Creating Open-Ended Play Opportunities

Sara, my ‘baby’ girl, started Kindergarten last week and having both of my kids in elementary school has inspired me to create more open-ended playing & learning opportunities for them at home. But first, this sentimental Momma must share the story of Sara’s first day of school.

She confidently boarded the big yellow school bus wearing her slightly-too-big monogrammed backpack from Grammy, grinning from ear to ear, brown eyes wide as saucers. Her big brother started school a couple of years back so Sara is familiar with this routine but actually getting onto the bus along with the “big kids” takes her experience to a whole new level.

Kids getting onto School Bus

Over summer, I’m afraid bickering between my 5 and 7-year-olds reached a whole new level as well. Of course, this made it easier to ship them off on that crisp September morning (I’ll admit I was counting the days until school started), but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad as well.

Kids Waiting for Bus

The transition to elementary school, even though I had been taking her to preschool the past few years, is a major one and it’s the first time I’m putting her into the hands of a teacher I didn’t carefully choose myself. Granted, we chose half-day Kindergarten so she is only gone for a few hours each morning but it’s still a big change.

Girl getting off school bus

The change I’m most acutely aware of is the lack of play in the typical classroom. I’ve known of reality for years, of course, but now that both of my little ones are in public elementary school, it’s really hitting home. On her first day, Sara came home complaining the day was all “rush, rush, rush,” then the second and third days she was lamenting how much she misses preschool because she “mostly likes to play.”

Through her play-based preschool, I’ve witnessed the infinite value of open-ended play and how it contributes to real-life lessons and developing creativity and problem-solving skills.

As a parent who believes that “play” offers the best lessons in the world, what is a Mom to do? Some parents enroll their kids in Waldorf, Montessori, or other private schools but the price tag scares us away (plus I believe in public school, at least I want to and I want to be part of making it better, not remove myself from it). Some parents choose to home school but I’m afraid I’m not cut out for that. What I can do, however, is offer more open-ended play and learn opportunities here at home to enrich both Sara’s Kindergarten experience and my son, William’s Second Grade experience.

Here is my plan:

First step: Playroom. As of now, our playroom is a scary place where only the bravest child dares to go. We keep the door closed and hope that errant toys don’t escape. Most of our art supplies and toys are stuffed into this room and I’m afraid everything needs a serious going-through and reorg.

Next step: Uh oh, I’m honestly not sure of my next step but I’m fairly certain it involves assessing current spaces in our home and getting rid of a lot of stuff. For inspiration along the way,  I’ll be reading this book:

Designs for Living and Learning

Would you like to create more open-ended play opportunities for your children? Are you eager to get organized now that your kids are back to school? What first steps will you take?



Liz, Thanks for the great inspiration, and helpful links, in this post. I am in the same boat as you are with my eldest off to kindergarten now. I feel like she comes home craving imaginative play time. I’ve also begun tackling the issue of creating great spaces for my kids to play. One thing I am doing is moving toys around to different areas. If they were in the living room, I have moved them to the playroom in our basement, etc… I’ve also been re-stocking some of our art supplies by using gift cards to Target or Michaels that the kids received for different holidays. I always know we’ll need more supplies so I like to suggest those gift cards when family ask for ideas.
Happy Fall!


Thanks, Kimberly. I like your idea of switching things around to different rooms. Stay tuned and wish me luck–now that I’ve written about it, I better follow through!

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