Open Ended Play Materials

Open Ended Play Materials Lorina

Open ended materials enables children to play freely. They are objects that have no rules to follow, use or function. Raw materials that can be used to build or to create or to combine to make something new. 

What are Open Ended Materials?

Open ended materials are items with no directions and can be used by themselves or with other materials. They can be carried, lined up, redesigned, taken apart, moved and put back together in multiple ways. The child determines what materials are used and how to use them.  

Benefits of Open Ended Materials

Open ended materials provide multiple uses and endless play.  It enables children to be creative and express themselves in play, often using materials to explore and represent other things. There is no pressure to complete an “end product” or bound by limitations. 

While playing with open ended materials children are engaged in decision making and problem solving opportunities. By exploring the materials children become innovators, designers, explorers, artists and collaborators as they build, sort, design, manipulate, arrange and stack in a variety of different ways. 

List of Open Ended Materials 

Open ended materials can either be natural or manufactured. It’s any type of material they will help a child imagine and create in their own unique way. Some ideas of natural and manufactured open ended materials include, but not limited to: 

Natural open ended play materials:

  • stones
  • stumps
  • logs
  • branches
  • small twigs
  • sand
  • gravel
  • water
  • dirt
  • grass
  • pine cones
  • bark
  • feathers
  • leaves
  • pebbles
  • seeds
  • sticks
  • sea shells
  • seaweed
  • river and creek rocks

Manufactured open ended play materials:

  • tires
  • pallets
  • milk crates
  • buckets, tubs
  • plastic garden pots
  • boxes
  • gutters
  • rope
  • chain
  • drain tile
  • PVC pipe
  • planks of wood
  • cardboard boxes
  • cardboard rolls and tubes
  • chalk
  • fabric
  • plastic bottle
  • hoops
  • bricks
  • play cars, animals, people
  • blocks
  • play dough
  • clay 

Open ended materials encourage creative thinking. Using these materials children involve themselves in concrete learning which lead to explorations that occur naturally, rather than adult directed. When children engage with open ended materials, there is no right or wrong answer. It provides an opportunity to plan, create and investigate!  


Judith. “The Truth About Open Ended Materials”, 2014. 
Bowman, Kara. “The Joys Of Open Ended Play”, 2009. 

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Last modified on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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