Playtime is vital in every child's development. Play might look like fun, but it's hard work! It’s through play that children learn, grow and explore. Exposing toddlers to unstructured play or open ended play helps them to develop essential life and developmental skills. It allows them to express themselves without any limitations or set outcomes.
Making sure that toddlers have the right kind of toys or materials to play with is important. Open ended toys allow toddlers to explore, learn and be creative in many different ways. They can help encourage critical thinking and develop skills like fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, and much more.
What is open ended play?
Open ended play is also known as loose parts play. It's a free form and flexible type of play. Children can make and create things using their imagination and creativity. They can ask questions, solve problems and reach the end result in many different ways. Open ended play allows children to direct their activities however they want, and gives them control over the outcome.
Why open ended play is good for toddlers
Develops cognitive skills
Open ended play allows children to direct the activity. One of the benefits of open ended play is learning how to solve problems. Toddlers are natural problem solvers. By 12 months, they're really starting to make connections and learn how things work. When they control and interact with loose parts or open ended materials, they’re encouraged to think of “what ifs.” It helps them test possible solutions to a problem through trial and error.
Close ended toys typically have just one way to use them. Examples of these types of toys are shape sorters. While toddlers love these types of toys as well, they develop different types of skills.
Enhances social and emotional skills
Open ended play in the early years can also develop a toddler’s social and emotional skills. They become more confident and independent. When toddlers direct their own play, they grow without restriction or fear of trying new things.
There are other benefits of loose parts play. One benefit is that it can encourage toddlers to interact with others. The unstructured nature of pretend play helps them become more inclusive. One study on childcare centres found that open ended play encouraged toddlers to share. They also worked together to complete tasks with a lot less conflict.
One childcare expert suggests that block play gives children a chance to take risks in creating new things. This open ended activity has no set outcome. So toddlers can play with it in countless ways. They can build a house, a tree or a multi level car park with these toys. When the task is completed to the toddler's satisfaction, they feel a sense of achievement. It also helps exercise their decision making abilities and boosts their self esteem. This is also true for many outdoor play activities like building with buckets and ropes where children can take calculated risks.
Improves communication and language skills
Play ideas like role playing opens opportunities to communicate with adults and peers, too. During pretend play games, toddlers can use simple toys to interact with other children. This type of communication helps to develop new vocabulary and language skills.
Develops motor skills
Open ended play can also stimulate a child’s physical development. It encourages active play as it is spontaneous and not bound by rules. It helps children develop gross and fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. They get to explore ways to move, build, and manipulate play materials like montessori open ended toys. You can find great examples of these at Hello Charlie.
How to encourage open ended play at home
Set up a space at home that encourages imagination and exploration for toddlers to enjoy open ended activities. Get involved yourself! Offer your toddler a toy and see what she does with it. Show them how to use the toy in different ways, and then leave it up to their imaginations to show you possibilities that you'd never thought of.
For sustainable toys that are suitable for open ended play, check out the range at Hello Charlie.