Make the Switch to Open-Ended Toys this Christmas By Sheila O’Reilly
Hands up if you’ve ever bought presents that were played with for five minutes and then sat on a shelf gathering dust for the next 12 months??! Or you find your child having so much fun with the box that your expensive toy was delivered in?? When I first became a mum, this was definitely the situation in our house and the cupboards quickly filled up with lots of unloved toys!
This all changed however, when I discovered the wonderful world of open-ended toys and open-ended play. I ditched the battery-operated toys with their novelty tricks and sounds, in favour of simple, open-ended toys and I watched my children begin to play and learn in a much more meaningful way.
What is open-ended play? It is play with no direction, no rules and no interference. It is all about letting your child use their imagination free from predefined limits…And that is why the big, empty cardboard box is so appealing!! The options are limitless! My girls always ask for the delivery boxes to play with. They usually get out the paints to decorate them as rocket ships, cars, houses, whatever they feel like playing in that moment.
There are so many educational benefits to playing with simple, open-ended toys. Children have the opportunity to develop their oral language and communication skills. Rather than the toy entertaining the child, the child uses the toy in creative play, which involves interactions with others, opportunities to develop their problem-solving and concentration skills and build resilience. They also have opportunities to build their social and emotional skills through co-operative play, compromising, negotiating, developing empathy, and learning how to manage conflict and disagreements. All of which are valuable life skills!
That is why we are such huge fans of tickit® Education’s open-ended and sustainable resources. Some of our best loved toys include the Wooden Rainbow Architect sets. The sets include Architect Squares, Rectangles, Arches, Triangles and Houses. My girls have used these sets to build castles, zoos, houses, cakes, create flat lay pictures, pens for animals, filled with loose parts to create patterns and so much more. There really is no end to the play possibilities when children are using their imaginations!
Another brilliant open-ended resource is wooden figures. Rather than buying specific character figures, plain figures can be any character that your child imagines them to be. My girls have used the Wooden Community figures and the Rainbow Community figures in all sorts of play set ups, from family play to fairytale characters, princesses and superheroes! They’ve also used figures to pretend to be themselves, which has been brilliant for role playing different situations and encouraging discussions on their feelings and emotions.
They also love to play with their Rainbow Wooden loose parts. They’ve used them to make rainbows, decorate cakes, make flowers and grass in small world set ups, used them in potion making and I’ve used them to help the girls explore Maths concepts including counting one-to one correspondence, simple addition and subtraction, making number sets, subitizing (recognising an amount without having to count), sequencing and making patterns, and exploring fractions.
Building blocks are another brilliant (and in my opinion, essential) open-ended toy for children. We have many different wooden block sets that have been played with regularly since my eldest was a toddler (8/9 years ago!) Building blocks are fantastic for developing fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, spatial awareness and creative play. Some of our favourite sets include the Mirror Blocks and Rainbow Blocks. And like the Architect sets, they have been used to build castles, houses, towers and many other buildings for imaginative play!
When you are buying toys for Christmas this year, consider the play value of the toys. Will your child be bored of it by the end of Christmas Day? Also consider how the toy you are purchasing will impact your child’s development.
It is really remarkable what children can learn through their play. As Swiss scientist and developmental psychologist Jean Piaget said, “Play is the work of childhood.”
Witten by Sheila O’Reilly, mum to two girls and a Primary School Teacher.