Baby playing on floor with building blocks

Five Great Ideas for Open Ended Play

Open-ended play is any type of play that has no strict rules to follow and no ‘correct’ solutions or fixed outcomes at the end. It is absolutely fantastic for encouraging creativity and imagination amongst little ones and can keep kids playing for hours on end as there is no right or wrong way to do it and no final end point!

A simple example of open ended play could be playing with building blocks…yes the blocks can be used to build houses, train stations, rockets..but they can also be little people or animals in a farm that have their own storylines and lives! They could be used to support a ramp for a race track in a car racing tournament. They could be used in a catching game. The options are endless and given these ‘open ended opportunities’ for play children can thrive and develop in so many ways…improving their motor skills, communication and language skills, concentration abilities, creativity and so much more.

Open ended play also provides some really lovely opportunities for adults to play and engage with their children..when my own kids were younger I definitely had times when I became totally engrossed in building a train network or transforming a cardboard box into an animal hospital 🙂

I spoke to some of the many wonderful local businesses of Sale that work with children to see what their favourite ideas for open ended play are…


1. Sophie of Manchester Children’s Physiotherapy :

Sale based Manchester Children’s Physiotherapy, provide fun, interactive physiotherapy for babies and children under 16 with a wide range of conditions. The focus of their treatment is always FUN, always finding ways to get the kids active in both challenging and enjoyable ways.

I spoke to Sophie, one of their highly experienced physios, about why open ended play is so important for child development and one of her favourite ways to incorporate play like this into her physio treatment sessions:

Role Play

Little girl dressed as nurse
Photo: Sonya Smith Photography

“Letting a child dress up not only develops their imagination but helps improves coordination and fine motor skills as they negotiate buttons and zips. I have in the past taken a fancy dress box out to a child for a couple of physio sessions.  Having limited mobility and upper limb function due to Cerebral Palsy, she needed a little bit of assistance getting dressed in her outfit of choice. However, it was lovely to see how motivated she was to have a go herself and she looked so proud once she was dressed in her outfit of choice…. pink pyjamas, sunglasses and a Hawaiian Lei!” – Sophie, Manchester Children’s Physiotherapy.

You can find out more about Manchester Children’s Physiotherapy and how they help all sorts of children online here:

Keep up with all the fun ways they have been helping children on


2. Claire of ‘Josh and Nelly’ Independent Children’s Store

Josh and Nelly is an independent children’s store with shops in both Sale’s Stanley Square and Chorlton.

They stock really beautiful, tactile toys made predominantly from wood, metal, cardboard and organic cottons that kids and parents alike both love. They carefully select toys to inspire creativity, imagination and learning so boss Claire was perfect to speak to about her favourite ideas for open ended play:

Wooden Toys

Wooden toy train and track
Photo: Claire, Josh and Nelly

“Here at Josh and Nelly we know that wooden toys make the best open ended play ideas. Blocks, small parts, wooden animals and stacking stones can all form part of your play area. Our top tip is to rotate the selection daily. Leave a basket out with some blocks and build a small bridge with a wooden toy under next to the basket to start your child’s creative mind ticking! Then let your child’s creativity do the rest. The next day do the same with a wooden train track, leaving a basket full of track pieces and accessories (perhaps putting a couple of pieces together to get started). You can get into a routine with the rotation, adding one different item or using a different location to do the activity each time you rotate. It will feel like you are getting out a new toy each time!” Claire, Josh and Nelly

You can check out and shop all the amazing toys Josh and Nelly have on offer online here: Josh and Nelly

and keep up to date with their latest news and offers by following them on Instagram.

3. Greta of ‘Love to Craft’

Greta is the founder of ‘Love to Craft Mcr’ with a passion for all things creative! Greta offers really fun craft workshops for children and adults covering tons of creative ways for anyone and everyone to get making.

She is a big believer that working with the hands and producing something with your own creativity and patience is not only magical, but also beneficial for our wellbeing and mental health.

She had a fantastic idea for open ended play with little ones…

Frozen Tray Exploration

Two little girls playing in garden with frozen water craft activity
Photo: Greta, Love to Craft

“A great open ended play activity – especially on a warm day – is to prepare a tray or container that is filled with bits and bobs that can be frozen (this could be plastic animals, pom poms, marbles…).  Make sure the tray actually fits in the freezer and fill it with water and all the things you’ve collected from around the house so that they’re half- or just about covered with water.

Top tip: if you prepare this activity for more than one child, you can also use smaller containers rather than one big one to avoid arguments :).

Once the water has frozen the kids can play “archeologists” or “rescue” the frozen things by using salt, paint brushes and other kid-friendly tools – you will be surprised how much fun this will bring and how long it keeps them busy! :)” Greta, Love to Craft.

You can check out and book into one of  Love to Craft’s upcoming workshops online at

Be sure to follow Love to Craft on Instagram for Greta’s regular, brilliant but quick and easy ideas for craft activities you can do at home with your children at


4. Jay (Education director) of ‘Explore and Play’


Explore and Play is a fantastic play centre in Sale’s Stanley Square that has been specially designed for children between 0-6 years old.

At Explore and Play they passionately believe that children learn through playing, and that different types of play allow them to develop in different ways.

The centre was built specifically linked to the Early Years education framework and they provide a fantastic range of environments for children to explore from role play, crafting, physical play and so much more. In Explore and Play kids really get to use their imagination, develop skills, learn and have most of all have fun!

Jay, the education director shared this brilliant idea for some fun, messy open ended play at home:

Messy Play 

Little girl enjoying messy play in the garden
Photo; Jay, Expore and Play


“At Explore and Play, we offer countless opportunities for open-ended play. One of the things we really enjoy is Messy Play. As well as being lots of fun, it has huge benefits for children of all ages; you can start from just a few months old and children of 4 and 5 years will still enjoy it.

The key to doing messy play at home is not to over-complicate it – you don’t need loads of resources and a chemistry set – and it doesn’t actually have to be as messy as you think. The aim of messy play is to allow your child to experience a range of textures, develop their fine motor skills, stimulate their senses, experiment with cause and effect and use their imagination to explore and play. So, with that in mind, open your kitchen cabinets and see what you can use. Some Tupperware, different-sized spoons, cups, kitchen tongs etc. are all very interesting to a preschooler. Pour some cheap, everyday ingredients into one of the containers – cereal, red lentils, oats etc. and then let your little one grab, spread, pour, ladle, until their heart’s content. If you want to take it further, add in different textures such as flour, water, jelly, noodles. You only really need 2 ingredients to play with and your little one will have a great time. Over summer time, it’s a great idea to do this out in the garden and then you don’t have to worry about the mess. If you want to contain it, you can buy a cement mixing tray for around £12 from B&Q or, use a small paddling pool for them to sit in.

As I said before though, it doesn’t have to be overly messy. Tape a baking tray to the table of a highchair, turn out a carton of ready-made jelly and push a few sea animals into it and your little one will have lots of fun.

Have a try, you might find that you enjoy getting messy too!” Jay, Explore and Play

You can check out Explore and Play and book a slot to come down and have lots of fun with your little one at their website here:

Be sure to follow them on Instagram to hear about all their latest events too as they always have tons going on:

5. Sonya Smith Photography

With two kids of my own and plenty of time spent capturing kids at play in my family photoshoots I know how wonderful open ended play is for little ones development and entertainment. A game that I fondly remember playing as a child myself and has always been a winner with my two is building a chair train!

white leather dining chairs in a row by kitchen window looking out to garden

Grab a few chairs, place in a row and that’s it…you’ve got a train!

All the kids and adults can pile on, your driver can hop on at the front, blow their whistle and off you all go…where will you stop, who knows?! Look out your ‘window’ what can you see? Are you whizzing through a city or the countryside? Maybe you could make tickets for the train?

When you’ve finished your journey, the train could now be an aeroplane! Don’t forget to do up your seatbelts and you’re way up in the air.

After you landed, the plane is now a bus! Time for a sing song of the good old ‘wheels on the bus’. Where are you headed next? Maybe on holidays? Don’t forget your suitcase!

Honestly the options are endless with this easy, free game that always sparks kids imaginations and they just love to play 🙂


If you’d like me to capture your kids on a train chair adventure or perhaps getting stuck into some messy play, then pop to my website and download a Family photography brochure. I’d love to capture your clan!

I hope you have found these ideas a great starting point to spark your imagination and get playing with your little people..simple is always the best!

Thanks to the fantastic contributors, Sophie at Manchester Children’s Physiotherapy, Claire at Josh and Nelly toys, Greta at Love to Craft Mcr and Jay from Explore and Play.

We hate having our photos taken and you were really lovely and put everyone at ease and made the experience feel relaxing and fun and not in any way awkward. You captured our children’s personalities, making some beautiful photographs that we will cherish.

- Caroline T