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Open Ended Play

Thursday 28th November 2019

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This blog post was written by Early Childhood Consultant and Early Years Professional, Sue Asquith. She is also an Assessor for Millie’s Mark and an NDNA Associate Consultant.

Young children are natural, explorers and very inquisitive.  Once they start talking, they are usually full of ‘why’ questions about the world around them and seem programmed to investigate how things work.  We should, therefore, take full advantage of this innate curiosity and start channelling their enthusiasm for discovery as early as possible.

Lots of opportunities to create, explore and investigate!!

Young children are like little scientists – who knows what they might become in the future?  You might be caring for the next generation’s Albert Einstein or Marie Curie!

TV and films such as Knight Rider and Back to Future in the 80s gave us their impressions of future tech and here we are now with much of it existing! More recently when talking about open ended play and creativity I have said things such as “the little people in your care might go on to invent a car that drives itself”.  As we are almost there with that one, who knows what might come next – flying cars?  What other technological advances there will be over next 12, 20 and more years!?  One thing is for sure it is the little ones of today that will be steering the way!

Inspiring children to create and think critically

Engaged and interested adults can encourage children’s natural curiosity.  For example, providing the encouragement and appropriate opportunities for babies and young children to explore the world around them and find out how things work. Even the very simplest activities can introduce our early years children to new concepts, stimulating critical thinking and paving the way for future learning. Here are some simple yet effective ideas:

Involve the children making their own play dough – there are lots of different versions to try but the ones using hair conditioner and corn flour or plain flour and water are easy alternatives.

If you work in a group setting why not challenge each member of staff to take turns to develop an open-ended tuff spot activity for the children?  Remember that children learn from wallowing in their play and chances to revisit things more than once; perhaps you could create a themed tuff spot activity that lasts a week – or more?  Childminders often meet up with other childminders at a drop in group, so maybe you could set a tuff spot challenge or take it in turns to offer an open-ended play experience for the children?

Simple experiments can also provide children with opportunities to learn, develop and practise many different skills; communication skills, sharing ideas and resources, taking turns team working, patience, perseverance, as well as analytical, reasoning and problem-solving skills.  Don’t be afraid to use big words with small children, for instance ‘hypothesise’ meaning to try and explain something.  Experiments are a fun and easy way of introducing science to young children. There’s an example of an experiment for you to consider here.

Sensory play has many learning possibilities:

  • It is open ended, so many ways to incorporate children’s interests
  • Providing new sensory input for the brain – different textures, colours, smells etc
  • It can provide a calming feeling helping children to self-regulate
  • It can be interesting and thought provoking – think of some open-ended questions and new words that you can model for children during sensory play
  • Squeezing and manipulating the dough helps to prepare little hands for later tasks such as holding a pencil and learning to write
  • Some dough recipes keep well in air tight containers and are ideal to send home to help parents to extend their child’s learning at home

Why not join Sue’s Facebook group or follow her on Twitter: @sueasquith1

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