With school systems heavily focused on close-ended toys and learning material, it’s important that children experience a mix of both close-ended play and open-ended play to develop a variety of skills.
While close-ended toys and materials are beneficial for helping children to develop important skills such as developing purpose, mastering self-correction, and overcoming challenges, open-ended toys help to develop skills of creativity, strategy, and problem-solving.
To help you get started with incorporating open-ended play in your household, here are some of the must-have open-ended toys that we tried and loved.
Open-ended toys are toys that have no specific function or goal. They encourage children to play with the toy in any way they like.
This results in children developing their exploration and creativity as they can play independently without instruction or intervention. They are gender-neutral and timeless making them great for holding onto.
Open-ended toys are essentially toys that encourage children to play in multiple ways, using the same toy.
This works to develop their imagination as the toy enables the child to do whatever they want with it as there is no wrong way of playing. This encourages them to play in different ways according to their mood, interest, and developmental stage.
Whereas, close-ended toys such as puzzles and board games, have a clear set goal, set instructions, and require the child to focus on completing the goal.
OUR TOP PICK
Cossy’s Magnetic Tiles are great for developing creativity. This open-ended toy encourages children to engage with the tiles which work to improve their sense of color and their recognition of different geometric shapes.
These tiles come in a variety of shapes which can be built up and made into 3D structures.
These magnetic tiles are easy to construct and provide children with the freedom to get imaginative with their structures. With 120 pieces in a pack, this is a great kit that can be kept for a long time.
As a child develops and grows, they can continue to learn and expand their creativity by building bigger and more complex structures. Hence, this open-ended toy is timeless and caters to all children.
With endless opportunities for structural play, Cossy’s magnetic types inspire children to get creative, push boundaries and problem solve.
Encouraging interactive play, this toy works to develop children’s manipulative abilities and motor skills.
- Round corners for safety
- Suitable for children aged 3-12 for continual use
- Tiles can be combined with other modeling blocks such as housing, transportation, people and animals, etc for complex play.
Picasso Tiles are great for developing creativity. With unique bristle-shaped tiles, the Picasso Tiles are easy to connect and simple to use.
They create an opportunity for children to create their own designs and structures as well as strengthen their ability to recognize colors and shapes.
This open-ended toy encourages children to experiment with design. In doing so, children can improve skills of hand-eye coordination, sorting, and counting, as well as gain a strong sense of color.
Ultimately this toy works to improve brain development by promoting stimulation and focus.
Picasso Tiles are classified as educational toys as they encourage the development of creativity for STEM.
Though simple and easy to use, this toy is suitable for children aged 3 and up. It’s a timeless toy that a child can take with them as they continue to develop.
As an open-ended toy, children can begin to create more unique and complex structures and they improve their skills and creative abilities.
- Classified as an educational open-ended toy for improving brain development
- 120pcs in a pack for creating endless designs and structures
- Bristle shape for easy assembly
Kinetic Sand is a unique and fun open-ended toy that provides endless hours of fun mixing, molding, and making new creations. This is a great toy for helping a child to express their creativity.
Unlike normal sand, Kinetic Sand enables children to play freely without making any mess.
The sand moves and flows through their fingers without sticking. With a soft and malleable texture, children can easily create, shape, and sculpt unique designs.
Kinetic Sand also comes in a variety of colors and smells which help to develop a child’s senses. Sand has also been shown to create calm. Hence, this is an ideal toy for encouraging calm and quiet play.
This open-ended toy is great for encouraging sensory and fine motor play as it encourages children to create using their hands and their imagination.
This product is made completely from natural sand and is hypoallergenic making it an ideal choice for children with sensitive skin or allergies.
- Stimulates fine motor skills
- Provides a multi-sensory experience for children
- Easy to use and clean
LEGO is a classic open-ended toy. Not only is it great for developing creativity, but it also encourages children to role play and problem solve.
This is a toy that enables children to bring their ideas to life. It encourages them to push their creative boundaries by providing a safe space to create complex structures.
LEGO is timeless. Loved by both children and parents, this is a toy that can be played with for years to come.
As LEGO offers a broad range of blocks and themed sets, LEGO encourages children to develop their skills and create more complex and imaginative structures.
LEGO is an open-ended toy that can be enjoyed by all children as it provides endless play and an opportunity for children’s imagination to run wild.
The toy is recommended for use by children aged 4 and up. LEGO pieces are relatively small but easy to put together encouraging hours of play. However, LEGO also offers large and round sets catered towards children aged 1-5.
- Endless creative potential
- Stimulates problem-solving
- Suitable for all ages
MaxUSee’s Refractor Telescope encourages children to ask deeper questions about the world as they can freely explore the sky.
This portable telescope offers a range of magnification which makes it a great first telescope for children with an interest in astronomy.
This telescope encourages open-ended play as children can create their own stories and games centered around the universe and galaxies.
This is a great way for children to explore their creativity and imagination as it encourages them to think outside the box beyond normal limits.
It enables them to create fictional worlds, characters, and scenarios. Role-playing with this toy encourages children to express their imagination and become curious.
Whilst this toy can be used in open-ended role play, it is also a timeless toy that can be used to develop a hobby.
With an interest in astronomy, as children get older, having access to a telescope may encourage them to explore their imagination further and to ask deeper questions about the universe.
- Timeless and can be used for years to come
- Ideal for role play
- Develops curiosity and imagination
Hape offers an all-in-one, double-sided easel. This easel features a blackboard on one side and a magnetic whiteboard on the other as well as a paper roll on the top.
An art easel is ideal for crafts and is a great way for children to explore their creativity.
With the use of pens and chalk, children can really experiment with color. An easel is a great way for them to visually express themselves by telling stories or retelling events.
Drawing encourages a free flow of uninterrupted expression that is great for developing creativity and imagination.
Not only can it be used for drawing, but it can also be used for learning and writing. With a large surface area for creating, this easel offers multifunctional use and can be used by two children at the same time.
This opens up the possibility for children to play together, making up games or roleplaying. With a refillable paper roll, this is an open-ended toy that can be used again and again.
- Timeless as it features a refillable roll which can continue to be used for years to come
- Height can be adjusted which encourages multiplay
- Provides a space for freedom of expression and creativity
The Tot’s Eco bricks are a great sustainable open-ended toy. Made from eco-friendly and natural beech wood, these blocks are completely sustainable and great for teaching children the value of environmental awareness.
The blank wooden bricks encourage creativity and self-expression.
With multifunctional use, they encourage children to get creative with how they use them. They can be used to develop problem-solving skills by creating a complex structure, or they can be used to develop creativity by being painted, stained, or etched into.
These bricks serve as a blank canvas for children to really get creative and imaginative.
The Tot Eco Blocks are an open-ended toy that works to develop a child’s spatial awareness, motor skills, and logic. Made for children aged 4 and up, this toy is timeless and can be used for years to come.
- Multifunctional use
- Encourages creative expression
- Promotes environmental awareness
Play-Doh is one of the most popular open-ended toys. It not only encourages creativity but also stimulates motor skills and enables children to get in touch with their senses.
Play-Doh is a toy that enables children to get crafty and messy. With a variety of colors and sizes, children are encouraged to experiment and to embrace the unique smell and texture of Play-Doh.
This type of messy play is stress and frustration-free as it provides calm. The texture of Play-Doh is also a stress reliever making playtime fun.
With Play-Doh, children can have hands-on fun that enables them to role play, create stories and fully express themselves.
Made from a non-toxic compound, Play-Doh is suitable for children with sensitive skin and allergies.
- Hypoallergenic and suitable for children with sensitive skin
- Made from a reusable modeling compound
- Encourages fun, creativity, and freedom of expression
Marble Genius Marble Run is a great open-ended toy for stimulating strategic thinking and problem-solving skills.
This toy comes with 150 complete pieces which can be made into a structure that enables marbles to run through.
This is a unique open-ended toy that encourages children to try out innovative structural combinations that will get the marble from point A to B.
Inevitably, the child may come across a roadblock as their structure comes to a dead end, however, it is then down to them to use their initiative to create an alternative course for the marble.
This is a stem-based open-ended toy that encourages complex thinking processes.
This product is designed for children aged 4 and up. With so many pieces, this toy offers endless hours of stimulating play.
- Stimulating open-ended toys for STEM
- Develops problem-solving and strategic thinking skills
- Encourages children to overcome challenges
Melissa & Doug wooden food pieces are great open-ended toys for nurturing healthy imagination.
Their wide selection of pretend healthy food encourages healthy role play and children begin to familiarise themselves with different food groups.
Not only does this toy encourage children to explore their imagination, but it is also fun and educational as it teaches children the value of healthy food and introduces them to the basics of nutrition.
Encouraging role play, this open-ended toy is effective for teaching early childhood skills such as counting, strengthening color recognition, and developing skills of sorting and grouping.
Designed for children aged 3 and above, the food groups are made from sturdy wood with intricately designed food to stimulate creative play.
- Promotes developmental skills and learning
- Encourages creative role play
- Teaches basics of nutrition
Experiences Of Using The Products
Whilst testing this list of open-ended toys, we found that each offered unique benefits that worked to develop cognitive abilities and skills.
Each toy encourages creative and imaginative play and works to stimulate the senses. These are all great toys for developing a child’s creative side as they encourage freedom of self-expression.
Must Have Open-Ended Toys In Our House Buying Guide
Open-Ended Toys That Encourage Creativity
There are so many different open-ended toys that encourage creative play. These types of open-ended toys work to develop a child’s senses as they encourage exploration of color, smell, and texture.
These types of open-ended toys include things like paint, smelly marker pens, beads, art easel, and general arts and crafts materials such as pipe cleaners. These are great for developing skills of creative thinking and broadening imagination.
Open-Ended Toys That Encourage Strategic Thinking
For those focused on their child developing skills of strategic thinking, problem-solving, and decision making, stem open-ended toys are the best for encouraging these developmental skills.
These include classic open-ended toys such as blocks, whether that be LEGOs, wooden blocks, letter blocks, or magnetic blocks. Other toys such as Kinex, toy cars, trains, and trucks are also great for developing these skills.
Open-Ended Toys That Develop Decision-Making And Imagination
Open-ended toys that encourage children to use their storytelling skills are great for not only developing their imagination but are also great for teaching them valuable decision-making skills.
Open-ended toys such as pretend food, a play kitchen, or dollhouse, fancy dress clothing, and animal kits all encourage children to explore their imagination. These toys encourage children to draw on their own experiences as a base for making up their own stories.
This is a great way for children to get lost in a game or story they have made up. With these toys, it’s important for parents to get involved by asking questions that encourage the children to think deeper or to consider different decisions.
Open-Ended Toys That Develop Scientific Exploration
For children that are fascinated by the world and enjoy developing their sensory experiences, open-ended toys that develop scientific exploration are perfect for encouraging children to ask questions about the world around them.
These types of open-ended toys include rock kits, microscopes, telescopes, bug kits, and make your own slime kits are all great for getting a child stuck in. These work to stimulate a child’s curiosity.
Open-Ended Toys For Encouraging Sensory And Fine Motor Play
If your child struggles with fine motor skills, incorporating open-ended sensory play is great for developing fine motor skills.
Open-ended toys such as playdoh, kinetic sand, and sandboxes are all great ways of providing a sensory experience that encourages your child to get stuck in.
Frequently playing with toys such as play-doh will help to improve coordination and fine motor skills as it requires children to create shapes and coordinate.
Things To Consider Before Purchasing
Whilst toys with batteries can be great fun, they can also take away elements of creative exploration as they can effectively limit a flow of imagination and interrupt focus.
For instance, a toy car with batteries may move on its own, make sounds or flashes. These toys only teach the child how to push a button as they don’t encourage interaction or exploration.
Whereas, a car without batteries may encourage a child to make their own noises to mimic a car and push the car of their own accord.
This simple interaction with the car can work to encourage a child to use their senses and imagination.
With more people committing to sustainable practises, it’s never been more important to consider the material of the toys we purchase.
So many toys are made of unrecyclable plastic. At some point, each child will stop playing with certain toys as they grow and develop their learning.
If you find that your home is full of plastic toys, you may want to consider purchasing toys from alternative materials when you can, such as wood. This helps to reduce the contribution of single-use plastic.
Also, less is more. You’ll find that children gravitate toward specific toys and they don’t need extravagant toys.
Many kids are simply happy playing with a cardboard box that can be made into anything from a rocket to a house!
If you find that you house too many toys, take a step to declutter and donate what’s no longer needed. Adopting this minimalist approach will enable your child to have more space to play and be more creative.
Must Have Open-Ended Toys In Our House - FAQ's
What Are The Benefits Of Open-Ended Play?
Open-ended play is highly beneficial for developing essential cognitive skills in children.
Open-ended toys such as those reviewed above each encourage children to explore their creativity and imagination by encouraging independent play.
Though open-ended toys may look plain or bland, they offer a blank slate for children to develop their ideas by playing with the toys in different ways.
One toy can be a vessel for the invention of multiple stories and games, there really are no limits.
As there is no right or wrong way of playing with open-ended toys, children can play and interact with materials with no expectations or interference.
This enables a free flow of creativity in a calm space where anything is possible. With no ‘wrong’ way of doing things, a child can completely engage in their play.
This works to not only develop creativity and imagination but also instil confidence.
Encouraging open-ended play also helps to develop a child’s imagination as it improves thought processes and decision-making through pretend play.
This way of playing also enables children to process events and situations that may be happening around them.
It enables children to overcome situations such as friendship troubles and it enables them to retell their story to recreate it completely.
With so many open-ended toys available, it can be difficult to know which will be best for your child.
After reviewing this list of products, we found that the toys that may appear bland are often the ones that encourage children to practice self-expression.
The products reviewed work to encourage children to be creative and to develop their imagination and problem-solving skills.