So you love the idea of Open-Ended Toys but you just don't know what to do with them. Or you have brought some and you want your kids to play with them but they haven't been interested and you don't want to have to set up extravagant activities....
Don't worry, I hear you! This is so common.
Here are my TOP Tips to introduce Open-Ended Toys without feeling overwhelmed.
But first, here is a little bit of context for you...
About two years ago, after doing a big cull of all the toys, we started being more mindful and conscious about what toys to bring into the home. We wanted toys that weren't just interesting for 1 day or 1 week and then rarely played with. We also didn't want toys that only really had one use or they would grow out of. Sound familiar?
This is where open ended toys come in...
Our first open ended toys were coloured Gems and a Build-A-Tree from Let Them Play and also Magnetic Tiles. Magnetic Tiles are still the first thing I recommend starting with. At first, my kids would just do 2D pictures and shapes. It probably took a couple of months for them to start to build upwards on their own accord and then another two months to really start thinking outside of what they usually do.
Now, I have 2 jobs and not a lot of time and energy to do many play set ups (but occasionally I still do). What I like about magnetic tiles, is that I could sit down and play with them aswell. It was time with them but also some wind down time for me. This brings me to my first tip...
1. Start with something that your interested in aswell.
If open-ended toys are something new for your kids (especially younger kids), you don't need to set up activities or invitations to play but it does help if you sit with them and show them how it can be used. You don't have to do anything spectacular. Just start small and basic. You are more inclined to sit and play with them, if you are interested in the toy aswell.
2. Keep It Simple...
If you have a Rainbow and put the whole thing infront of them, and expect them to play. They will probably just think its a pretty looking rainbow. Instead, I would start with 1 or 2 pieces of the rainbow and combine it with something that they do enjoy and already play with. Eg. A rainbow arch and some cars, can be a tunnel or a ramp. Presenting the whole thing to them might be overwhelming and they won't know where to start - Just like you.
Playing with open ended toys is a skill to be developed. They won't immediately be able to build a big rainbow structure or a big rocket ship, so start with something small. Doing so will help it seem more manageable and achievable. Their imagination and confidence with the toy will gradual grown on its own.
One of the easiest ways to start, is by combining an open-ended toy with one of their favourite toys. For example, if they enjoy using their play kitchen, put some wooden coins or rings in a saucepan. They can then extend on this (if they want to) how they like.
4. Follow Their Lead
This is my favourite. How many times have you set up an activity and it wasn't played with how you originally intended but they still had fun?
I strongly believe kids will always find a way to play. I often think they play, based on their interests and what skills they are working on at the time. So, just go with it!
Sit on the floor with them and watch how they explore or engage. Just being there to answer questions or help solve problems or give the occasional idea is enough.
I often grab a tea, sit down with them and just watch and see what happens.
5. Matching Activities.
If all else fails, matching activities (eg. Matching colours or letters) are easy and satisfying.
As always, this are just suggestions. Take from it what you need. :)