My New BFFs: Melissa & Doug

Meet Melissa and Doug, my two new best friends! As a Play Therapist, a Child Life Specialist, and a former elementary teacher I know the value of play. More importantly, I know the value of open-ended play.

Melissa and Doug are the masters of designing open-ended toys! No, an open-ended toy is not a toy that opens on one end. An open-ended toy is a toy with infinite possibilities for play. Think about the difference between a closed question and an open-ended statement.

Closed question: “Did you have a good day at school?”

What’s the answer?: It’s either, “Yes” or “No”, right?

Well with an open-ended statement like, “Tell me about your day”, the possibilities for the response are endless! You may hear about playing cowboys and aliens at recess, or the unindentifiable ingredient discovered in the cafeteria meatloaf, or how they went on a safari in their minds during a really dull math lesson.

An open-ended toy is the same; endless possibilities! For example, a Fold & Go Castle could be a castle, but it could also be a fortress, an orphanage, a hospital, a school, or a bank that’s about to be robbed. A Geometric Shape Sorter may be an item for sorting shapes, but it could also be a bomb, a purse, a space ship of polygon aliens, or a home for a family of shapes with names and unique personalities that only your child’s imagination is privvy to.

Closed toys such as electronics or battery operated devices actually work against play and stunt the development and imagination and creativity. How can the bear be an ally at war when everytime I squeeze it he shouts, “ha ha, that tickles?” Or, how can that expensive kitchen be a chemistry lab for secret potions when everytime they open the oven it sings, “Thanks for baking a cake”. Toys that play for the child, or only have one way of being played with, pull the children out of their fantasy and anchor them to reality. This is not a good thing!


Allowing our children to live in their imagination, explore, design, and create is what makes great thinkers and problem solvers later in life. Here are a few examples of open-ended, creative toys for kids:

  • Trucks, cars, planes, vehicles
  • Building blocks, legos, bricks
  • Construction sets & tools
  • Dress up costumes and role play items
  • Household items (pots, plans, sponges, boxes)
  • Play food
  • Arts and crafts materials
  • Clay, play-doh, goop and gak
  • Balls, marbles
  • Animals, people
  • Textured items
  • Dolls, action figures

A huge selection of open-ended toys can be found HERE on




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