The Importance of Open Ended Play (and Toy Inspiration)

Open Ended Play Speech Therapy

Open ended play is a critical aspect of childhood development! It gives students opportunities to explore ideas and concepts. I incorporate as much as I can in therapy sessions and am always on the lookout for open ended toys to use with my students. As a therapist (and parent), I prefer open ended toys because they are much more flexible and a wide range of ages are interested in them. I get much better use out of them opposed to close ended toys!

Read about what open ended play is, why it’s important, and discover some open ended toy ideas!

What is open ended play?

Open ended play is unstructured with no determined outcome. There are no rules or expectations – instead children can play freely. It allows for creativity and imagination because of the many play possibilities! As a general rule, open ended toys don’t take batteries, but rather rely upon the child’s manipulation and creativity.

Why is open ended play important?

There are many benefits and learning opportunities with open ended play. It allows children to be creative, role play, problem solve, take risks, learn through trials and error, and so much more! Open ended play scenarios are awesome language opportunities to teach new concepts and vocabulary. They promote interaction and encourage conversation!  In addition, when a child is engaging in role play, it helps with social and emotional development. They are able to explore and express a range of emotions and learn to read others emotions and social cues. It opens up opportunities to learn empathy, memory, flexibility, and self-regulation.

Some children, particularly those on the autism spectrum, tend to play in a rigid, structured way. Modeling various ways to play with open ended toys allows them to benefit from learning these skills in a functional and natural way.

Open ended toy ideas:

MAGNETIC BUILDING TILES – Build structures, vehicles, food, animals…and incorporate other toys with the tiles! Great for older kids and highly durable!

MARBLE RUN – Also great for older kids! Building a marble run requires higher level thinking and logical skills.

BLOCKS/LEGOS – You can use blocks and Legos for so much more than building towers! Create a pen for farm animals, build a car, create a whole city, or pretend a block is food!

PLAY KITCHEN WITH FOOD – Feed a stuffed animal, play restaurant, have a tea party, or pretend to go grocery shopping. I have a post with many ideas on using a play kitchen.

STUFFED ANIMALS/PUPPETS – Pretend to feed them, give the stuffed animal a bath, take them to the vet, or put on a puppet show!

CARS/TRAINS – Build a city with blocks and drive the cars around. Make a pretend car wash or race the cars. Build a train track and have a doll be the conductor and load up the train cars.

PLAYHOUSE WITH DOLLS –  One of my favorites! Really, the possibilities are endless. A dollhouse is a functional toy for role-play or pretend play! I have a post on all the fantastic ways to use a dollhouse!

DRESS UP – Have a dress up box of costumes, articles of clothing, and accessories. These make for perfect pretend play or role play activities.

PLAY DOUGH – Create things with play dough! There are play dough sets, so you purchase them. But you can incorporate other items to expand play, such as toy food, people, or cars. For example, make food from the play dough, bake it in the kitchen oven, and feed it to the stuffed animal!

SENSORY BINS – Have at least 3 items for the child to manipulate. For example, beans, shovels, flowers, sand, shells, scoops, water, bath toys, and sensory beads. If you’re unfamiliar with sensory bins, read this post!

Thanks for reading!
What are your favorite open ended toys? Let me know below!

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The Importance of Open Ended Play

One Response

  1. I find it amazing to learn that giving a child some blocks that he could play with with a young age can help them solve problems or become creative. My cousin is looking for a gift that he could give his niece for her birthday. I’ll be sure to let him know about open-ended play and how it can help his relative!

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