Open-ended play

A child playing with blocks and pinecones

More than just a theory

Toys and tinsel cluttered the shelves and lay strewn on the floor. Four-year-old Mia and three-year-old Roger were at odds with each other, grabbing and arguing.  Suddenly a collection of shells, forgotten since our last trip to the sea, found its way into Mia’s hands. Peace reigned as she and Roger began to decorate a chair with the shells and when they ran out of shells, they used pinecones—after all who ‘owns’ the things of nature?

Nature offers a wide assortment of loose parts that are captivatingly simple and empowering. Although educators have always known the great play value in natural materials, current research now validates the tremendous learning potential they offer. Read the article.

Twos waterplay

Messing about in boats

"Nice? It's the only thing," said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leaned forward for his stroke. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

- Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

An afternoon at the park with a two-year-old is not exactly relaxing, but it’s fun. What about those summer afternoons when it’s just slightly too cool to get wet, but warm enough to take off your shirt and mess about in a boat? When you are two, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the boat is floating or not. In fact, when it’s on the grass you don’t need to sit still, and you can climb in and out as often as you like.

“After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.” (also from Wind in the Willows)

outdoor play value

Boosting quality and play value outdoors

“It’s better to invest in high quality, flexible equipment than in costly fixed structures that limit the children’s play…with Outlast we are seeing children become more powerful learners, better at concentrating, better at solving problems.” 
- Dr Julian Grenier, Head teacher, Sheringham Nursery School and Children’s Centre and National Teaching School

Sheringham Nursery School has been using Outlast blocks for the past few months. They have seen children become more engaged in their play. They also find that girls get involved with the block play, just as much as the boys. Children are now interacting with each other in new ways and learning to solve problems.

The only problem for the staff is, they need more blocks!

These exciting discoveries and more are recorded here in this case study interview with Head teacher Julian Grenier and Class teacher Lindsey Foster.


Child's hands holding earthworm

Learning is an adventure

"What makes leaves fall down?"

"How do squirrels climb trees?"

"Why do worms come out when it rains?"

Children love to ask questions. They love to wonder why. Supportive adults will provide them with an environment that stimulates their curiosity and fuels the learning process.

At an early years conference I attended recently, the keynote speaker's topic was assessing child-initiated play. Her conclusion after extensive research was simply this: It is impossible to assess children's play. Play, she said, is not a journey with a determined outcome; instead, learning through play is an adventure, because you don't know what will happen. Isn't that the magic of childhood?

In her article A child's love of mystery Judith Pack emphasises the importance of process, not product, in relation to children's curiosity about the world.

pallet ship

A pallet pirate ship

This fabulous ship set sail in a local primary school playground early this summer, and is still afloat. The gunwales are weathered by the rain and embellished by happy hours of play. The pallets, donated by a local factory, are threaded together with long stakes. A few dads helped build the upper deck with plywood scraps, and an old table-top serves as a steering wheel. There's an anchor, a life ring, and an assortment of old pots and pans in the ship's kitchen.

With the weather getting muddier, this type of outdoor play is always in season. Loose parts foster imaginative play, and children learn to express and develop their thoughts in new ways.

Become re-inspired for open-ended play by downloading our training resource I made a unicorn.

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