What is Open-Ended Play and How Does it Benefit Kids?

Playtime is not only a universal human experience, it’s also extremely important for kids’ development as they learn skills such as focus, patience, and negotiation. Even though social media likes to despair at kids staring at phone and tablet screens, Americans still spend billions each year on toys and encourage playtime in their children’s lives.

We here at LearnPlay love that playtime can foster creativity. We’re particularly big advocates for open-ended play and open-ended toys as ways for kids to build creativity and social skills.

What is open ended play?

A 2004 study published in Childhood Education defined open-ended play as play where kids could express themselves and participate creatively without preset limitations. Open-ended play can come in the form of using a stick as a wand, using blocks to create a fort, or using stuffed animals as tea party guests. What unites all of those examples is there’s a big element of imaginative play.

A key trait of open-ended toys is that they don’t have limitations on how they can be used. While close-ended toys, such as puzzles or coloring books, are good to build focus and other skills, they are limited in their scope. The use of a open-ended toy, on the other hand, is chosen at the whims of the user. For instance, a stick that’s a wand one day can be a sword the next, blocks can form a fort one day and a house the next.

Benefits of Open-ended Play

Although there are a number of studies that generally agree play is important for child development, there are still a few studies that need to be done specifically on open-ended play. What researchers and mom bloggers alike have found so far is that open-ended play has some of the following benefits:

Imagination + Creativity Building

It goes without saying that it takes a lot of imagination to find multiple uses for a toy. Open-ended play allows a child to make their own decisions in how they play, and gives them the freedom to find new ways to play. Giving children the freedom to play how they want can also allow them to create elaborate scenarios for make-believe and rules for new games.


Depending on the toy or setting, your child can become inquisitive during open-ended play. If they are playing at a park, for instance, they might be curious about the types of trees in the park or want to explore new places. If they become attached to a stuffed animal, they might want to learn more about real-life animals and how they live.

Social Intelligence + Emotional Intelligence

Open-ended play allows children to learn courteous social behavior and teamwork skills. For example, a child can learn negotiate the terms of how long one person can play with a certain toy, or they can collaborate with others to create a make-believe scene or new game. By interacting with other people, children also learn to consider other people’s emotions and opinions during playtime, which encourages them to find solutions and compromises.

Open-Ended Toys To Encourage Play

If you want to incorporate some more open-ended play in your child’s life, there are many types of toys for you to choose. Here are just a few:


Whether they’re wooden or plastic, blocks can be assembled various ways to incorporate different kinds of scenes for play.

Stuffed Animals

More than just cuddly companions, stuffed animals can be any sort of character in a child’s play session, whether as an evil monster or a partner-in-crime.


Playsets encourage kids to be imaginative within a set environment, whether it's a dollhouse or a lego diorama. Kids can create scenarios within the playset and even incorporate other toys.


Costumes allow kids to add some flair as they take on a character and lean-in to their make-believe sessions. 

Open-ended toys are really great ways to foster creativity, and it would be remiss if we didn’t also mention our favorite open-ended toy, Yentai Halftoys. If you have a person in your life who is interested in dinosaurs and 3-D puzzles, learn more about Halftoys here. And you can also check out our other blog posts:

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