What are open ended toys and how they help with development

What are open ended toys

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What are open ended toys and why are they beneficial?

An open ended toy is a toy that can be played with in multiple ways and allows your child to explore and create without strict guidelines or end goals. 

They encourage your child to use their imagination and creativity to play and explore, rather than being restricted to a specific set of rules or functions.

I use open-ended materials in my Montessori classroom and in my home with my daughter. 

About 90% of my daughter’s toys are open-ended and I have seen the developmental impact they’ve had on her. 

One open ended toy we use a lot is wooden building blocks. My husband and I like to sit with her and make various structures like buildings, towers, and forts for her toy animals.

There are many benefits of open-ended toys but one particular benefit I’ve seen is how they foster spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and cognitive abilities. 

When my daughter builds towers with building blocks, she learns about balance, gravity, and cause-and-effect relationships naturally.

I will talk more about the benefits of open-ended toys and why you should consider them as part of your child’s learning environment.

11 benefits of open-ended toys

These are some of the benefits I’ve experienced with my daughter and I am positive that your child will benefit too.


1. Encourage exploration and engagement

My daughter can use her imagination and creativity to come up with different ways to play with them. 

Her most used toy is building blocks. She can create anything she wants with them and this has helped her develop her curiosity, problem-solving skills, and imagination.

It doesn’t matter how she uses her building blocks, as long as she continues to explore new ideas and creations.


2. Nurtures your child’s cognitive development and creativity

As a Montessori Guide, I want to continue to stimulate my daughter’s brain and help her learn new concepts and skills. 

She uses the same wooden blocks to make a fort for her toy animals or a road for her cars. And we also like to play with her to keep her creative juices going.

One way we do this is by asking her: “Can you make a tall fence so your lion does not escape its enclosure?”

This simple question will help her understand that the fence needs to be higher than the lion and she will use the building blocks in many creative ways to build an enclosure.


3. Your child develops better social skills and relationships

My toddler and many of her friends her age are learning how to share and take turns. Open ended toys encourage them to play together and share their ideas and feelings. 

One way your child can learn to share and work together with others is by giving them a set of Lego or Duplos and just letting them experiment.

Initially, they may fight over some of the pieces but if you let them be, you will be amazed by how well they will take turns, share, and communicate their ideas.


4. Improves your child’s independence

From personal experience, I think independence is one of the biggest benefits of open-ended toys.

As I mentioned before, there is no end goal with open ended toys so your child can play on their own and make their own decisions. 

If you give your child a basket of diverse toys like dolls, animals, and cars, they will find hundreds of ways to use them.


5. They help your child learn from mistakes

I highly believe that mistakes are stepping stones for success. And open ended toys are great tools to develop a growth mindset.

Your child will experiment and try different things without fear of failure and embrace challenges, be persistent when things don’t go their way, and learn from their mistakes and feedback. 

Again, building blocks are great tools to learn about persistence. The more your child practices balancing blocks, the taller their structure will get.


6. They boost self-confidence and self-expression

As a parent, I want my daughter to express her thoughts, interests, personality, and talents.

We have an art easel where she draws what she sees or something that happened to her on a particular day.

It is a great way to show her emotions and artistic skills. 

Another example is stickers. She likes to peel stickers and decorate her lunch bag or place them on her stuffed animals.

This is who she is and I want her to be confident of herself.


7. Increases your child’s concentration and attention span

Open ended toys can help your child to develop their concentration and focus.

One reason I personally like wooden blocks is because my daughter can play with them for longer periods.

She is very engaged and I am always impressed by how focused she is when she places one block on top of the other.

The attention to detail is also very amazing.


8. Your child plays longer with less toys

This kind of backs up the previous benefit.

When your child improves their attention span, they can play with their toys for longer and use their imagination and creativity to make the most out of them. 

Open ended toys are extremely versatile and your child will find numerous ways to play with a single item. 

And sometimes the best open ended toy doesn’t have to be a toy. 

You can give your child some cardboard boxes to make a box maze, a fort, a tent, or a rocket. Imagination and independent play will keep your child playing for hours!


9. They grow with your child

What are open ended toys child playing with building blocks

Wooden building blocks, magnet tiles, play kitchens, and art supplies are all great examples of open ended toys that children of various ages can play with.

We’ve had wooden blocks since our daughter was an infant and she still plays with them but in different ways.

My daughter is currently stacking wooden blocks but in a year from now, she will build more complex structures and explore some engineering and architectural concepts.

10. They improve both gross and fine motor skills

From grasping, throwing, standing, and walking, open ended toys help your child develop their physical abilities and coordination. 

Your child has to move and perform various movements and actions as they play with their toys and this refines their physical and sensory development.

For example, when my daughter was learning to throw a ball, she had to squat to pick it up, stand up, and balance herself before she threw it.

All movements required to throw a ball improved her motor skills, cognitive development, balance, and coordination.

Just try to perform the same movements on one foot; it is harder than you think!

11. They foster curiosity and a love of learning

I love how open ended toys continue to spark my daughter’s curiosity and desire to learn more.

Since they don’t have a specific purpose or end point, they make my daughter ask questions about things that she observes.

For example, one day we were building towers with her blocks and they fell and I said, “Oh, they fell.” And she asked, “Why?”

And I explained to her that the blocks were not balanced and gravity pulled them down. She kept asking why, but why, but why after every answer I gave her.

This showed me that she was curious to learn why her blocks tipped over and I wanted to provide as much knowledge as I could.

Fewer features mean better quality play

Now that you know what open ended toys are and their benefits, I want to share something that has helped us a lot.

Get open ended toys with few features. 

Toys that have fewer functions are better for your child’s play and development because they allow them to use their imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. 

This is one of the reasons our favorite open ended toy is wooden blocks because we use them in many different ways like building, stacking, or sorting. 

The only limit of wooden blocks is our imagination.

Open ended toys FAQ

Below are some questions I get asked about these types of toys.

Does Montessori use open-ended toys?

Yes, Maria Montessori believed in providing children with materials that allow for self-directed learning and exploration.  

Open ended toys align well with the Montessori philosophy because they foster independence, creativity, and the development of your child’s intrinsic motivation to learn.

Why choose open-ended toys?

In my personal experience, open-ended toys will support your child’s holistic development. 

As I explained in this article, they stimulate your child’s curiosity and interest and challenge them to think of different ways to use the same toy. 

Another reason why I recommend them is that they improve your child’s creativity, imagination, communication, collaboration, and teamwork.

Why are open-ended toys better than closed toys?

It really depends. Both are great toys but serve a different purpose.

Closed-ended toys have a specific purpose and outcome and there is only one way to play with them. 

They are still fun and engaging but can limit your child’s creativity and imagination since they do not allow them to explore and experiment with different possibilities. 

On the other hand, open ended toys offer more opportunities for learning and play as I explained in this article. 

Your child can play with them in various ways and there is no right or wrong way to play with them. 

They will keep your child interested and motivated because they can discover new things and create new ways to use them.

How long should you use open-ended toys?

You can use open ended toys for as long as your child wants to. 

Just know that as a child grows, the complexity of play with open-ended toys can evolve and you’ll need to provide materials that will continue to benefit their development.

What to do next?

Now you know what are open ended toys. I highly encourage you to start with building blocks, magnet tiles, and animal figures because they can all be used together.

And make sure to bookmark my ultimate Montessori toy guide because I will continue to update it to add more educational toys.

About Leslie - Latinx Montessori

Hello, I am Leslie. I am on a mission to help you support the growth and development of your child. With the right tools and proper guidance, you can navigate parenthood with confidence and assertion! My goal is to equip you with knowledge to help you construct a strong foundation for your child’s life.

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