Open-Ended Play

Do you wonder why when you give your child a present they spend so much time playing with the paper and packaging? This is because their imagination has taken over and they are more excited by what they can create.

The types of play that best engage children and promote essential brain development in these vital early years allow children to: be their own lead, make their own decisions about what to use, how to use it and when to use it, explore and experiment as there is no fixed answer or way of doing something and therefore, they can’t be wrong. We refer to this type of play as open-ended play. Open-ended play is intrinsic to childhood. Children’s potential starts in their imagination and by providing materials and resources that allow children to become engaged in this open-ended play we are providing children with the greatest opportunities to maximise their potential both now and in the future.

What you won’t see in our nurseries and pre-schools are the bright coloured plastic toys which may entertain children for a short while but do not offer the same scope to promote children’s play or the crucial brain development that we aim to maximise for the children in our care. The types of resources that enable open-ended play to happen are blocks, tubes, construction toys, water, sand, soil, tubs etc - in other words materials that can be used in a thousand ways depending on what the child is thinking at that time. For example, a block can be a telephone to a child wanting to pretend/mimic a phone call, they can be banged together to create sound, they can be used to build towers or bridges, they can be used to prop up a plank for cars to whiz down; the list is endless. And, every time the child uses them in a different way the brain has to create new synapses to cope with the information which in turn expands the child’s intellectual capabilities.

Other Activities

Forest School

All our nurseries and pre-schools have free-flow into outside areas, and we are very fortunate that some of our settings have their own woodland for children to explore. Forest school is a Danish concept that relies on learning by experience. It is about giving children and young people opportunities to develop confidence, independence and self-esteem through exploring and experiencing the natural world.

Many activities are within the woodland areas, others take place within other parts of the setting. All these areas have natural features and additional natural materials such as logs and sticks. Sites are safe; they are thoroughly risk-assessed and managed appropriately.

Forest school varies depending on the individual setting and their facilities. Possible activities might include:

  • Hunting for mini-beasts.
  • Natural crafts - dream catchers from willow, collages from natural materials, tree cookies, magic wands, making stick men, pinecone bees etc.
  • Mud and clay sculptures.
  • Den and shelter building.
  • Tying knots.
  • Making smelly potions.
  • Hide and seek.
  • Jumping in puddles and leaves.
  • Using tools for a purpose.

Forest school runs all year round and in all weathers (unless weather conditions are dangerous). The children's initial experiences of Forest school will concentrate on safety, establishing boundaries and routines. As the children develop in confidence, the experiences will focus on developing and consolidating skills and understanding.

Treasure Baskets

The treasure basket itself is usuallly made from willow, wicker, straw, raffia or other natural woven materials. Within the treasure basket is a collection of everyday objects chosen to stimulate the different senses. It is one way of giving babies a wide range of experiences that help the brain to make connections and develop - and helps to keep them happy!

Babies learn from the treasure basket by looking, touching, sucking, licking, banging, and picking up and dropping. It gives babies the chance to explore and decide for themselves what they want to play with. Babies' curiosity about the contents of the treasure basket means that they will often concentrate for longer and longer periods of time.

The main theory behind treasure baskets is to allow children to explore them for themselves, learning naturally through play. Treasure baskets are an ideal way of allowing young children to:

  • Explore natural objects, textures and colours, using all their senses.
  • Develop concentration.
  • Stimulate movement, communication and language through simple materials.
  • Practice and refine fine motor skills and hand/eye co-ordination.
  • Make choices and develop preferences about what interests them.

Further reading:
The Little Book of Treasure Baskets by Anne Roberts
Infants at Work by Eleanor Goldschmidt
Helping Babies and Toddlers Learn by Jennie Lindon.

Floor Play

Floor play promotes children's posture, large movements and fine motor skills through sensory exploration of their environment. By developing young children's leg and arm movements these will gradually become more controlled.

We create spaces for movement with lots of stimulating materials (fleece rugs, bubble wrap taped to the floor, furry material, foil etc) and provide mirrors, tunnels and boxes promoting children's awareness of space.

Practitioner-led Play

Practitioner-led play (also known as child-centred play) is when our specialist practitioners provide activities such as music, rhyme-time, songs, story-time, heuristic play, arts and crafts, and literacy and numeracy for our older children.


Free-flow is very important and therefore all our rooms have access to outside areas at all times so outside play is not limited. This enables children to make decisions about where they would like to play.

The latest research

Environments are very important in early years and are now referred to as the ‘third educator’ thanks to Loris Malaguzzi, a prominent Italian Early Years Educator and Philosopher. Malaguzzi recognises that the ‘first educator’ is the parent and the ‘second educator’ is the nursery/pre-school in terms of importance.

Happy Days has spent a considerable amount of time making sure our environments will support and provide high quality experiences that allow your child’s individual needs and preferences to be met throughout each day. For example, we have sourced beautiful wooden furniture that is ergonomically designed to support the growing bodies of our youngest children. This furniture ensures that children are sat properly for their age and that their spines are supported. It is also designed to allow independence at an early age, which in turn promotes confidence and self-esteem. So by maximising the simplest of everyday needs we extend their development as a human being.

Happy Days environments are also designed to be calm and are decorated with neutral colours. This promotes concentration and provides a stronger learning environment that is not over-stimulating and distracting.

Two young boys playing