Open-Ended Block Play

Open-ended play is in truth just "play" to most kids.  In our fast-paced, achievement driven society there has been a trend towards directing the play of our children.  I am guilty of this myself, especially with my first-born.  

Our oldest was born with a congenital heart defect that required multiple surgeries and hospitalizations before the age of three.  He spent many hours in physical, occupational, speech, and counseling therapies learning to do things like eat, do tummy time, process input, and communicate well.  We had lists of exercises and activities we checked off each day for him, guiding him through a regime of things he needed to hit developmental milestones.  I am beyond thankful for the support we had (and still have) through all of these therapies and each therapist has been a great blessing.  

Despite LOVING all the support and guidance in helping our son reach developmental milestones I knew through my educational background and through a lot of reading I did to help support his development that play really was the MOST important thing for him.  Unfortunately all of this guided "play", which was necessary for helping him meet milestones, created in him a need to be guided in all areas of life.  I began reading more about open-ended and creative play and started doing everything I could to encourage him to play by himself, engage differently with toys, and become more creative in his day to day activities.   When our second came along this seemed like a natural way to parent and for kids to learn about the world... she has ended up a master of open-ended free play.  The two of them are on opposite ends of the spectrum of play, my son needing encouragement and permission to explore and my daughter sometimes needing to be guided for safety.  

Open-ended play items have become very important to our family and I have enjoyed creating many of the items our kids use on a daily basis to create environments and activities of their own.  Open-ended play items are any items that can be used for multiple purposes.  For examples a wood block could be a building, a street, a person, a step, a hockey puck, a baby doll, an animal, etc.  It just takes a bit of imagining and a simple silk scarf can become a cape, a crown, fairy wings, a picnic blanket, a baby swaddle... 

Some of our favorite open-ended play items are wood blocks, stacker toys, peg dolls, and silk scarfs.  As a parent, the best part of open-ended play items is they help keep down on the clutter.  If my child can imagine one item is ten things, then I have nine less items I need to keep in the toy box.