The ability to follow our thought patterns and feelings is an important part of living a healthy, stable and enjoyable life. Encouraging your child to do this in their playtime can be challenging, as they also need structure and stability to manage their tasks and learn independence. Therefore, helping children explore their creativity and imagination within a structured day is exactly where open-ended play comes in. 

At a young age, children's brains are well suited to learning, so exploring, discovering and creating are highly beneficial to their development. They should be encouraged to come up with their own ideas, test their knowledge and find solutions that help them overcome problems. Open-ended activities incorporate this sort of play into a balanced schedule and engage kids’ creativity while enhancing their emotional intelligence and social skills. 

Craftercise supplies a wide range of educational toys for children, including many great open-ended play activities that provide many wonderful benefits explored in this article. 

What is open-ended play?

Open-ended play has no strict outcomes to achieve, so children can harness their imagination and express their creativity without limits. It often includes open-ended materials and crafts where endless possibilities guide the direction of their playtime. With no rules, and only some helpful guidance, kids don't get discouraged by doing things ‘wrong’ because there really is no right way to complete their tasks. This freedom helps your child trust their decisions, thoughts and ideas and form healthy connections between their imagination and reality. 

Some examples of open-ended play materials are:

  • Clay and dough
  • Cardboard boxes and panels
  • Sand
  • Paper and colouring pencils
  • Fabrics 

Benefits of open-ended play

Encourages fearless decision making

As open-ended activities have no correct method or answer to find, children can play in a relaxed environment without fear of making the wrong decisions or mistakes. Building this positive attitude toward their own decisions and actions allows them to explore with ease in their early years. It also builds confidence in taking appropriate risks, exploring new ideas and using their creativity in their adult life. 

Fear creates barriers to learning as well as achieving our goals throughout our whole life, and removing the fear from decisions allows your child to see their situation with clarity and confidence. 

Provides the time and space to create ideas, test theories and explore decisions

The key to building a relationship with creativity is to provide enough time and space to nurture it. During open-ended play, children mix their imagination and intellectual concepts to create something, which means they’re engaging both sides of their brain as they play. 

These activities can be a major influence on the healthy development of their brain and help them identify the importance of balancing play and thinking throughout their lives. 

Enhances social skills

One of the most beneficial open-ended play benefits is a natural growth in social skills. When playing with others, children learn to read social cues as they work together to make collaborative creations. They might have to discuss their ideas, learn how to incorporate other ideas into their own and take inspiration from others. 

Since it’s a relaxed and low-pressure play environment, kids engaging in social play grow their social intelligence naturally without any rules or correct approaches and learn about their own communication styles. 

Develops emotional intelligence

This type of play can also provoke a wide range of emotions in children as they feel wonderment about their creations, perplexed by the many possibilities and frustrated when things don’t go to plan. 

Open-ended play helps children understand that these emotions are a natural part of being human and that experiencing and honouring them is critical to a rich life. As children express their emotions within relaxed playtime, they’ll develop their emotional intelligence and learn how to listen to their feelings in the process of achieving their goals. 

Provides an ideal ‘flow’ environment

A ‘flow’ state is when someone is completely immersed in an activity, so their actions and ideas flow naturally. When a child is in this mental state, they’re totally engaged in life and seamlessly move through their tasks and ideas. As open-ended play is designed to facilitate this state of flow, children explore the different parts of themselves and their tasks, and learn the benefit of living in the moment. 

Flowing is a kind of active meditation, where people who can enter this state regularly feeling happier, stronger, more focused and have higher self-esteem, so encouraging your child to reach a flow state as much as possible will provide better overall wellbeing 

Builds leadership skills

With no rules or definite instructions to follow, children need to harness their own internal guidance to engage in open-ended play. When playing with others, or even while playing alone, children have the opportunity to use their leadership and direct the course of actions and build something from their imagination with the materials before them. 

You can encourage them to ask others for their ideas and then incorporate the group’s ideas into a larger plan for the activity, where they learn to include others and lead the team to fulfil their vision. 

Builds independence and autonomy

While children need support and are dependent, helping them build their independence is crucial to equip them with the skills for positive well-being and successful adult life. Open-ended play is an ideal environment to help them build their autonomy, in the safe setting of supervised play-time. 

As they’re free to follow their path, children learn the importance of making their own decision and trusting their instincts. They become familiar with following their own lead when instructions aren’t given to them because when they do become independent later in life, trusting themselves to make the right choices is critical. 

Getting started with the benefits of open-ended activities

Getting started with open-ended play is easy – with the right materials, it is both enjoyable and filled with benefits. Craftercise have a wide collection of sensory play equipment that includes everything needed to help your child explore their creativity, except for rules and set instructions! With various activities, games and toys, your child will have so much fun they'll make brain development look easy. 

Browse our selection today, or contact us to learn more about the benefits of open-ended play activities and materials.

March 23, 2022 — Aleisha Dakin