Playing with Open-Ended Materials

Playing with Open-Ended Materials

Play has always been the main business of children. From their waking moment to dozing off in the evening, their minds race with cars, kites and every other play thing imaginable. The adults in their lives are responsible for making play as enjoyable and educational as possible. And part of maximising their potential for learning is giving the children multiple opportunities for open-ended play.

Open-ended play is PLAY. There are no set rules that would make one way right and another wrong. Children have the freedom to use any material and turn it into whatever his imagination makes it to be. She uses these raw materials to create or build something new. Open-ended materials can also be used by themselves or in combination with others.

The possibilities and their benefits really are endless!

Benefits of Open-ended Play

Before we discuss how beneficial open-ended play is, let us look at close-ended play first. When a child completes a puzzle, the task is done and she can then move to another activity. This is how close-ended play looks like. This is not at all bad as there are many skills that can be enhanced. Close-ended materials give a child a sense of satisfaction from an accomplishment and this is a vital skill. There are undoubtedly many other benefits but for now, let us look at what open-ended play does to a child.

Endless ideas for play
The child will bring in her experiences from school, a doctor’s appointment or her recent play date and incorporate that to her free play. She becomes whoever she wants to be and the materials take on different roles accordingly.

    Process-oriented experiences
    As the child plays, new milestones are unlocked such as the use of a new word or building a tower that is five-blocks high. We are focused on how and why she does it more than what she produces.

      Practical and economical
      Open-ended materials can be used in different ways that is why you do not need so much to keep your child entertained for long periods of time. Some are even suitable for all ages since children will manipulate them in various ways.

        Child-centered
        It is up to the child how she chooses to use her materials. The adult is there to prepare the environment and facilitate the learning experience.

          Encourages dramatic play and language development
          A stick can become a horse, a magic wand, a broom or a giant popsicle. The child can get so engrossed that you begin to hear her deliver emotionally-charged lines that she wouldn’t otherwise think of if she wasn’t at play.

          How to Encourage Open-Ended Play

          Structure the environment and give plenty of downtime. Do not be afraid to have a bored child because creativity can spark anytime.

          Give the child time and space to tinker with the materials. Let her discover ways to use them. Resist the urge to explain or demonstrate how she should play with a particular material.

          Play with the child and let her take the lead. Ask questions, pickup cues from her and build on the ideas she shares.

          Provide art materials or even an art nook.
            Regularly provide a child with multiple opportunities for open-ended play and see her cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional skills develop at a rapid pace. She only gets to be a child once, let her play! 

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