What Are Open Ended Toys?

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Have you seen a child beg for a bright flashing toy, only to play with it momentarily before tossing it aside? This is frustrating for parents who feel their home is covered in toys that get thrown around more than played with. One option is to transition to toys that are open ended and lead to quality play and creativity. 

So what makes something an open ended toy?

Simply put, an open ended toy can be used in many different ways. These toys often hold the child’s interest for a longer period of time because they are not so specific that they can only be played with in one way. For example, a figurine from a movie can only ever be that character and already comes with a story line attached. Compare this to the following toy recommendations. 

Play Silks

These are fun for dressing up and using as a cape, skirt, or bonnet. They are also fun to use as grass or streams in a scene with characters. 

My husband made this Pikler triangle.

Blocks

Blocks are a favorite from my husband’s childhood, and I remember my brothers spending hours building LEGO creations too. Children can build schools, fire stations, homes, towers, etc.

Gem blocks made by my husband.

Loose Parts

These might seem a bit strange, but loose parts make great pretend food, trees and scenery in small world play. These are also simple to DIY since you can buy unfinished wooden items at the craft store and paint them yourself with nontoxic acrylics. 

I painted these.

Characters 

My son loves the peg dolls I have made for him and carries them everywhere. Because they do not have expressions he can pretend they are happy, sad, angry, sleeping, etc. The ones that are solid colors can also be whatever character or gender the child chooses. These are easy to DIY as well because they can be found unpainted from the craft store.

My husband and I made the semicircles and peg dolls.

One quote that sticks out in my mind is, “Passive toys make active children and active toys make passive children.” Put another way, if your child presses a button and a song plays, then the toy is playing and entertaining the child. However, with a ball for example, the child must do something (kick, roll or throw) in order to play. 

Although sometimes the price of these items can be off putting, they will last for many years and can be passed down to other children. In addition, they are often more environmentally friendly (typically made from natural materials like wood) and can be found secondhand. Furthermore, since each toy serves many purposes, you experience the added benefit of a simpler home, with fewer toys scattered around.

I’d love to hear about some of your child’s favorite open ended toys in the comments!

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Courtney moved to Birmingham six years ago with the dream of becoming a nurse in the Neonatal ICU. She left behind her five wild brothers but brought along her high school sweetheart, David. David and Courtney got married after their freshman year at UAB at the ripe age of nineteen. They thrived on cans of soup while pursuing their education and working odd jobs. Courtney graduated and landed her dream job in the Neonatal ICU. One year later, her husband also graduated and began working as an Engineer. They now live in Trussville with their 16-month-old son, Noah. Courtney’s hobbies include eating (not to be confused with cooking), being outdoors, traveling with her family, and writing on her personal blog (amindfulmomblog.com). She is passionate about mission work and has been privileged to serve on trips to Tanzania, Costa Rica and Ecuador.

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