Our journey towards open-ended toys: How they changed our play for the better

 

Let’s talk toys.  Open-ended toys to be exact and why they are so amazing.  Now, if your house resembles mine in any way you’re probably thinking “Nope…we have waaaay too many toys and we don’t need any more” . Understandable.  Been there. And to be perectly honest, I am still there.  But, what if I told you these toys are different.  Hear me out, because they don’t just serve a single purpose; they can transform from one day to the next (no- it isn’t another Optimus Prime).  Some of our favourite open-eneded toys are not only beautiful and well made, but you will actually enjoy (no- LOVE) playing with them as much as your children do.

 

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Emy (3) made a “Go Anywhere Buggy” he called it. It could go in the water, fly in the air, and drive on the road. If you look closely- you can see tractors inside the vehicle.

So what does open-ended mean exactly?  It means something that does not have a specific purpose; it does not have limitations.  You know that toy that your child just HAD to have- one to be forgotten a few days later?  Maybe it was Rubble’s bright yellow Rig that he uses to save the day on Paw Patrol? Or maybe you have Sky’s helicopter… Ever notice how ONLY the proper pup can drive that vehicle, and ONLY when playing Paw Patrol?  There’s no way those pups and their vehicles are getting involved in anything other than what they are intended for (if you have a particularly picky child like mine!).  Skye isn’t going to be plowing fields, her aircraft isn’t designed to fit farm equipment.  She isn’t going on any underwater adventures because the set you own doesn’t come with a snorkel.  I’m not hating on Paw Patrol here people, I really do have a soft spot for Chikaletta and the gang. However, after watching my son eagerly collect all the pups (with their respective vehicles AND the Lookout) over the course of his birthday and Christmas one year, only to observe that he actually had no idea or desire to actually PLAY with them, it made me wonder “why can’t he just PLAY ?”.  It didn’t take long for the excitement of these new toys to wear off because there was only one thing they could do.  And my 4 year old could only dream up one single rescue scenario for these poor pups to act out.  The point is, when a toy only serves one purpose or intention, the excitement wears off pretty quickly.  I’m sure you’ve seen it too.  The more specific an item is, the more limitations it has.  Children don’t have to use their imaginations at all and forget what it really means to just “play”.

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Emy is reenacting his trip into the city. We used out Way To Play rubber road pieces to make a city and then used various blocks and toys to bring it to life.

Open-ended toys on the other hand, allow a child to use their imagination and let it run wild. They are given the opportunity to be creative instead of being told how to use something.  When the child is completely in charge of the narrative, they are challenged to use creative thought processes and problem solving skills in their play. In my experience, my children will even use more expressive language as they communicate and verbalize their ideas, thoughts, and creations.  You probably already have some of these types of toys in your home (think Lego, blocks, things that kids can build and create with, change and then rearrange).  But there is more out there beyond those tiny plastic bricks. When we started investing in quality, open-ended toys, it made play so much more fun for us as a family. We were in a bit of a “play rut”, it was the same thing over and over and it was all becoming a bit boring.  And it wasn’t for a lack of toys- we had tons. Just not the right kind.  So, what changed?  I was introduced to the magical world of quality wooden toys.

IMG_2292.jpegI first discovered Grimm’s wooden toys when I walked into our local children’s boutique/consignment shop and was completely overcome by the gorgeous items that stood before me.  After regaining my breath, I advanced and slowly reached out for the large rainbow stacker.  I was sold; it had me.  To my delight, my kids were just as captivated by it’s beauty as I was.  Emy was 2 and Easton was 5- and they both loved building structures, which allowed them to explore and learn about balance, weight, symmetry, and more.  The arches of the rainbow became tunnels, caves, forts, and houses.  We used it for exploring mathematical concepts such a sorting and size.  The fact that this toy is made from wood that is dyed with 100% non toxic, water-based stains was something else that I loved about it. We had this rainbow stacker for about a year before I started to slowly add more pieces to our Grimm’s collection (stay tuned for a blog post on my top 3 favourite open-ended toys to start with).

By this point, I think it is obvious that I have major love for beautiful, open-ended toys.  But, don’t’ get me wrong- I still have bins and bins full of “regular” plastic toys.  They are still played with in our house and definitely serve their purposes.  Tractors, trucks, and construction machines will always be a favourite in my house of three boys.  We do a different type of play with them now.  We are able to extent our play, use trial and error, as well as mathematical and analytical thinking while designing bridges for our trucks, pathways and ramps for the tractors, and houses for the machines to rest between jobs.  So don’t go throwing all your other toys away because you’ve decided to go all-in.  Just remember, it will take time (and money) to build your collection of beautiful, quality toys.

These are the toys I will forever be holding on to.  I suspect that I will even have one or two out on display long after my kids have stopped using.  Some of these pieces are truly works of art.  I will most certainly be keeping them safe and saving them for my grandchildren to play with when that time comes.  I already look forward to the new things that will be created by those future little imaginations.

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For more ideas on how to incorporate open-ended toys in your play, follow me on Instagram: @earlychildhoodfun101

 

 

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