Open-ended play guide

Welcome to your completely free guide to open-ended play. Many people have heard of the term 'Loose parts' and when people come to my Loose Parts Exhibition training courses or sign up for my Online Intro to Loose parts course they often find that the term is an engineered one. What we're actually talking about are open ended resources that can be used in open ended play. 

What is opened ended?

The term open ended simply means that it doesn't have a specific goal, outcome or use. For example an open ended resource could be a stick or a pinecone. These resources can be used by children in a lot of different ways. They can turn them into dolls, into cars, into phones - basically anything! They can also use them without giving them labels. Equally, open-ended resources can be things which are made from plastic, metal or other materials. A stickle brick is also quite an open ended resource. Even though it was designed to be used in a specific way, children will often still turn it into a phone, or a remote etc. 


...and open ended play?

Open ended play is just like an open ended resource, i.e. play which doesn't have an outcome or a specific goal. A child playing with a selection of stones on a beach may choose to make a garden for a crab whereas another child might choose to make some swirls and patterns. The idea of open ended play is to allow children to manipulate the resources around them in any way that suits them in order to bring enjoyment. 

So why this this so important?

The reason that it is so important right now is because there is a lot of controversy around the value of play. With schools and setting moving to what many see as 'formal' styles of learning, children's play years are being shrunk.  There are many reasons to support open-ended play, including: 

Develop language skills
Develop language skills

Engaging in open-ended play means that children have opportunities to encounter new and unusual resources, developing and deepening their vocabulary and linguistic skills.

Increase engagement level
Increase engagement level

Children who play with open-ended resources do so with joy and interest. This interest comes from within them and this means that they are more likely to stay focussed and engaged on in play for longer.

Develop imagination
Develop imagination

Children can turn any open-ended resource into anything they have seen (or not seen!). They can engage in wonderful imaginative play when using these fabulous resources.

Develop fine & gross motor skills
Develop fine & gross motor skills

Children who engage in open-ended play are developing their understanding of how to manipulate tools and materials using their fingers and whole bodies.

Develop an understanding of risk
Develop an understanding of risk

Children who use large open-ended resources in their play can challenge themselves by creating bigger and heavier structures.

Developed sense of self
Developed sense of self

Children who play with open-ended resources develop a better sense of what they can achieve themselves.

Engage in schema play
Engage in schema play

Children can engage in schema play when using open-ended resources. This natural play is often hard to achieve with closed resources.

As a setting it also carries benefits. First of all, it's dead easy! You don't need masses of resources, in fact you can use whatever resources are around you. Usually this means a visit to your local scrap store, some donations from parents or even raiding your garage. By doing this you're saving valuable funds as well as demonstrating your environmentally sustainable credentials! You can also reuse some of the resources you already have such as compare bears and stickle bricks but allow children to engage in open ended play with them. This will deepen the play but it does so at zero cost to yourself. 

So what does this look like?

This is the video that I use when I present my Loose parts Exhibition course in the real world. (Fully credited of course!). Check it out for real open-ended play in actual using open-ended (loose parts) resources. 

Ok, but what about babies and SEND children?

I always tell people on my Loose parts Exhibition courses that for babies and SEND children the message is the same. They can still engage in the same types of play as their older peers. It just happens that young or SEND children are sometimes more oral than other children. Knowing your children really helps to know what resources you can provide for them. My advice is always:

* Provide large materials that cannot be swallowed such as lollipop sticks, pinecones, large bricks etc.

* Make sure you have large quantities of whatever resource you are providing so that children with SEND and those without can play alongside each other with the same resources

* Use discovery or treasure baskets where ever possible to generate language and curiosity. 

You can make discovery baskets to match the needs and interests of your children or you can buy them. Usually they come with unusual items that are not easily found in shops. 


Right, I'm sold! What about parents?

Parents can be a tricky group of people to get on your side when it come to open ended play. Whilst many are making the positive step towards providing open ended resources for their children, others are retreating even further into closed-ended toys and excessive screen time.

Luckily for you I have produced this free downloadable PDF guide which you can either send to your parents for free or print and give to them directly. 

This is in low-ink format to save those extra pennies when it comes to printer costs. 

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Click to download

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Eager for more?

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This has been a brief (but I hope informative) guide to settle you into the concept of open-ended play. There are many ways to learn more about this style of play. I highly suggest chatting to the team around you, joining my open-ended play facebook group (link to the side) or attending one of my Loose Parts courses or Online sessions.  

If you're feeling empowered to get playing please upload pictures and tag me in them. I'm @nurserynook everywhere.


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