With my son’s birthday approaching, relatives and friends started asking the usual, “What would Onetime like for his birthday this year?”
Let me start off by saying that our family and friends are incredibly generous and have always gone out of their way to spoil my son with gifts.
However, as Onetime approaches age 5, I’ve come to realize that he really only plays with a few toys regularly, his Magnatiles, his Lego, and just about anything out of our recycling box!
It’s no surprise to me. These are the most open-ended of his toy collection and they inspire deep, meaningful play experiences.
But what can you do when your child gets close-ended toys as gifts? How can you recognize them and then make them more engaging?
Read on to find 5 great tips to help you maximize the play potential of those toys!
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In order to start maxing your child’s play with their toys, you’ve got to first be able to tell the difference between an open-ended toy and a close-ended toy.
What is an Open-Ended Toy vs. a Close-Ended Toy?
- Have more than one “right” way to play with them.
- Rely on the child’s imagination and creativity instead of instructions and rules.
- Can almost always be played with immediately “right out of the box.”
Open-ended toys rarely…
- Require batteries.
- Have extensive rules or instruction sheets.
- Show a picture of a finished “product” on the box that the child is meant to create.
Test Your Knowledge!
Think you got it? Take my quiz to see if you can tell the difference!
Are You Toy Wise?
0-3: You are a Toy-Wise Novice: Oops! Take a peek again at the criteria for open-ended toys. Tip: Close-ended toys are often packaged in flashy or highly-branded and advertised packaging.
4-7: You are a Toy-Wise Apprentice: You’re learning the difference between open and close-ended toys, but need some more examples. Keep reading this post!
8-10: You are a Top Toy-Wise Expert: Way to go! You understand the difference between open-ended and close-ended toys and appreciate the value in providing your child with the benefits of open, unstructured and self-directed play experiences!
What are the Benefits of Open-Ended Toys?
Play with open-ended toys…
1. Boosts creativity.
Because there are no instructions to follow, your child must supply her own imagination to fuel the play. Every time she plays with the toy, it can be a unique experience!
2. Allows kids to problem solve.
Kids first have to decide how to play with the toy, then they have to figure out whether the unique features of the toy will let them accomplish what they want, and last they will be problem-solving continually as they engage with the toy in their play.
3. Allows kids to flex their artistic design skills.
Whether creating a new structure out of Lego, or a huge play fort out of straws and connectors, many open-ended toys require skill in visualization. Kids have to picture how the parts move in space and will connect to create the 3D shapes they want.
4. Meets the child’s developmental needs.
The best part of open-ended toys is that they tend to last for a very long time because kids play with them in a way that suits their developmental level and understandings.
For example, just think about the number of kids (nevermind adults!) who still enjoying playing with Lego even after 5+ years.
Developmentally appropriate toys naturally lead to a more enjoyable play experience for the child, with less frustration and more learning!
5 Changeover Tips:
How to Make Your Child’s Toys More Fun and Engaging!
1. Put the instructions away.
While there are definitely benefits for kids in learning to follow instructions to create a model or to complete a task, when kids are young, they benefit much more from playing with toys that are open-ended in nature.
I have also noticed at home and in my school library that kids are much more proud of creating something when they came up with the idea, than if they followed directions to build someone else’s plan.
2. Use only part of the toy.
Sometimes you can easily change a close-ended toy to an open-ended toy by removing certain parts or pieces.
eg. Ditch the train track table that prescribes how to set up the track, and provide only the tracks and pieces.
eg. Lose the colouring sheets in favour of plain paper, and keep the paints, crayons, or pencil crayons.
3. Allow kids to mix up their toys and/or kits.
Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to keep all your building toys separate, why not allow your child to mix and match? You may be surprised at what they create when they think outside of the box (literally!)
4. Resist the urge to show your child how to use it.
I know, I know. You want to play too!
But your kids have their own ideas.
Instead, try saying something like, “Hmmm…I wonder how you could use this?” or “What could you do/make/build with these?”
Then just sit back, relax, and watch the creativity flow!
5. Stick with having only a few toys out at a time.
Sometimes, the more choices a child has, the harder it is for them to really engage in play with any one toy. Creativity often blossoms when restrictions are placed on the number of toys available.
Why not try putting many of your child’s toys away for a little while (while reassuring them that it’s only temporary), and instead rotate having a few great open-ended toys out for a few weeks at a time.
Best Open-Ended Toys: A Wish List!
- Wooden building blocks (These KEVA Structures blocks were a huge hit with the elementary students at my library last year).
- Magnetic construction sets (my favourites are Magna-Tiles ).
- Construction sets (think LEGO, TINKERTOYS , Straws and Connectors )
- Dress-up clothes.
- Art supplies (avoid craft kits).
- Empty cardboard boxes.
What is your child’s favourite open-ended toy? Leave a comment below – I’d love to add it to my list!
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To a happy playtime!