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What Is Meant By Open Ended Play?

Increasingly, studies on children’s development are demonstrating that open-ended, self-directed play is vitally important for children’s well-being and development.

A child engaged in open-ended play is simply going with the flow. He is exploring open-ended materials — objects that have multiple uses and infinite possibilities.  A block can be a car, phone, doll’s chair, ice-cream bar or any number of other things in play. There are no expectations, no specific problems to solve, no rules to follow, and no pressure to produce a finished product. It's all about free play — the freedom to invent and discover with little adult intervention.


Open-ended materials, when left alone, do nothing in particular but come to life in the hands of a child. Materials that require the child to use their imagination or their experiences. A block that is shaped and painted like a tree is more likely to be played with as a tree, however a simple wooden block can be transformed into any multitude of things. While there is value in having the tree-shaped block, open-ended materials greatly enhance the play experience as they require the child to bring themselves into the play experience in a deeper way.

What Are The Differences Between Open-Ended Resources And Made-For-Purpose Toys?

Made-for-purpose toys are often single-purpose – think puzzles or games which have a pre-determined conclusion (a puzzle is completed, a game has a winner). In contrast, in a child’s hands a stick can be anything they want it to be – a horse, a guitar, a magic wand, a tool to make marks with in the sand or soil, or part of a den-building project. 

Open-ended resources are multi-use and encourage a child to use their imagination and creativity. These could include things such as wooden blocks, a range of fabrics, a lump of clay, milk crates, shells, paper and a range of mark-making tools, pebbles and stones, water, cardboard boxes – the list is endless.

Blocks are particularly good resources because of their ability to be turned into anything the children want to create. They support children to develop motor skills; communication and language; mathematical vocabulary and concepts; self-control and concentration – as well as creativity, imagination and exploration. They can also be incorporated into all areas of play, including with water, sand and role play.

We want busy children, not busy toys!

I love this article by fairy dust teaching as I think it explains the benefits to open-ended play in comparison to closed resources perfectly. I always cite the farm example when speaking to parents about our ethos. 

What children are doing when they are playing with open-ended resources:

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