Open Ended Toys

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

I'm not an expert, but I just want to share the importance of open-ended toys based on my own research from many references (therapist, doctors, pediatricians, researcher & mom bloggers). Doctors and Pediatricians suggest an open-ended play approach, at least for the first five or six years.

Toys can be divided into two categories: Close-ended toys (structured toys) and the other is Open-ended toys (unstructured toys).

Close-ended toys are toys that have an end result or a specific goal. Some examples of closed-ended toys are puzzles, shape sorters, mazes, and coloring books.  Close-ended toys aren’t bad at all. Some are just as good and important as open-ended toys. i.e , puzzle develop:

  • Fine Motor Skills

  • Logic

  • Spatial Awareness, as well as

  • Problem Solving Skills

But in terms of their play-value alone, puzzles are limited. Sorting toys like put and take boxes will help develop the concentration. What a close-ended toy doesn’t offer is however room for the imagination as it requires your little one to interact with it in a certain way each time.

Let's talk about open-ended toys, what it means & why they're so beneficial.

photo by Tulusara

What is Open-ended Toys?

Open ended toys are toys that can be played with in multiple and variety of ways depending on the children, there are no “rules” to follow. They are often described as toys that are 90% child and 10% toy as they leave plenty of room for a child’s input. Ten children could be given the same toy and all ten of them would find different ways to play with it on different occasions based on their interests, developmental stage, natural abilities and imagination. The same toy can be used in multiple ways, and the way they use it will change as they grow. 

In addition, an open-ended toy should encourage critical thinking and questions such as:

  • I wonder how this looks if I put it here?

  • Does this fit together or not?

  • Will it roll or stay in place?

Wooden building blocks, loose parts, play food, doll’s house, playsilks and animals figures are all examples of open ended toys.

A key trait of open-ended toys is that they don’t have limitations on how they can be used. While close-ended toys, such as puzzles or coloring books, are good to build focus, work motor skills, problem-solving abilities and other skills, they are limited in their scope.

Benefits of Open-ended Play

Although there are a number of studies that generally agree play is important for child development, there are still a few studies that need to be done specifically on open-ended play. What researchers and mom bloggers alike have found so far is that open-ended play has some of the following benefits: