Have you ever watched a friend's child play independently and wondered “why doesn’t my child do that!”?
I’ve been there.
We all want our children to be independent and engaged. It just makes life so much easier when we don't have to entertain them all day!
These things won’t happen instantly but it will much easier and happen more frequently with the right toys.
...so what are the 'right' kinds of toys?
Well, first let me explain the difference between the two main types of toys, from an early child education perspective - open-ended toys and closed-ended toys.
What is an open-ended toy?
An open-ended toy is a play object that can be used in many different ways and will grow with your child. In short, it is a toy that can be anything your child wants it to be!
What is an example of an open-ended toy?
The main objective of wooden blocks is to build; but the beauty of wooden blocks is that the building opportunities are endless.
For the animal enthusiast - build a farm, or a dog house, or a lion’s den!
For the vehicle enthusiast - build a railway station or a long road!
For the doll lover - build a dollhouse or a doll bed!
Wooden blocks can be anything your child can imagine them to be in their play.
What is a closed-ended toy?
A closed-ended toy is made for one, single purpose and functions in one particular way.
What is an example of a closed-ended toy?
The electronic puppy.
You push a button, it barks, walks around, does a little flip and then stops. It totally fulfills your child’s love of animals. But what happens when your child’s interests change? This cute little pup is thrown into a corner, adding to your pile of toy clutter and is never used again. Not to mention, this toy was not cheap and you feel guilty throwing it away.
Are there closed-ended toys that I should buy?
Puzzles are closed-ended but they do so much more than the electronic puppy.
Help children develop fine motor skills, as they manipulate the pieces of the puzzle and put them together.
Teach patience as children work hard to find pieces that fit together.
Enhance problem solving skills.
This is a closed-ended toy that I would recommend buying!
When considering buying closed-ended, commercial toys related to your child’s most recent obsession (e.g. Paw Patrol plastic figures), I give you permission to buy some...BUT I would be mindful about the quantity you are buying. When you buy too much, it becomes difficult for your child to imagine any play scenarios beyond the function of the toy.
Why Some People Don't Like Open-Ended Toys...
The main reason - they're not cheap.
Open-ended toys usually have a hefty upfront cost. However, building a large, amazing collection of these toys takes time...years in fact. You need to start small.
How do I justify the cost?
If you think of all the cheap purchases you make from your local dollar store or off Amazon daily or weekly or even monthly, the numbers really add up! I bet if you added up all those costs, you’d realize you’ve spent more on those cheap items altogether than you would on one beautiful set of wooden blocks.
Want a tip?
As an educator of young kids, I realized early on how much children love MagnaTiles (sadly, we do not sell them on our site at the moment). Regardless of where you buy them, they are expensive.
I bought a small set for my son when he turned 1 year old. Since then, I’ve put MagnaTiles on his birthday present wish list (this is the tip - make a birthday present wish list!!!), which I shamelessly send out to all the grandparents and aunts/uncles each year.
From gifts, we have grown our collection to over 150 MagnaTiles in just 3 years!
With this shameful strategy in place, I get the toys I want for my children, I minimize the consumption of plastic, closed-ended toys that end up thrown into a corner, and I spend less on the collection myself. It is a win-win!
So let’s get back to the child I mentioned who played with the same toy for so long.
That child was engaging with an open-ended toy.
With this in mind, here are my top 6 open-ended toy picks from our website.
As I mentioned already, the building possibilities are endless. One thing I did not mention is the natural mathematical learning that occurs when playing with these blocks.
Blocks teach about shapes.
Children learn to combine smaller shapes to create new larger shapes.
For example, combine two small triangles to create one large square or combine two small squares to create one large rectangle.
Side note: When you place blocks in your playroom, it is important to think intentionally about where you place them. Place the triangles beside the squares and the squares beside the rectangles in order to make the exploration of these shapes more fluid for your young ones.
2. Way to Play Road: https://www.themontessoriroom.com/product-page/way-to-play-tracks
This toy is perfect for any car lover! It is made from a flexible rubber material and it connects like a puzzle piece. Since it is unbreakable, waterproof and sensory play friendly, it can be used both indoors or outdoors. It is small enough to take with you wherever you go - to the bathtub, to the park or even to the beach!
Aside from its obvious open-ended play possibilities, it helps children develop fine motor skills, as they arrange and rearrange the pieces with their tiny hands, and problem solving skills.
As a child engages in creative and inventive play with this toy, problems are bound to arise that will test their patience, resiliency, and perseverance.
3. Large Rainbow Stacker: https://www.themontessoriroom.com/product-page/rainbow-stacker
This colourful rainbow stacker helps children develop hand-eye coordination and introduces them to the concept of sequence and size, as they learn to sort and stack the arches from smallest to largest.
Although its most basic function is as a puzzle, it can be used to practice balancing objects, designing patterns and creating intricate mazes for marbles or balls.
There is research supporting the benefits of children making music and not just listening to it. The effects of this simple musical experience can be quite profound on the developing mind.
Playing with instruments helps a child build fine and gross motor skills, as well as hand-eye coordination.
For example, using an open hand to drum helps to develop gross motor skills, while tapping fingers on a piano key or holding a drumstick strengthens fine motor skills.
Additionally, music supports sensory development. Touching, listening, moving and balancing are involved in children learning to hold their own instruments and play their own music. Children learn that depending on the intensity and force of their motion (e.g. banging a drum hard or soft), a completely different sound is created.
5. Tiny balls with bowls sorter: https://www.themontessoriroom.com/product-page/colour-sorting-balls-and-bowls
These colourful tiny balls and bowls are perfect for the preschool aged child who is beginning to explore the concept of colours.
Open-ended play with this toy is extremely useful in enhancing many developmental skills.
Sorting the balls by colour or counting them as they are placed in the bowls are basic mathematical skills.
Learning how to name each colour is an important skill in language development.
Manipulating the scoop to place the balls into the bowls helps to develop fine motor skills.
So much learning in one simple toy!
6. Balance Board: https://www.themontessoriroom.com/product-page/waldorf-balance-board
In addition to its use as an open-ended toy or a cozy reading space when paired with a pillow, the benefits of the balance board begins when a child first begins to crawl.
Crawlers will love to practice their new skill over the balance board’s arch.
As children become more comfortable standing up, flip the board over to help build balancing skills (known as vestibular stimulation).
Aside from its benefits in gross motor development, the balance board helps to increase spatial awareness, strengthen muscles in the limbs, and promotes proprioception, which is the ability to sense your environment and adjust the positions of the body accordingly.
Adding this toy to your playroom is a no brainer! It doesn’t take up much space and can be used outdoors.
The Most Important Questions To Ask Yourself When Buying A Toy...
Are there multiple ways to play with this toy or just one singular use?
Will this toy grow with my child or will my child outgrow this toy too soon?
Is this toy made from durable material?
Does this toy invite play?
Does the toy feel good in my hands?
Will the toy look good in my play space?
With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to building a toy collection that you and your child(ren) can enjoy for years to come! Happy shopping!