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Getting Started with Open-Ended Play

Open-ended play is the one of the most important gifts we can give our children, and is at the heart of the Waytoplay philosophy. If you would like to work on facilitating open-ended play in your family, here are some tips to help you get started and some resources for further encouragement and guidance. 


What Is Open-Ended Play? 

Open-ended play is just play that has...an open end. It’s play where the kids do the thinking and NOT the toys. Toys that have a button that gets pushed over and over are not open-ended. Toys that the CHILD decides how they will be used and there are many ways to use them is open-ended play. That’s it! It doesn’t need to be complicated, and in fact the more simple, the more scope for imagination! 

 

Think About the Toys You Have in your Home

Chances are you already have some open-ended toys at your house, but they may not be played with if you have toys that do all the work for the kids and they just “sit and get”. Toys that are open-ended will encourage children to problem solve, imagine, and become inventors and deep thinkers in a way that toys that only entertain cannot. It’s a simple concept, but because of the consumer culture today, it takes us as parents some problem solving, imagining, and deep thinking as well in order to create an environment of authentic open-ended play. If you are having trouble with getting your kids to play with the toys you want them to play with, read these tips to help you troubleshoot why they are not playing and what to do about it.

Take Inventory and Gradually Phase Out your “Entertainment” Toys. 

There are lots of things you can read about open-ended play that make the whole process sound difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. Set aside some time when you can look around your house and start slowly getting rid of toys that are not open-ended.  Depending on the age of your child and how firm their attachment is to the toys you want to give away, this will take patience. I do NOT suggest removing every toy like this at once (unless you have a baby and they do not yet have these attachments) because your child also needs to change their mindset and form positive relationships with other toys before you take away the current ones. What I have done in the past is put them away in a bag for a for a period of time, and if they do not ask about them, I then get rid of them for good. There may be a season where you have some of each and that is okay. If you are moving in the right direction, don’t worry about how long the process takes.

 

Give Open-Ended Toys a Prominent Spot in your Home

Not only does putting open-ended toys in an important location show that you value those things as a family, it ensures that they are seen all the time, and thus get played with more often. Look around your house and find the things you use the most….is it a kitchen appliance, a television, a computer, or a bookshelf? Chances are these things are in very prominent places and you have made special effort to make them beautiful and set apart because you use them so much. Do the same with your open-ended toys and you will start to see a change. The hardest part about this whole process will be getting into a different mindset, and after that, the rest will follow. 

 

 

Help Kids Form Positive Relationships with the Toys You DO Want Them to Play With

One of the best ways to kick start open-ended play is to do something really special with some of your open-ended toys to give your kids ideas and help them have a positive emotion when they see or think about the open-ended toys. The key ingredient in this is YOU. Play WITH them, and show them just how fun open-ended play can be. Think up a fun adventure with costumes, a building session where you build a whole city with blocks and roads, or a creative art project. The things we gravitate to the most as kids (and adults) are often times the things we have the most happy memories doing with people who love us. You can work backward and help your child form these positive attachments to their open-ended toys by creating special memories with them.

 

Follow The “I Do, We Do, You Do” Principle

Start by leading these open-ended activities yourself if your kids are not used to open-ended play and need some help brainstorming, but slowly encourage them to make more decisions to where you are playing parallel and finally where they feel confidant enough to play with or without you! Just today, my daughter kept bringing things in from outside and was coming up with food names for grass, rocks, and leaves. She needed to see my excitement and i helped her brainstorm a bit, but after gaining a bit more confidence with something new her imagination took off! 

 

Encourage a Growth Mindset

The hardest part about open-ended play is not giving up when there is a road block, but instead looking at play as an opportunity to take exciting risks in a safe environment, where experimentation and setbacks are natural and even a positive part of the process. This can be the place where things break down (for kids AND parents) and it is the most important time to show excitement and a playful sense of adventure on your end. Instead of reacting out of frustration ourselves with an annoyed “figure it out” attitude what they need is a “Oh wow! Look at what you are doing and that’s a really interesting challenge” kind of attitude. Our kids will ultimately take their cues from us and can read between the lines if we are faking it. If we use the right words and buy open-ended toys but our kids can tell by our attitude that we would rather they just leave us alone so we can scroll on our phone... open-ended play will NOT take off. We must spend the time and effort on the front end to encourage, model, and equip them with the mental tools they need to be successful. The rewards that show themselves in their lifelong creativity, ability to persist and problem solve, focused work ethic, and their can-do attitude will keep on giving throughout their lives if we stick with it and invest in helping them start down the road to open-ended play. Need visual ideas to get started? Check our our open-ended play Pinterest Board! 

Enjoy the Journey, 

Sarah

 


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