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Simple Toys, Complex Learning – Benefits of Open-Ended Play

Benefits of Open-Ended Toys, Photo: Children playing with blocks together

Selecting Toys for your Child:

When selecting toys for children, it is important to consider open-ended toys that foster creative play and help benefit the child’s development. The simplicity or complexity of a toy is directly correlated with the quality of play – which is what truly matters. Surprisingly, simple toys offer more opportunities for play and learning than more complex toys.

So, what is a simple toy? Consider this: The more a toy does the less your child does. So, simple toys will be multifunctional ones that encourage active learning and require your child to manipulate them before they work. They will spark imagination and curiosity while teaching problem solving. This includes (but is not limited to) blocks, dollhouses, puzzles, clay, stacking toys, art supplies, and musical instruments. The function these toys perform will be entirely dependent upon your child’s mood and creative interpretation.

Meanwhile, a complex toy that is activated with the push of a button has a more straightforward purpose and directed play. They are limited in functionality, usually only performing a handful of actions or sound effects. These are your battery powered, instant gratification kinds of toys – including screens. These toys are of course fun for a period, but do little to encourage creative exploration, imaginative play, or problem-solving. The more ways that a child can play with a single toy, the more they will learn.

Benefits of Simple Toys:

Simply put, open-ended toys result in open-ended play.

Open-ended toys encourage children to create and problem-solve, helping them to better understand the world around them. Simple toys make room for your child’s constantly evolving perspective of the world, encouraging more creative and complex play as they learn and grow. These toys will have developmental benefits for years to come.

Increased Peer Interactions

Better yet, when open-ended toys are utilized in a group setting with peers, they encourage social development and social interaction. Children must interact with one another to determine how they wish to use a multiuse toy. Furthermore, children use pretend play to explore various emotions, and they learn how to respond to the emotions of their peers. This encourages the development of emotional intelligence.

Grows Developmentally with the Child

How a child interacts with an open-ended toy at age 2 can differ from the investigative interactions with the same toy at age 4. For example, a 2-year old child may engage in stacking play with wooden blocks – this creative open-ended play can teach her about shapes while working to develop her fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity. Meanwhile, a 4-year old who engages in building, knocking down, and rebuilding various block towers is learning about math, physics, persistence, and problem-solving.

Cost-Effective (or even better, free!)

Some of the best open-ended toys are going to be recycled items from your home. These can include cardboard boxes, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, fabric scraps, Tupperware, or other household items. Build a castle out of boxes, make binoculars out of paper tubes – you can get creative with your child and help them to explore their world in new ways.

Having trouble getting your child interested in open-ended play?

Here are some simple tips to get them started: Be present – Sit with them and show them some ways to use the toys provided. Encourage your child to model stacking the blocks. Limit access to complex toys – Screen time and video games offer instant entertainment value but do not help develop your child’s critical thinking skills. The more opportunities your child has for engaging in open-ended play the better. Offer “loose-ends” to the open-ended toy bins – Items such as stones, shells, wooden figures, ribbons, etc. can all be incorporated into your child’s creative world (be sure to consider age appropriate sizes of loose-ends).

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