How to Encourage Open-Ended Play
Our littlest kiddos often need very little encouragement to inspire open-ended play – after all the whole world is their playroom and every item a potential plaything. Older children who haven’t had much experience with open-ended toys might need a bit more support to get going. Whether our kids are novices or seasoned pros it’s always fun and interesting to mix things up.
Here are some ideas on how to make your home an open-ended play zone.
1. Provide downtime. Open-ended play will thrive when our children are allowed space and time to mellow, relax and be bored. We don’t need to fill every moment of the day with planned activities. Allowing the time to be bored will encourage innovation and creativity.
2. Invest in open-ended toys. Mindfully select open-ended toys to bring into your home. Think about how a new toy might fit with your existing collection. How will this toy extend play? Fill a gap? Or provide a new experience?
3. Less is more. To encourage independent play a limited selection is often preferable and should be easy to access. Kids face overwhelm when there are too many options available. They’re far more likely to get stuck into meaningful play when there are less items to choose from. Toy rotations are a great way to achieve this while having a wider range of toys tucked away to switch out and keep things fresh and fun.
4. Create an Invitation to play. An invitation to play serves as a jumping off point to get play going. If it brings you joy, that might be an elaborate set up creating a small world to delight your youngster. For my children that would be an “invitation to destroy” and it’s more effective to set out the parts and entice them to build something themselves. Equally you might set out a sensory bin or a “tinker tray” with a range of loose parts to explore.
5. Start playing yourself. Nothing encourages my children to play with a toy more than seeing me playing with it first. Inevitably if I make a start, there’s soon a pair of hands or two wanting to help and often that leads to taking over and going in their own direction. Yay, objective met!
6. Get outside. I think anyone who spends much time with kids will know how magic getting outside can be to break a funk and blow away the cobwebs. The same can apply to a play rut. Have you tried taking indoor toys outside? There’s a whole new world of possibilities.
7. Let your child take lead. Let them play how they choose without direction. Let them be in charge and tell YOU the rules. Follow their interests and go with it. YOU might be sick of dinosaurs, but you can bet your 4 year old isn’t just yet!
8. Allow mistakes and mess to happen. There’s a lot of learning in making a mistake and fixing it yourself. Don’t help to fix something unless they ask you for help. And if they do ask for help, try to solve the problem first with leading questions, or do the minimum required to keep momentum going.
Put some of these ideas into practice and watch as your children gain confidence and spend more time engrossed in independent play. I’d love to hear what works in YOUR home!