Open-ended vs Close-ended?! Did you know there are two types of materials to support children’s learning?
Not so many parents know about the differences. Like many of you, I didn’t know until I took the Early Childhood Educator course.
Understanding the differences, lead me to self-reflection. That knowledge also changed how I chose play materials for my kids.
In this article, I will explain the differences between the two and their benefits.
What are open-ended materials?
Play with Open-ended materials generally doesn’t have a clear ending. So the end result of the play varies. Open-ended materials often reflect children’s interests and their personalities. Since there is no clear landing, children keep coming back for further exploration. As matter of a fact, they expand their creations day after day, and sometimes over weeks and beyond.
Examples of open-ended materials
Paper, blocks, natural materials, fabric, paint etc. If a material offers diverse usage, it is most likely an open-ended material. Of course, there are a few materials that fall in a gray area as you can imagine!
Benefits of open-ended materials
Open-ended materials spark curiosity & creativity in children. Not only do these materials nurture children’s curiosity, but they also help children gain life skills. Here are some examples:
- critical thinking
- social skills and much more!
Another benefit is that children try to explain their unique ideas. In order to do this, they need to use different communication tools, like verbal, body language, sign language, or actions.
Clearly, open-ended materials encourage children to articulate their stories. A sense of freedom allows children to be storytellers!
Supporting children with open-ended materials
Gathering materials with intention. Try not to have too many materials. Less means more! When we have limited supplies, we start thinking outside of the box!
No need to spend a lot of money on gathering open-ended materials. Just go and check what’s in the recycle box! It may lead to a conversation on reduce, reuse, recycle with your children. Or they may already know more than you think. And children love teaching adults!
Be present in the moment with children – they know when your mind is somewhere else.
Observe their work respectfully. Be curious and ask some open-ended questions. I personally like using “I’m wondering…”. Although it’s not a question, children seem to respond to this with extra insights. Unlike asking questions, it gives children an option to answer or not.
When you start wondering about their work, you discover more about your children. And about yourself as a bonus!
What are close-ended materials?
When you look at the picture below, do you envision an obvious end result? Yes, you guessed it right! It is coloring the picture.
Close-ended materials most likely have expected results. This is a reason why introducing these materials in a school setting is common.
Examples of close-ended materials are: coloring sheets, books, puzzles, mazes, crafts (when it has a clear end result), etc. Since they have predictable goals, it takes less time to complete than open-ended materials.
Benefit of close-ended materials
One of the benefits is strengthening specific skills. For instance, if you want your children to gain fine motor skill, a coloring book is a great choice. It not only helps children to strengthen their hand muscles, but it also encourages them to improve their hand-eye coordination.
Another benefit is that you can estimate an appropriate time for an activity. Therefore, these materials are good filler activities between transitions. While they are busy, you can get ready for the next activity.
The best part is, even when they are not finished, the materials can easily travel with them!
Supporting children with close-ended materials
Observe children. When you want to provide beneficial materials for your children, this is important. Certainly, knowing your child’s ability makes it easier to choose suitable items.
Give children descriptive feedback. Instead of giving children general feedback like “Good job!” “Nice” and “Love it!”, give them detailed comments. “I love the color choices on the flowers! They look like the beautiful butterfly we saw in the book…” Wouldn’t we all like to hear more specific comments than just ‘nice’?
Constructive feedback is as important as descriptive feedback. Clearly, it has to be simple and meaningful. Children would benefit from useful information for future improvement.
An example of constructive feedback on coloring is, “Let’s stay inside of the solid line next time.” It is simple yet gives them something to work on to get better.
Both open-ended and close-ended materials have their strengths. But having the freedom to explore should be the focus during early ages. Yes, it means open-ended materials. I believe it influences their older/adult life.
Once children become school age, they will have more weight on close-ended materials. Again, both materials have their benefits. Knowing the differences will help you choose the right materials. In the end, children often are self-learners.
Our job is to observe and provide whatever enhances their learning.