you think of Close-Ended Play as being the opposite of OEP, it is literally play with a goal in mind. That might be finishing a jigsaw puzzle, correctly colour sorting or matching, finishing some colouring in. Close-Ended Play develops problem-solving skills and encourages children to use logic in their play.


So which is best?


Neither. Both! Children need both types of play to fully develop their early years skills base!


What are the best toys to support Open-Ended Play?


· Building Blocks

· Play Silks/Cloths

· Wooden Figures/Dolls

· Dolls House

· Play Tray

· Magnetic Tiles

· Sensory Play Dough

· Loose Parts

· Arts and Crafts Materials

· Play Food/Play Kitchen

· Wooden Train Sets

· Bags and Baskets

· Balls/Marbles


Does that mean I have to buy a whole load of new toys?


No! Open-Ended Play materials can be pretty much anything, even things you’ve got lying around your house. (Remember to always ensure that whatever you let your child play with is safe for them to do so!)

You could use:

· Cardboard Toilet Rolls

· Empty Tissue Boxes

· Milk Bottle Tops

· Cardboard Boxes

· Newspapers/Magazines

· Chalk

· Pebbles

· Pinecones, Shells, Conkers

· Saucepans, Wooden Spoons

· Water

· Sponges, Jugs

· Dressing Up (any clothes, scarves, hats etc.)


You can support OEP by not telling your child what their play is.


For example, if they come to you with a picture they’ve drawn, avoid guessing what it is (“Is that a picture of a castle?”), because in doing so, you’re not giving them the opportunity to develop their language and social skills; you’re unintentionally projecting your opinion onto them, without first asking theirs; (you may also insult their proud sense of artistry if you blithely announce that their carefully-crafted picture of Mummy looks like a upside down frog!) if you do this, you’ll be fine in the short term, but long term, you’ll just end up with a cross and confused little person, so, instead, opt for something like: “That looks great! Can you tell me all about it?”

Open-ended questions are key to supporting your small person in enjoying their OEP. Here are few to have you in your mental handbook:


· “Why do you think that?”

· “What does that look like to you?”

· “How did you make this?”

· “What does this bit do?”

· “What else can you make?”

· “Can you tell me about that?”

· “What do you think would happen if…”


Actually, she says, going off on a slight tangent… I think open-ended questions are in themselves a crucial part of parenting young children. It’s something my mother taught me and it’s an approach I’ve come to use on a daily basis with my two children.


I find that open-ended conversations help both the children and I talk to each other in a calm way, and one that shows mutual respect and – the biggest bonus of all! - it also helps us avoid too many temper tantrums because, whilst it promotes child independence, as a parent you can still exercise management of a situation.


Remember that open-ended questions:

· Can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.

· Don’t have a correct answer.

· Encourage discussion, not short answers.

· Don’t assume anything.

· Allow independence.


So, for example, when it comes to snack time I will ask: “Would you like an apple, some cheese or some raisins?” – I have a sensible level of control over the situation (because I’m not even giving the option of “a milkshake, please Mummy!”) but I’ve also given my child the independence to choose from the options available. I’ll then follow up with something like “Ooh, good choice! What made you choose raisins today?” It’s a simple parenting tactic, but one that I swear by in keeping everyone happy!


Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Open-Ended Play. So, you’ve got your resources, you’re using open-ended questions but you’re perhaps not quite sure what to ‘do’? Don’t worry, I’ve got you.


Here are a few open-ended play ideas for you and your small people to enjoy!

· Create a fairy garden

· Play doctors/vets

· Make a marble run

· Have a teddy bears’ picnic

· Make a collage from old magazines

· Make a cardboard rocket/car/dolls house

· Make a loose parts picture

· Make instruments and play in your own orchestra

· Create a small world tray

· Make play dough monsters/flowers/people/food

· Dress up

· Ride a bike


What are you going to try next? As always, we love to hear from you and to see all your play ideas; so do tag @catkintoys and show off your Open-Ended Play!


Until next week! Xx

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