Open-ended play means the child determines the direction and path their own play. This freedom allows for them to explore and build important developmental concepts.
It's no surprise that children have been enjoying sand and dirt play since the beginning of time. Not only is it fun, it helps large muscle skills develop as children dig, pour, sift and scoop. It also helps develop hand-eye coordination and small muscle control as kids learn to manipulate sand accessories.
Open-ended play outside in the sand or dirt also promotes social skills. When children work together in the sand box, at the beach or out back in the garden, they are faced with real-life situations requiring sharing, compromising, and cooperation. Dramatic play may ensue as they "bake" a mud pie, design roads or dig holes. As kids assume roles associated with their pretend play, they pick up important social skills such as perspective taking, empathy, manners and sharing. By continually changing and adding interesting accessories, parents and caregivers can easily promote cognitive development while creating an inviting and challenging sand play environment.
Mathematical concepts can be developed during sand play by providing children with scoops, a measuring pitcher, buckets, cups and containers in a variety of sizes and shapes. As you observe their sand play, use mathematical terms like more/less; many/few; empty/full; heavy/light. Then challenge kids to count how many scoops it takes to fill a bucket. Sequence accessories by size and shape.
Develop science concepts by suspending a funnel above the play area. What happens when you fill it with sand or dirt? What about rocks? Does the sand move slower or faster? Bury objects in the sand so they can be searched for and dug out. This is something even older children love to do! Invite children to write their names in the sand with the HABA Spilling Funnel or tell a silly story about their play using the Sand Glove Dinosaur. In addition to traditional sand castles, children can create a beautiful garden of sand with this set that features a flower and a butterfly mold! How about dessert? Our collection of ice cream sets will hit the spot!
Children are naturally drawn to sand and dirt play. Caregivers can build on that interest by providing safe, durable and inviting objects, sparking interest by asking appropriate questions, and providing time and opportunity for them to work through their creative play ideas. While we as parents and caregivers provide a safe, inviting environment to promote important development and skill building, it is important that the play area also remain open-ended and child-centered so that kids direct their own play.
After all, it is through purposeful, self-initiated play that children become strong, wise, competent and skilled participants of society!