14 Open Ended Materials For Toddler Play

I want to encourage creative, open ended play opportunities for my children. But I want to avoid the flashing lights and noise making toys that clutter up the shelves at our local toy stores. Many of these toys have only one way of playing with them and it doesn’t take long before these toys no longer entice the child to play with them.

There are several things I look for in a toy: made from natural materials (where possible), open-ended, encourages imaginative play and encourages imitation of life around them. I am always on the look-out for toys that will support this and it is possible to find suitable items at garage sales, charity shops and toy stores. There are also beautiful handcrafted toys made from equisite natural materials that are readily available through the internet. I wish I could provide these for my children, but we are severely limited by our budget. Where I can I try to make appropriate items (such as a Waldorf Doll). But, with some flexible thinking, providing materials for imaginative play really doesn’t require you to spend a lot of money. Many items you use around your home will provide hours of creative exploration.

14 Must Have’s For Open Ended Play

Below I list 14 open ended materials that I believe will encourage creative, open ended play. Many materials are readily available around the home. This is in no way an exhaustive list.

14 open ended materials


Open Ended Learning Materials - SandpitNot a day goes by when my children are not in the sandpit or using the sand in some creative way.

Creating Invitations To Play

More Ideas from the Web…

Sand Sensory Table from Teach PreSchool

10 Indoor and Outdoor Sand Activities from The Good Long Road


Open Ended Learning Materials - StumpsIt is in the toddlers nature to be in movement, providing stumps and planks of wood provides my children with an outlet for some of that energy. Can also be used for tea parties!

More Ideas from the Web…

Obstacle Course from Happy Whimsical Hearts

Balance Stumps from Adventures @ Home With Mum

Wooden Blocks

Open Ended Learning Materials - Wooden blocksThe most expensive material in our toy collection, but well worth the expense. Other alternatives are tree branches of various diameters cut into blocks.

More Ideas From the Web…

Thrifty Thursday…Block Fun from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

Chalk Board Blocks from Picklebums

Block Play Is Important Work from Picklebums

Baby Play Space from The Imagination Tree


Open Ended Learning Materials - DuploAn excellent alternative to wooden blocks.

Open Ended Play With Duplo

More Ideas From the Web…

Indoor Fun On A Cold Day from Mama Smiles

Water Play

Open Ended Learning Materials - Water PlayWe are fortunate to have a water table, but buckets, wading pools and bath tubs will serve just as well for this type of open ended play.

More Ideas From the Web…

Playing In Soapy Water from Two Big Two Little

Water Play from The Pleasantest Thing

Outside Play: Water from Inspiration Laboratories

Fun With Balloons and Water from Paint On the Ceiling

Ice Boats Water Play from Learning 4 Kids

Easy Water Play Ideas from Picklebums

Exploring Cold from We Can Do All Things

Sprinkle, Bubble, Pour, Squish and More! from Caution! Twins At Play

Rock Pool Sensory Small World Play – The Imagination Tree


Open Ended Learning Materials - PaintAll our painting is open ended. I think with the ages of my littlies any art activity is going to have to be open ended! I see open ended painting as an activity where I provide the materials and then let my child’s interest and ability guide the activity. As a parent I am merely an observer of their exploration and ensure the mess is contained!

More Ideas From the Web…

Supporting Children’s Creativity – Octavia and Vicky

More Messy, Sensory Fun Outdoors from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

Recycled Bottle Painting from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

Invitation To Paint With Recycled Materials from Learn With Play @ Home

Sponge Painting from Learning 4 Kids

DIY Bath Paint from Learning 4 Kids

We Play – Finger Painting from Picklebums

Art As Therapy from At Home With Ali

Messy Play Painting and Printing Ideas from The Nurture Store

Edible Finger Paint from Childhood 101

Extreme Outdoor Free Painting from Adventures @ Home With Mum

Dress Ups

Open Ended Learning Materials - Dress UpsStrawberry loves putting on and taking off hats. Chook is enjoying doning a cape and role-playing a Super being. Charity shops are a treasure trove for props. Avoid themed costumes that suggest one possibility.

Tutorial: Handmade Felt Crown

More Ideas From the Web…

Toddler Fun Hats ‘n’ Bags from Picklebums

Sensory Tubs

Open Ended Learning Materials - Sensory binsI love sensory tubs! Unfortunately, I have been restricted by time in setting very many up, an area I wish to address as things get easier 🙂

Coconut Cloud Dough: Explore the Letter C

More Ideas From the Web…

Flour Tray from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

Little Explorers Sensory Play from At Home With Ali

Fall Sensory Bin from Blog Me Mom

Heuristic Play: Treasure Baskets from The Imagination Tree

Coloured Ice Shapes from Four Little Piglets

Bees Sensory Bin from The Good Long Road

Tea and Coffee Sensory Tray from Creative Playhouse

Icy Fun Sensory Play from We Can Do All Things

Full List of Discovery Boxes from The Imagination Tree

Baskets of Different Shapes and Sizes

Open Ended Learning Materials - BasketsUsed for storing play materials, wear one as a hat, use as a crib for a baby doll, a shopping basket, so many possibilities.

More Ideas From The Web…

Basket Creativity Toddler Style from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

Baby Play Space for 6 – 18 months from The Imagination Tree

Travel Size Baby Treasure Basket from The Imagination Tree

Wooden Bowls and Trays

Open Ended Learning Materials - Wooden BowlsI found these in local charity shops for a couple of dollars. I love that they are natural, sturdy and suggest so many possibilities for open ended play.

More Ideas From the Web…

Treasure Basket Ideas from Paint On the Ceiling

Pine Cone Discovery Box from The Imagination Tree

Play Cloths

Open Ended Learning Materials - Play ClothsCloaks, cubbies, table cloths, rivers, grass…

Creating Invitations To Play

More Ideas From the Web…

A Rainbow of Playsilks {A Tutorial} from Happy Whimsical Hearts

Space Play from Happy Whimsical Hearts

Boxes of Different Shapes and Sizes

Open Ended Learning Materials - BoxesCaves, ovens, houses, trains…

More Ideas From the Web…

The Simple Things from Childhood 101

Box Play from Laughing Kids Learn

Cardboard Box Town from The Imagination Tree

Discovery Box 10 – The Imagination Tree

Boxes As Toys – Hinterland Mama

Play Fridge from Mama Smiles

Cardboard Canvas from Mama Smiles

Real Tools

Open Ended Learning Materials - Real ToolsShown how to use and care for tools, children will produce meaningful work and feel like they are helping around the home and garden.

Become An Organised Mum: Kids’ Cleaning Tasks

Making A Vegetable Garden With Kids

More Ideas From the Web…

Ways To Include Your Toddler In Everyday House Work from Glittering Muffins

DIY Screw Board from Glittering Muffins

Montessori Pumpkin Carving from Taming the Goblin

Using a Glue Gun from Teach PreSchool

Real Tools and Playdough – The Fairy and the Frog

Kitchen Play fromThe Imagination Tree

Play Dough

Play doughI love making homemade play dough and there are so many ways you can add interest to the humble dough to spark off a child’s imagination. Play dough can be used as a base where further objects are then added to extend the possibilities.

Fizzy Play Dough

Coconut Cloud Dough

More Ideas From the Web…

Treasure Dough from Happy Whimsical Hearts

Play Dough Sweets from Learn With Play @ Home

Pipe Cleaners, Craft Sticks, Playdough from Learn With Play @ Home

Mixed Media Play from Mama Smiles

Lavender Playdough – The Good Long Road

Child Led Valentines Playdough – Train Up A Child As We Go

Sandy Playdough – Two Big Two Little

Found Natural Materials

Play invitation 3Extend the possiblities of many of the above materials. Pine cones, shells, stones, leaves, nuts, flowers, twigs…

More Ideas From the Web…

Getting Creative With Paperbark from Mummy Musings and Mayhem

“Stick Blocks” from Picklebums

Exploring the Ocean – Sensory Fun from We Can Do All Things

Fun With Flowers from Taming The Goblin

Nature Dough Invitation To Play from Playing and Learning Begins At Home

Mint Playdough from The Fairy and the Frog

Creative Sensory Play Building With Playdough and Rocks from Mama Smiles

Flower Playdough from Nuture Store

Sand Playdough from Creative Playhouse

Discovery Box 7: Pebbles from The Imagination Tree

21 comments on “14 Open Ended Materials For Toddler Play

  1. Pingback: Weekly Wanderings - A Collection of Easy Ideas for Play at Home! - The Empowered Educator

  2. Pingback: Imagination Play - Playful Matters

  3. Pingback: It's A Jam Jellyfish! - Learn To Love Food

  4. Pingback: Parenting | I hate the kids’ toy section. | Opinionated Mama

  5. Pingback: Encouraging Open Ended Play In Your Home - Playful Matters

  6. Pingback: Open ended play - resources and ideas - Bluey & Baloo | Bluey & Baloo

  7. Pingback: Our topic of the week - open ended play - Bluey & Baloo | Bluey & Baloo

    • Thank you Sheila. Gosh, it’s crazy but I didn’t even think that this photo would be a shock to others as it is such a normal occurrence around here! Must be more mindful in future, lol!

  8. Oh boy, your post made me go down memory lane! My son is almost 22, and has just graduated in Film at FSU (Florida State University). But I remember like if it was yesterday all the amazing stuff he did with blocks. We had a set of IKEA cardboard bricks, and a huge bucket of a German set of natural wood construction blocks. He built many great castles and forts. Blocks gave him hours and hours of fun, and I am pretty sure helped him become a creative adult.
    Usha Digiacomo recently posted…minha filha passou no vestibular da UFSC!My Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge