What is open-ended play & 27+ accessible toy ideas

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Recently updated on February 15th, 2023 at 09:23 am

I am a huge fan of open-ended play and toys. I absolutely love the fact that they grow with your child and the play possibilities are endless. Whenever I have the occasion, I recommend them to all my mom friends.

Have you ever heard of open-ended toys? What is open-ended play? What does it mean? Looking for ideas for open-ended toys or resources? If the answer is “yes” keep on reading to find out.

Types of play series:

  1. 7 Valuable Construction Play Benefits for Your Little One
  2. What is open-ended play {+ 27 accessible toy ideas your child will love} (this one)

What is open-ended play?

If you ask me, open-ended play has been on earth forever. I am pretty sure our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all our ancestors knew about it. I think it’s just a fancy name.

This type of play allows your child to explore and express their creativity freely without any limitations.

That’s exactly what we, humans did in the past. There were no fancy toys or money to buy them. So we (our parents especially) had to get creative and use existing resources to create our own toys or play with different materials and tools and use our imagination for pretend play.

I can still hear my mom saying that she used to build dolls out of unused clothes…

By the looks of it, we are going back in time. More and more parents prefer Montessori activities, open-ended play, household items, or even recycled materials as entertainment for the little ones.

It’s fascinating how there are no rules to follow, no expectations, no right or wrong way to play, and most importantly, no pressure. Unlike closed-ended toys, activities, or materials that already have a clear outcome.

Children have the capability and the possibility to make their own decisions and fully engage their imagination while playing.

Here are some open-ended materials that can help your child play freely and without too many boundaries, but always under adult supervision:

  • cardboard boxes – yup the ones you receive your parcels in 🙂
  • sand / kinetic sand – I feel like it’s less messy + it’s moist, which makes it easy to create shapes with.
  • water – quick tip: try adding a few drops of food coloring and/or bath foam to create some colorful bubbles
  • water beads
  • fabrics
  • building blocks or bricks
  • paper
  • paint
  • wood
  • loose parts

Remember that these toys don’t have to be wooden. The idea is that you have endless possibilities to play with certain toys and that’s what makes it open-ended.

Useful ResourceThe Power of Open-Ended Materials

Why is open-ended play important for your child?

One of the main benefits of open-ended play is development, which means that through open-ended play your child will learn how to solve and make certain decisions on their own. This is crucial for them later on in life as teenagers and adults.

If you’d like to do some more research about the stages of intellectual development from infancy through adulthood, follow this link.

What are the benefits of open-ended play?

  • imagination – creativity, and intelligence build the ability to think symbolically and abstractly.
  • role-play – will develop social and emotional skills
  • empathy cooperation
  • problem-solving
  • leadership abilities
  • independence and self-confidence
  • cognitive skills – memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation. Which is the capacity to regulate feelings and behavior, withstand impulses, exercise self-control, and discipline 
  • a variety of ideas when using certain materials
  • social skills
  • critical thinking

34 Best Open-Ended Toys That Kids Will Love

Here are some of our favorite open-ended play toys

Magnetic Tiles

My son adores magnetic tiles, they are so entertaining and versatile that you can literally do anything with them. We like to build various cars, and buses, but you can also use them for building houses or castles, farms and so much more.

Montessori Screwdriver Board

This is a great board to keep any toddler, especially boys, busy for hours. They learn how to manipulate certain tools and they develop their motoric skills by handling all those little screws.

Please be careful and don’t leave your child unattended while playing with this board. There are lots of choking hazards around.

open ended play

our favorite open ended toys

Wooden Balance Board

Balance boards are a great example of open-ended toys that will grow with your child. In those early ages, it will act as a ramp for cars for example. Later on, your child can use it for different balancing and movement activities.

Wooden Balance Board

Foldable Pikler Triangle with Ramp

Also known as toddler gym, this foldable pikler is perfect for motor skills development. It involves climbing, pulling, sliding, balancing, and many others.

Besides being super fun, it’s also great for self-confidence, concentration, achievement, and many others.

You might also like: 64 Best Boy Toys for 1 Year Old + Types of Play

Wooden Peg People

Normally peg people are versatile and can be used for different toddler activities.

I used to make our own just because I love creating things with my hands plus some of my friends told me I should start selling them. That’s how my new shop came to life.

Play Learn Pegs is a mixture of educational wooden pieces and fun characters such as princesses, unicorns, dwarfs, and more. You’ll also find personalized peg people, just like you see in this image which will help any child read and spell their name.

Be aware! You can easily get addicted to them! They are so cute.

play learn pegs wooden peg dolls.

Related: Best Resources for learning the Alphabet for Toddlers


I absolutely love how realistic these animals are!

Your child learns animals, colors, and shapes while playing.

These are great for older kids because you can re-create certain landscapes or a tiny world using this set.

You can even use them in the Activity Sheet I created. Download them here!

what is open ended play and what are th

Loose Parts Set

Loose parts are the perfect example of open-ended play. Therefore introducing loose parts in your child’s life is essential to feed their imagination. This will “push” them to think and create freely without any rules or boundaries.

Loose parts are everywhere: nature, kitchen, packaging, outdoors, and lots more.

Read more to learn more about the importance of loose parts play.

Balancing Stones

Inspired by a Japanese game called Tumi-Ishi, it’s all about balance! The game teaches about patience, a sense of balance, hand-eye coordination, logic, observation, and perseverance.

That’s exactly why more and more parents introduce the game to toddlers and children.

Your child can stack, build or balance the stones.

Shape Sorter Cubes

I wanted to add this one here because you can reuse the shapes.

Your child can build towers with them, put them side by side, or do activity sheets as I created for my son. You can download them for free here.

Train Tracks

These are another favorite of ours. We absolutely love building miniature cities, train stations, zoos, and much more.

We purchased the trains and the tracks separately. I believe it’s a very good investment, and it’s the type of toy that any child will like – no matter their gender.

Rainbow Cubes

Probably the least exciting toy, but it’s extremely valuable in your child’s development.

Used for stacking, sequencing, or building, these little cubes will teach your child fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Later on, he can use it with other Waldorf wooden toys, such as the Rainbow, to create more complicated activities and games.

Education Rainbow Pebbles

More suitable for older toddlers (3+), but not necessarily.

Young toddlers may use it for stacking and sorting. Whereas older kids can use it to recreate images using these loose parts.

Wooden Rainbow

It’s one of the most popular and loved open-ended toys on the market. I feel like everything exploded with this toy. Why? Because many parents decide to invest in this simple, yet complicated toy.

You can create tons and tons of things out of these colorful pieces of wood.

For diversity and complexity, there are several other parts or accessories that can be used with the Rainbow. I’ve listed a few within this article.

There’s even an account on Instagram with challenges and ideas on how to play it.

Elements Building Set

Very similar to the Wooden Rainbow, this particular set is great for building and stacking.

I find it so captivating, even for adults. Honestly, some of these toys are more fun for parents than for kids, especially if your kids aren’t old enough.

Agirlgle Wooden Large Building Blocks

Fun building blocks. I can guarantee that your toddler will find them very entertaining. We have a similar set to this one at home and my son loves them. He builds towers, shakes them, or looks through them.

Even I find them interesting 🙂

Wooden Stacking Boxes

These boxes are great for stacking, nesting, or sorting. You could also come up with some fun little activities which involve hiding little toys underneath them, learning colors, and building garages for little cars or tiny world pieces.

For sure your little one has other ideas too!

Wooden Peg Dolls for Boys Girls

Use the tree figures alongside other peg people to recreate landscapes or tiny villages.

You can also use them to teach your child colors, counting, and shapes. Or in the activity sheets, I created, find more info about them here.

Color Sorting Spoons

Look how cute they are! There are so so many activities with these little spoons.

Learning and sorting colors, transferring, and pretend play are just a few examples.

Dinosaurs Sensory Bin

I absolutely love discovery bins. It’s a great opportunity for your child to learn, touch and feel new items.

You can easily create your own using things you already have in your home. Or you can just go ahead and purchase one of these sensory bins.

What’s even cooler? They follow a certain theme.

Months of the year pegs

I believe it’s a great idea to learn anything, not just in the months of the year.

These can help your child learn more about numbers, days of the week, the alphabet, the weather, and lots more.

Wooden ABCs

This is another great example of ways to teach your child the alphabet.

If you’re looking for a quick resource, check out my FREE printable alphabet flashcards for toddlers.

Rainbow Wooden Loose Parts Set

Loose parts are great for hand-eye coordination or for fine motor skills development.

This is just another cute set, that can be used for threading as well.

Wooden Toy Car

I stumbled upon this cute car while browsing for this article.

I loved the fact that it has little faces that will teach your toddler about emotions.

For sure any child will find it super fun.

open ended play

Block of Holes – fine motor activity

OK, this is one of those activities that you can easily recreate at home. But just in case you don’t have the time or the energy, you might love this one.

open ended play

Stacking Car

I find this truck super cool – stackable. For sure any boy would love to play around with it.

open ended play

Rainbow Rings

The wooden rings are another item from the “loose parts” category. These will help your toddler work on their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Plus, they make a great accessory for peg people. You can create tons and tons of activities.

Rainbow Balls & Cups

Just as the rings mentioned above, great for coordination and motor skills.

Besides their versability and using them in different Montessori activities, these particular balls, and cup sets are used for color sorting.

open ended play

Sewing Kit

Could be more for preschoolers, but this sewing kit is definitely a great way to boost your child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

It’ll help them with their grip, meaning that they’ll hold the pen better.

Shape Sorter Flower

Let your child learn about colors and shapes in a fun way.

This will keep your toddler busy for a very long time.

Wooden Watch

It’s never too early to introduce a watch to your child.

They can learn numbers too.

Sometimes it’s all you need from a toy – diversity.

Wooden Vegetables

This little toy is a great opportunity for your toddler to see and learn more about vegetables.

To be honest with you I do prefer the magnetic ones (there are more in there), but this would do the trick too.

Lifting Crane

If you are looking for something unique for your toddler, this is it.

I’ve never seen this toy anywhere else!

For sure you will get your toddler’s attention with it.

Wooden train

Besides being a super useful toy for your child’s development, it can be a wonderful shelf decoration too.

Final Note

That’s it, for now, these are all the open-ended toy recommendations. I’ll add more as I go, so don’t forget to save this article on Pinterest or bookmark it for future reference.

Don’t forget that you can download my Activity Sheets for Toddlers & Preschoolers for FREE. Scroll to the bottom of the page for that (below).

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12 thoughts on “What is open-ended play & 27+ accessible toy ideas”

  1. Lindsey | GreenMamaLife

    Yes! Love this so much! I’m always trying to explain to parents that electronic “educational toys” actually stifle brain development and growth while simple, imaginative play toys improve intelligence, confidence, and problem dining skills! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Happy to hear that Lindsey. I can’t say I don’t allow my son screen time at all because I’d lie. But I focus on open ended play and Montessori activities 🥰

  2. Great Article! My son is 3 years old and I can buy him all the toys in the world but he would rather play with a box or something colorful in the house. I recently stopped buying him a lot of toys and now focus more on educational projects. I will use some of these you have on the list.

    1. That’s so good to hear Kelly. Kids don’t need a lot of toys. That’s why I am a huge fan of toy rotation. I am absolutely certain that he’ll love anything from this list. Best of luck

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