Engaging children in play is a hard, especially for the little ones under 2!
Don't worry you're not doing anything wrong, their attention span just isn't very long.
Childhood development experts say that a reasonable attention span to expect of a child is two to three minutes per year of their age. For example a child that is two could maintain focus on their task for up to 6 minutes. Some could be longer, some could be shorter but that's just an average.
I don't know about you but those statistics seem pretty spot on for my kids!
So what is open ended play?
Open ended play is play that has no set of fixed way that a toy should be used. There is no set outcome and no 'right' or 'wrong' way for the toy to be used.
For example our daughter (2) used a tea pot and a block to shave Dion's face like she had seen a few days prior at the hairdresser. We didn't tell her "that's not a razor" or "why don't you use this instead?"
We encouraged her to to continue what she was doing and Dion extended on this by asking her to also give him a haircut by saying "my hair is getting a bit long." She proceeded to put a skirt around his neck (as a cape) and use her fingers as scissors.
None of these items were the 'right' ones but they did the job!
When children are offered these toys they can use them to follow their imagination and use their creativity so these toys can get a lot of love in a variety of ways and by children of many different ages.
For example linked below are a few blog posts which include many different ways we use just a few items/sets.
These will give you an idea as to how many ways just one item can be used and then you can apply this thinking to many other toys you own or think about this when thinking about growing your collection.
How can you encourage children to engage in open ended play?
Children might need some ideas as to how to play with these toys (especially if it's new to them)!
When we started our open ended toy collection we started with the Grapat Nins Carla Set paired with Mates, followed with the Grimm's Large Rainbow, Building Boards, Semi Circles and 6 Rainbow Balls.
Before we invested in these toys though we did a lot of DIY activities and only had simple things such as balls, pom poms, paddle pop sticks, boxes, tins, sticks etc. and with these I would create many different activities.
These items serve the exact same purpose (they just aren't as pretty) as the beautiful toys we stock but it is still considered open ended play!
With the Grimm's and Grapat items we used to set them up as invitations to play after our eldest daughter (17 months) went to bed for her to wake up to in the morning.
When her little sister came along she was just 20 months old and I also found this a life saver for her to engage in play with something already set up whilst I fed her little sister or prepared breakfast.
You will find that an invitation to play catches their attention as it's on the floor (or table) set up in an inviting way and not just on the shelf. We also do toy rotation meaning that we change the toys or the way they are displayed on the shelf every 2 weeks up to a month depending on how the children are playing.
This is actually how our instagram @grimms_creations begun and why we decided to open Little Toy Tribe! Dion loved setting up balls runs and my invitations to play weren't quite as fancy but they were still very much enjoyed.
Below are some really simple examples on invitations to play:
These pictures are all using the first items in our collection (mentioned above) and these are the very beginning of our @grimms_creations Instagram account.
I've chosen these images to show you that you don't need much to set up many different invitations to play.
I hope this blog post has helped you to feel more confident in engaging your child/children in open ended play if you're only just learning about it.
Just remember that you can show your children some ways to play with them (and they will show you some too). Just because they are open ended doesn't mean children will instantly be drawn to them or know how to use them especially if these are very different to toys they have previously owned.
They are sure to love some invitations to play to get them started!