What is Open Ended Play in Early Years?

At IDEA ELC we know that children often set up their own open ended experiences using materials at hand and sometimes even have a goal in mind.
Our staff know that open-ended play allows children to express themselves in play freely and creatively, not bound by preset limitations. At IDEA ELC, playing with open-ended materials with multiple uses and limitless possibilities, such as molding clay, wet sand, paint, blocks and other loose parts, allow for imaginative play.

There are no rules to follow, no expectations, no specific problems to solve, and no pressure to produce a finished product when engaging freely in open-ended play. In contrast, closed-ended activities have a determined outcome, a right answer, and a restriction on individual differences. Examples of closed-ended materials would be hand print crafts.

If you look inside one of our IDEA ELC classrooms during the day, you will see items like cardboard boxes and fabrics encourage dramatic play. With children’s limitless imagination, they can design make-believe forts, tents, cars and costumes from everyday items that might have ordinarily been seen as waste. A tube can become a knight’s sword, a rock-star’s guitar, a cowboy’s horse, a boat on a stream or a home for insects.

When early years settings balance the variety of materials they offer children, children begin to apply their understanding of how to use the ideas in their imaginations. Symbolic play with realistic props like dolls and play kitchens are desired mainly by children around two years old. Up to the age of four, children enjoy a blend of realistic and nonrealistic props. Five and six year olds engage in more pretend play with nonrealistic materials. All children love age appropriate art supplies such as paper, crayons, markers, paints and scissors which allow for hours of creative open ended play.

There are many benefits to open ended play that can be seen at IDEA ELC. Imagination is enhanced and the ability to think creatively is symbolic and abstract. ‘What if’ scenarios strengthen children’s understanding of the world around them and consequences to actions. Children learn skills of empathy, co-operation, problem solving and leadership skills through make believe play. Open ended play also enhances cognitive skills such as working memory, cognitive flexibility and self-regulation.

Would you like to see how our highly qualified staff use open ended play opportunities with our Creative Curriculum? Email natalie@ideaelc.ae to schedule a time that is convenient.