What is open-ended play? It's a pretty hot topic in the world of early childhood education. Basically, it's any activity that doesn't have a set outcome. Painting, cardboard tubes, and blocks are all examples of open-ended activities because you can play with each of them in a number of ways with no set outcome. On the other hand, a model airplane that's supposed to look like an airplane at the end of the play, and a children's baking recipe are not open-ended play because they actually have to look like the image on the box.
Open-ended play has some great benefits.
Individual activity (for the child who might have challenges playing with others).
Stress free (no pressure to complete something to look exactly like the image on the box).
Builds creativity (a painting can be whatever you want—in whatever interpretation you like)
Develops decision making (Will the blocks be a tower? Road? Box? Will you group them by colour? Size? Texture?)
As an aside: most open-ended activities I can think of are non-electronic...I suppose a bonus if you are anti-screens
On to those 5 open-ended activity ideas...(and yes, supervise your children during play time).
1. Painting. Use a finger, a carrot stick or a brush—painting is a great go-with-the-flow activity.
2. Sand. Some sand, a shovel, and a bucket is sure-fire fun. I sometimes substitute sand with oatmeal (great texture—less grit). Hate the clean-up? I put a cup of dry oatmeal in the bathtub and let dear son play away. Add water and it becomes an oatmeal bath (great for the skin).
3. Drawing. Crayons, pencil crayons, plain pencils. Drawing is a nice quiet activity (unless you are MY toddler who has become addicted to drawing on the dining room walls).
4. Water. Outside: pool, sprinkler, water table. Inside: kitchen sink, bath tub, plastic containers. Kids love to touch, splash, dribble, and dunk.
5. Play Dough. I shared a recipe for easy Home-Made Play Dough last year. And thanks to a comment on that post from Astra—I am a changed Play Dough maker. The microwave play dough recipe she shared in the comments (pasted below) is super-easy and I have made it again and again with great results.
1 c flour
1 Tbsp cream of tartar
1/2 c salt
1 Tbsp oil
1 c water
Combine first 4 ingredients together; mix food colouring with the water and add to flour mixture. Microwave 1 minute on high; stir and microwave again for 1 minute. Stir and let sit until cool enough to handle. Knead well.