Check out this guide to the best open ended toys for kids. Use them to spark creativity and encourage the construction of knowledge.
I have four kids, ages 8 and under. I want to provide toys for them that are educational and entertaining. Early on as a parent, my husband and I (plus the grandparents of course), bought toys left and right. It isn’t hard to do…but the kids still complained of being bored! How can a child be bored when you can step on a toy pretty much everywhere you walk!?
The problem is that the toys were not challenging them. They were not provoking thought, creativity, imagination. Hence, the boredom.
This is where open ended toys came into our lives. Swapping to open ended toys along with a better toy storage system drastically improved our children’s play, while also serving to declutter our home.
What Are Open Ended Toys?
Open ended toys are ones that encourage the child to use materials to create. There are no set rules or structure like with board games, card games, or sports. You provide the materials, the child creates.
As a child uses the materials to create, they can create rules and games with the pieces, and then flow back to free play. This freedom to use the materials allows the child to learn extensively through the manipulation of materials. When children are given the freedom to explore and investigate without set rules, they use their brains to learn and build their own knowledge in ways we cannot teach with words.
Open ended toys include materials you can use to build, like legos, magnetic blocks/tiles, K’nex, etc. They can also include materials that help to open the imagination, like toy animals, dolls/doll houses, train/car sets, dress up, toy kitchen/food, etc. And don’t forget about arts and crafts to encourage creativity! Lay out a bunch of paper, scissors, glue sticks, eyeballs, pipe cleaners, beads, etc., and let your kids come up with something all by themselves. Yes, there are craft projects to be found all over the internet. But it’s important to give your children the time and space to create all on their own.
Why Is It Good to Use Open Ended Toys?
The same materials can be given to an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old, and the actions they take will be completely different. Open ended toys are so important for children to have access to because they allow for the freedom to create without the fear of failure. Because there are no set rules or guidelines, there is no right or wrong way to play with them. This can serve to boost their confidence and self-worth rather than make them feel embarrassed and incorrect.
Open ended toys give more opportunities for the child to solve problems. Problem solving is an important skill to have as an adult. By providing materials for open ended play, you are helping your child increase their problem-solving skills.
Open ended toys can also stimulate creativity and allow them to use their imagination more fully.
When you are shopping for open ended toys, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Open ended toys encourage creativity and exploration. They allow the child to feel a sense of achievement no matter their age because there is no right or wrong way to create.
- Open ended toys can be used for years because they grow with the child.
- Open ended toys are versatile so that the child does not grow bored with them. They can be used in many different ways and at different ages based on their abilities.
My Kid’s Favorite Open Ended Toys
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Brain flakes are the most popular open ended toy I have purchased to date. There has rarely been a day that they are not played with for an extended period of time since three years ago when I bought them. I even had to set up a rotation for my two boys (ages 6 and 4) to take turns with them in their quiet time because they were fighting over them constantly.
The set comes with disks in various colors, snapping together in any spot around the edge. Because of the simplicity of them and their ability to snap together on any side, the possibilities are endless for what you can build with them. From something as simple as a snake, to animals and shapes that are 3D. It is amazing to see what your kids come up with once they figure out how they work!
While they can be used for younger kids, I would recommend them more for ages 4 and up. They are smaller and it does take some hand coordination. If you do have kids younger than that, they work great with supervision for things like color sorting and counting.
Magnatiles are another favorite and they work for even younger ages than brain flakes. My 2-year-old loves playing with them while I read aloud to the older kids. The square and triangle shapes make it easy to pop together a house or stack them taller and make a castle. Lay them out flat to build a road. As your kids get older, they get even more creative with them.
There are many variations of toys with magnets in them that we own and love. We have magnet animals that you attach the head and bottom together, 3D magnetic shapes, magnet people that are small and great for travel, and magnetic robots. Kids love magnets!
Shop Magnet Toys:
Often when people think of open ended toys, they immediately think of wood toys. Wood toys encourage creativity and imagination, especially because they are all the same color. My kids use our wood blocks often to build castles, animal pens, roads, and so much more. And you can even find magnetic wooden blocks!
Shop Wood Toys:
Craft time is an opportunity to really let your child’s creativity flow. Personally, I tend to just lay out a selection of craft items and let the kids come up with something themselves. I have tried a few times to lead a craft that had set steps and guidelines, but my kids always end up feeling frustrated. I think the frustration comes from not being able to use their own imagination to create whatever they want.
Here are some items that I always keep around for craft time:
- White and construction paper
- Brown lunch sacks (for making puppets)
- Glue sticks
- Googly eyes
- Pipe cleaners
- Popsicle sticks
Open Ended Toys for Kids 3 and Under
What about for kids under 3? All of the above-mentioned toys can also be great for 3 year olds and younger. My youngest loves to participate in everything her older siblings are doing, especially when it involves magnets or crafts. But there are a few additional toys that I like to keep around for my youngest because she doesn’t get as frustrated trying to use them.
- Flower garden – build your own garden of flowers.
- Pipe tubes – these are much easier for younger kids to put together.
- Counting bears – perfect for learning colors, practicing counting, color sorting, or pretending to have a picnic.
- Bristle blocks – the chunky size and ease of putting them together makes these ideal for smaller hands.
It is very easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the toys available to purchase. Before you purchase anything new, make sure to think through a few of these questions:
- Do we already own other toys that have similar functions?
- Do we have the space for more?
- What can I get rid of to make room?
- Should I set up a toy rotation so that everything isn’t all out at once?
Finally, I like to add items to my shopping cart and then sit on it for a few days before clicking purchase. Impulse purchases never live up to the excitement, and usually end up being a waste of money. But if you can sit for a few days and think through the above questions before you purchase, you may just end up removing a few items, saving yourself money and some frustration.
Can you think of any other questions that would be helpful to add to the list above? Leave them in the COMMENTS to share with others.
More Posts Like This:
- Quiet Time for Kids (a great time to use open ended toys)
- Toy Storage Solutions (so you don’t go insane from all the clutter)