Open-Ended toys are renowned for their ability to foster creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills and independent play.
If you’re on this page, I bet the first open-ended toy that comes to your mind and that has been wildly advertise all over Internet (Instagram included) would be Grimm’s Stacking Rainbow.
And while it is a great open ended toy, I’d love to shed some light on some of the amazing, less commercial open-ended toys that don’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Most of these open-ended toys guarantee years of fun as they grow with your child.
But let’s start real quick by defining what is an open-ended toy. This way you’ll be able to use your own judgement and evaluate your toy choice even for something that won’t come up on this list or on the other blog on the Internet.
What Are Open Ended Toys?
Simply put, open-ended toys are toys that have no limit (no end) of the way they can be played with. Think that your child’s imagination is the only limit.
For this very reason, most opened ended toys are better be robust and well made so that they can undergo even savage toddler experiments with physics and gravity LOL.
Open ended toys also have no right or wrong way to play with them, so you child can experiment freely and advance in their imaginative and pretend play as they grow.
Benefits Of Open-ended Toys
When children play with open-ended toys and even loose parts for that matter, it is about the process and discoveries children make along the way rather than reaching a particular outcome. This is why there are multiple benefits associated with engaging in open-ended play resources.
Here is a quick summary of the main advantages:
· Fosters children imagination and creativity
Many plastic toys leave children as passive participants as the toy entertains. Open-ended toys are different because they don’t come with instructions or a particular set of rules; the child must decide how to use it. Children have the freedom to play with objects and adapt them according to their liking.
· Encourages cognitive and critical thinking skills
You will notice over time how children’s simple play will become more complex as children develop their thoughts and become more confident, E.g. When babies play with blocks, they might stack a few blocks together and then knock them down. A toddler or preschooler might make a castle, zoo enclosure or house whilst engaging in social/dramatic play and adding extra toys to the blocks. Children often mimic aspects of their own life and life around them – which is know as pretend play.
· Promotes Social Skills
Open-ended toys foster collaborative play and are an excellent means to build children’s vocabulary. Parallel play and constant repetition will help develop their language. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, you can ask children questions to foster conversation and gain an insight into their perception of the world.
· Teaches children essential life skills
When engaging in open-ended play, children are frequently posed with opportunities for decision making and problem-solving. Because there are no set of rules and guidelines, children take charge and use the necessary intellectual skills needed to become leaders. Perseverance, patience and determination are other skills often used when children play with open-ended toys and resources.
Best Open-Ended Toys For Babies And Up
Best Open-Ended Toys For Babies And Up
A long-lasting set of wooden blocks is the ultimate toy your child will grow with and something that will last at all stages of their childhood. Blocks encourage children to problem-solve, build, imagine and develop their fine and gross motor skills.
I especially like this set since it has both colored block and natural blocks in the set. For baby stage you can keep just the wooden block and introduce color blocks later. I have also removed all small blocks and triangle shapes at baby stage until they’re no longer wobbly sitters.
This may seem like a very simple toy, but they can be quite intriguing for babies! They build on their hand-eye coordination by grasping the cups with their fingers and hands. It is vital to provide children with opportunities to strengthen their fine motor skills, which allows them to hold and manipulate objects. Nesting cups can be used for variety of pretend play by toddlers and preschoolers. As name suggests they can be stacked, nested, lined up etc. Besides we love using these cups during bath time – endless pouring and splashing fun.
Probably this is one of the unexpected open-ended toys but trust me, unlike the rainbow – it’s a must have. It’s one of the first gross motor toys for when you baby is just starting crawl. But as your child grows they’ll start having even more fun with it. You can “chase” them through the tunnel, play “fetch” with different toys or balls encouraging them to crown through the tunnel to get the object, pretend play being a giant caterpillar, play peek-a-boo, play the “elevator”, make a “rainbow” and more.
Wooden peg dolls are easy to grasp and provide an interactive experience for both babies and older children. They are made from wood so are highly durable and will not get damaged easily! An added bonus is they don’t take up much room so are simple to store away and can easily be taken on trips, or long car journey’s to keep kids occupied! These toys are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers to engage in more complex imaginative role-playing scenarios as they get older.
Babies love to be curious participants in their environment, mainly through their sense of touch. You can even engage in parallel play with your baby and play peek-a-boo with scarves to develop your child’s hand-eye coordination and focus. Because they are so attractive and easy to manipulate; silks scarves really can be used for any kind of open-ended plat dancing, building tents, as muslin cloth for dolls etc.
There’s no need to get silks of all color but rather get one, quality real silk scarf that is super pleasant to touch will last your child for years.
Using toy animals is a great means of building your baby’s vocabulary and introducing them to a wonderful world of nature. You can hide animal in sand (corn flour) during sensory play and let them make their first discoveries.
You can use them to match to animal cards (the very early math skills).
We love using our Schleich Farm Animal Set along with this Farm Sound Book.
I can assure you this will quickly become your child’s favorite toy as they grow. Your toddler will extend their play naturally with these animal figurines by feeding them, building them a shelter – possibly with one of the other open-ended toys down in the list.
We also love using them to make animal foot prints in the dough.
Open-Ended Toys For Toddlers And Pre-schoolers
We got magnetic tiles as a gift for my son’s first birthday but he truly started enjoying them at about 18 months. Things you can make and play with them are endless.
I’ll list just a few here an an example:
- Build yards, barns for farm animals
- Line them or stack them up
- Learn colors, shapes, patterns
- Sort them by color, by shape
- Make DIY puzzle using stickers. Put 2 or more tiles together to fit the sticker and using a precision knife cut through the sticker to separate the tiles. Let your toddler put the puzzler together. I recommend using NON-reusable stickers since reusable ones will peel of easily in no time.
- You can even discover color mixing – a mesmerizing process even for adults! Simply put magnetic tiles in the sun-light, preferably in the morning or afternoon so that it makes a nice long shadow and watch how colors reflect on the floor (surface). Put two tiles of different color next to each other (ex. Blue+Yellow) and move them close until their shadow turns green.
- And much more!
A train set is a classic and long-lasting open-ended toy a child can enjoy for years. Through problem-solving, trial and error children learn to build a track so the train can go around. This is a toy that usually facilitates gross motor development and collaborative play. A lot of other resources can be added to take it to the next level.
– Pots, pans or cooking sets
Through engaging in social/dramatic play with a cooking set children mimic aspects of their daily routine and get an opportunity to express their likes and dislikes. There is a vast amount of vocabulary growth and language development that occurs during imaginative cooking experiences. Children will also use them for all kinds of experiment that don’t directly relate to food preparation. For example: banging pots and pans as musical instruments to produce sound, using them to fill, pour and transfer different substances. We even discovered (by pure chance) that these pots are awesome to be dragged around with a magnetic fishing rod (from the magnetic fishing game). I just can’t tell you how much fun we had together playing with this pots.
If you have some extra space in your house or a big backyard, a pikler triangle is a great option for equipment which encourages children’s physical movement and gross motor development. With Pikler triangle children learn to balance and gain spatial awareness at their own pace.
You might already imagine that triangle can be used a a tent, a cozy reading corner, as a piece of an obstacle course. If you don’t have big space in your house to keep Pikler triangle full size all the time I highly recommend getting a foldable version.
I must say a few words about the ramp all on its own. In fact, you can get or even build the ramp even if you don’t want the Pikler triangle! We use this ramp in so many different ways:
- As an open bookshelf (make sure steps are square and not completely rounded)
- As a ramp for trucks
- As a slide
- As a climbing wall
- You can even tape paper tubes on it and make a ball maze.
It doesn’t take much space, and as in the example above can have its separate purpose as a bookshelf when not in use.
Balance board is the last part of this gross motor trio that is also super open ended and promotes development in many areas. Use it for pretend play: bridge, tunnel, cradle, slide, fence.
It’s small in size but very challenging. Children can climb, slide, walk, rocking, jump from it. It can hold up to 150 pounds so it’s super durable and will truly grow with the child.
Like wooden building blocks, Lego and Duplo encourage little ones to use their creativity to become creators while also working hard on the pincer grasp and fine motor skills.
Children get the opportunity to experiment with their ideas and test out new possibilities. Skills such as perseverance and patience can be picked up when playing Lego because it requires complex tasks and determination to reach the final outcome.
- Mud Kitchens, Doll Houses & Barns
These are another bigs ones, children of all ages can’t get enough of. I highly suggest a mug kitchen for outdoors during warm season – and you don’t need anything more than a DIY one!
Doll houses and barn are perfect for colder seasons and hence indoor play. There’s a huge amount you can choose from.
- Push Cart/ Walker Wagon
This probably should have gone to Open-Ended Toys For Babies & Up section since it’s one of the must-haves for a baby who just starts walking. However you’ll notice, as your toddler gets more confident with his walking and gross motor skills he’ll find SO many ways to use this type of cart/wagon. Children absolutely love transporting things with this wagon, using it as a doll pram, as a shopping cart and siblings will even transport each other.
My favorite wagon is by Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon. It’s a little pricier than others but totally worth it. It has removable stakes for safety and they also increase the volume of the cart which is also super hands to use to storing big toys when it’s not in use.
A bit more budget friendly version is by BRIO Toddler Woddler which also of an excellent quality.
I bet you didn’t expect an easel to be on the list of the best open-ended toys. Yet, it should have its well deserved spot here. Mainly for 2 reasons:
- Because you can store all art materials and resources in one place without have to look for art materials in out of sight toy drawers, it your child an opportunity to express themselves and pour out their creativity anytime they feel like it. And you know pretty well, that with a brush and a set of colors (or pencils) you can create the whole world. Isn’t that a true meaning of open-ended?
- Besides obvious art work, easel can be used with many other materials like dot stickers, washi tape etc to create new activities. It’s also amazing for “School” pretend play and actual learning/activities
Probably because I’ve seen too much of these rainbows all over Internet, I didn’t really want to include them on this list, but I just can’t NOT to. They really so beautiful and so versatile in use that even if you’ve hesitated to get one for younger toddler your little one will absolutely enjoy playing and growing with it. You don’t necessary have to get the most expensive rainbow stacker but just a nice quality from a less famous brand will do its job. Check this one out.
As you can already imagine it can be used for pretend play for tunnels and bridges for cars, cots for baby dolls, animal shelters or farm fences, build, balance and stack creating different sculpture.
If you’re hesitant it wil be well received in your house consider getting a small rainbow first and if it proves to be a success get a large 12 piece rainbow stacker. Just keep an eye for the gloss finish and stay away from it. Smooth shiny finish will make it harder to build, balance and stack sculptures.
Open-Ended Materials And Resources
But let’s take a step back. When it comes to long engaged and full o learning opportunities open-ended play, it’s not really about the toys. All you have to do is provide your children with safe space and “yes environment” within that space to explore. Young kids don’t have any restriction in what things can do or supposed to do. They’ll experiment freely if aloud to and will turn quite literally ANYTHING into an open-ended play. Take some time to observe your little one and you’ll be amazed how thay can keep themselves occupied with things you’ve never imaged would be so interesting.
We are surrounded by natural and recyclable materials that are so intriguing. Open-ended resources are embedded in nature and promote children’s learning and creativity because they can be moved, carried, redesigned and combined with other things to suit the child’s needs.
Nearly everything in your household can be recycled and turned into an open-ended resource for children. You can actually try reusing bottle tops, toilet paper rolls, plastic bottles etc. and make them resources for play. Just make sure it is safe and doesn’t pose any risks for children to use! Here are a few examples:
You most probably have already discovered that your child can spend several hours playing with sand. It is a great way for children to explore their sense of touch and investigate the texture and properties of sand. A significant amount of imaginative play occurs in the sand, e.g. building a castles, cakes, cupcakes etc.
Try this awesome 2 Ingredient Homemade Moon Sand for times when you cannot include real sand in play.
Similar to sand, water play provides many opportunities for children to explore their sensory capabilities. Children begin to understand some of the basic maths and science concepts by emptying and filling cups, feeling different weigh etc. Even though they can be pretty independent in this kind of plat take some time to stay by their side and add some vocabulary such as half, full, empty, less than when they invite you in their play.
CHECK ALSO: 5 Indoor Water Play Activities For Toddlers [LOW MESS]
– Playdough/ Clay
Alongside improving fine motor skills and building vocabulary, playdough and clay is another invaluable activity that will keep children entertained for hours! The properties of playdough make it squish-able and easy to manipulate, which can be incredibly calming and therapeutic for children. playdough can support children in expressing their emotions, and there are so many resources which can be added to extend the child’s playmaking the possibilities endless. Some examples include; toddler kitchen tools, paddle pop sticks, pebbles, dried pasta and many more.
– Cardboard boxes
You’d be surprised to know children will do anything and everything out of cardboard boxes! Michigan State University has written an article on the value of cardboard boxes and giving children the freedom to freely investigate, build, assess, fail and try again so they can form crucial connections with the brain.
Above is just merely a few examples and benefits of open-ended toys and materials for children to give so that your little one can flourish in this very important task – play!