What is Open-Ended Play and How it Benefits Your Child?

Open-ended play is an important part of your child’s play routine. It allows your child to gain independence, think creatively, and so much more.

If you’ve never heard this term before, have no fear! While the bulk of our work at ExploraToy centers on the need to provide your kids with high-quality wooden toys, we’re also dedicated to providing you with great educational materials to help you enrich your child’s play.

In the article below, you’ll learn about what open-ended play is, how it benefits your child, and how you can incorporate open-ended play into your child’s playtime.

What is Open-Ended Play?

Open-ended play is unstructured playtime that allows your child to determine the direction of the activity. To help you understand the difference between open-ended play and closed-ended activities, it’s perhaps most helpful to provide you with some examples of each.

Open-ended play includes:

  • Offering dress-up costumes for imaginative play
  • Giving your child craft supplies with no end project in mind
  • Creating a fun sensory bin with supplies for exploration
  • Letting your child use toy tools (like ExploraToy’s Garden Tools Set) during pretend play
  • Creating something with clay or dough

Closed-ended activities include:

  • Playing a board game
  • Putting together a puzzle
  • Coloring a page in a coloring book

There’s room for both closed-ended activities and open-ended play in your child’s schedule. In fact, both offer your child an opportunity to build much-needed skills. For the remainder of this article, though, we’ll be focusing on the benefits of open-play for your child.

How Open Play Benefits Your Child

Open-ended play offers many great benefits to your child. An impressive 90% of your child’s brain development occurs before he or she reaches kindergarten. Most of this development happens during playtime.

The following are the main benefits of open-ended play:

  • Since your child chooses what and how to complete an activity, they’ll gain confidence in their abilities to do things without adult assistance.
  • Imagination and Creativity.When children enjoy open-ended play, they stimulate their imaginations and increase their creativity.
  • Let’s be honest: no matter how much you love your child, you can’t entertain them yourself 24/7. As your child matures, they need to know how to enjoy activities independently. Open-ended play allows your child to entertain himself or herself while you tend to other things.
  • Problem-Solving Skills.Children learn to think through problems and find solutions when they’re allowed to try and fail. Since open-ended play offers tools to work through things without an adult’s instruction, children learn how to solve problems. This is a skill that will help your child later in life (especially when it comes to STEM learning).
  • Social and Emotional Intelligence.Not all open-ended play happens when your child is alone. When your child enjoys open-ended play with other children (or even their parents or other adults), it helps them build social skills and bolster their emotional intelligence.
  • Endless Possibilities with Fewer Supplies.Closed-ended toys are great, but there are usually only a couple of ways a child can play with them. Open-ended play allows your child to enjoy endless possibilities without the need to continuously purchase supplies.

Since open-ended play has all these great benefits, it’s important to make space for your child to enjoy it. No matter how old your child is, open-ended play is a great way to stimulate their growth and free them from the pressures of closed-ended activities.

4 Great Open-Ended Play Ideas

Now that you know what open-ended play is, you’re ready for some great ideas for introducing it to your child. The following are our favorite open-ended play ideas.

  1. Play pretend.Encourage your child to play pretend. If you’re playing with your child, ask them what they want to pretend and what role you will pay. For example, they might say they want to play house. When you ask about the role you’ll play, don’t be surprised if you’re playing the parent, the kid, or even the dog! The only limit is their imagination.
  2. Create a sensory bin.There are tons of great things you can use to make a sensory bin. Put sand and shells into a bin with shaping tools or use dyed rice and wooden shapes to make a colorful and exciting sensory experience. Then let your child think of fun things to do with their new playscape!
  3. Set out craft supplies.Let your child make something without telling them what to make or how to make it. They might cut paper and paste it together to make their favorite animal. Or perhaps they’d be happy drawing or painting a picture. Craft supplies are great for open-ended play, especially if your child loves to be creative.
  4. Turn a closed-ended activity into an open-ended toy.There are lots of great ways to make a closed-ended activity more open-ended. For example, you can turn ExploraToy’s Chunky Puzzle 3-Set into an open-ended activity by asking your child to make up a story about the animals while you build a puzzle. Telling stories is a great way to stimulate your child’s imagination and improve their communication skills!


The best thing about open-ended play is that you don’t need to buy new things to create space for your child to enjoy the benefits of this type of play. Whether you’re encouraging your child to explore through pretend play or setting them up with all the craft supplies they need to make anything, open-ended play is filled with great benefits for your child.

If you’re looking for fun toys for your child to play with, you’ve come to the right place. At ExploraToy, we make high-quality wooden toys that will entertain your kids (and someday even their kids) for years to come. You can find all our great products in our shop here.