In our Company Bio, we mention 5 things that we believe are present in the best toys. We believe that the best toys are beautiful (or aesthetically pleasing), interesting (stimulating in some way), well-crafted, open-ended, and developmentally nurturing. The last two of those ideals even pop up in our company name: open-endedness as it relates to the 5 Types of Play, and developmental nurturing of the 5 Areas of Early Development and 9 Types of Intelligence. This post (and may it not run too long), will wrap up our 5 Types of Play series and look at what it means for a toy to be useful for Open-Ended Play.
For a toy to meet the description of "Open-Ended," it simply has to be able to be used in more than one way. This doesn't mean that some close-ended toys aren't awesome (marble runs, anyone?), and it doesn't mean that some close-ended toys can't be useful in a child's development (the cause-and-effect of push-the-button-and-a-song-plays of some infant toys do, in fact, teach cause and effect). But the best toys, the toys that will be used the longest, and the most, and will give you the best value, are toys that aren't limited in what they can do. Building off of our posts last week, these are toys that can even be used in multiple types of play.
An example from my past work with young children: Several years ago, I worked with a young boy who loved firetrucks (as a lot of kids do), and had a number of firetruck toys, some of which were super fancy and battery powered, with sirens and lights and accessories. Some of this young one's firetrucks weren't specifically firetrucks, however, but were rectangular blocks that he had called into firetruck service, because, as is understandable, the more firetrucks the better. One day, I noticed that he wasn't using a couple of his fancy firetrucks in his play, and the reason? "They're broken." They weren't physically broken at all, but the batteries had died, and while he was happy to make the siren noises and extend belief for his rectangle-blocks-turned-firetrucks, he was no longer interested in the "broken" ones. And another nice thing about those block 'firetrucks' - they could later be a spaceship, part of a bridge, or a critical element in an experiment of "how high of a tower can we make?" One block, multiple ways to play. Physical play, fantasy play, constructive play, social play, and games with rules.
While blocks are one of those incredible, unstoppable, super toys, what other toys are versatile in a similar nature? Well, a lot of them. Perhaps even most of them, if they're approached with creativity (you can make art, music or sculptures out of most anything, and simple games are easy to create with found objects). Looking at the 559 products, let's explore just one - the Discus Rattle:
Physical Play: reaching, grasping, shaking and rolling (and chasing); manipulating the smaller beads back and forth on the rods
Constructive/Creative Play: shaking to create a fun sound; using as a percussion tool; can be a fun (and interactive) addition to any block creation
Social Play: exploring the rattle together, pushing and watching it roll, creating games with the rattle
Games with Rules: rolling the rattle back and forth; taking turns counting the 1-2-3 of the beads
My personal non-559 favourite open-ended toy (that isn't blocks)? The humble cardboard box. Big ones, small ones, and a collection of them is even better! Leave your favourite in the comments!