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What Is Open-Ended Play?

Open-ended play is an oft-used buzz term to describe the benefit of a toy but what does "open-ended play" actually mean and why is it important? Let's break it down.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines open-ended as “not rigorously fixed: such as (a) adaptable to the developing needs of a situation; (b) permitting or designed to permit spontaneous and unguided responses.” By extension, open-ended play is an activity without a defined goal. Rather, the child is allowed to use their imagination and create their own story. In contract, a board game is the opposite, with a clear objective and a path to achieve it.

Open-ended play is important in a child’s development because it provides an arena for children to make decisions and choices, stimulate creative thinking, encourage communication, strengthen problem solving skills, and continue to develop and refine physical skills.

Some of the most rudimentary “toys” provide wonderful open-ended play opportunities. Sticks, sand, blankets, balls, and cardboard boxes have all been inducted into the Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame, due in part to their open-ended play attributes.  Although Maple Landmark doesn’t sell sticks or sand or cardboard boxes, many of our products are equally good for open-ended play. 

The Schoolhouse Naturals building block sets are one such product.  These wooden blocks range from the simplest cube to a complex quarter circle.  The blocks can be a skyscraper one day or an old western town the next. When using blocks, children strengthen basic developmental skills like fine and gross motor skills; hand-eye coordination and language skills when describing what they have created. As a child grows and the buildings get more complex, new cognitive skills are developed like balance points, problem-solving, planning and anticipating. Typically, a child has no idea that they are learning and developing skills through play; it’s just fun!

Similarly, the Made By Me line provides a basic framework for the child to start with (blank vehicle, puzzle, etc.) but the end result is up to the creator's imagination.

Other Maple Landmark offerings like the NameTrains, Scoots, and Printed Block Sets also provide open-ended play opportunities. Though a bit more directed by the theme of the products, there is still plenty of room for vision and inspiration.