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What is Open-Ended Play? Classic Toys with CouCou

CouCou (hello!) and welcome back to our blog! Today’s topic is all about open-ended play. We’ll be answering what is open-ended play and why you should care, as well as some classic toy recommendations from us here at CouCou. 

In today’s world, it seems that nearly every toy has a screen, batteries, or some type of speaker that talks or plays music. And, while these toys might seem super exciting, they can be noisy and over-stimulating for your little ones. These closed-ended toys give your child instructions or rules to follow, unlike open-ended toys. 

You can think of open-ended play as the complete opposite, it is entirely unstructured. There is no screen or voice directing the child and telling them how to play.  Instead, it is entirely self-directed. The main benefit of these toys is that they foster and encourage skills that are essential in early childhood development, including big imagination, creativity, curiosity, problem-solving, independence, confidence, and more! 

The truth is that we have no idea what the future holds for our little ones. What career path they might pursue, their hobbies, and even what interests they may have. With open-ended play, we can prepare our children best, by facilitating their development, expanding their creativity and challenging their independence, all while having fun and creating memories together too!

The benefits of open-ended play toys extend beyond your child’s development. These classic toys are predominantly made by small label brands, meaning they’re rarely mass-produced. Sustainably made and designed to last, investing in classic toys means they’ll never go out of style. Gift your child the magic of imagination and creativity with toys that they can pass on to their own future children.

How to Encourage Open-Ended Play

Children playing with a train set

Photo by Elizabeth Alison

“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things” - Plato

Creating an environment where your children can play independently is one of the best ways to encourage open-ended play. Forget the overly cluttered toy rooms that are chaotically filled to the brim with toys and focus on creating an intentional space that considers your child’s needs and interests. 

We suggest rotating toys and children’s books in your space to avoid overwhelming your child. Another important strategy in encouraging open-ended play is to ensure that the toys are easily accessible in your child's environment so that they can independently initiate play. 

During early development, most children don’t possess the ability to ask for their toys. Having toys available and in sight, say on a lower shelf, offers a visual cue to your child and makes it easier for them to execute their new idea!

Open-Ended Play Toys From CouCou

When we talk about open-ended play toys, here at CouCou, we immediately imagine classic toys like the ones we were brought up with. These nostalgic toys can include wooden toys, baby dolls, a marble run toy, plush toys, and even arts and crafts! Now, let’s get into the toys. Here are four of our favorite open-ended play toys from CouCou!

Wooden Toys From Candylab, Fagus, Ostheimer and more    

Candylab Toys - Candycar fire truck

Candylab Toys - Candycar Fire Truck

The key to wooden vehicle toys, is that they allow your child to imagine, experiment, and learn. Toys such as trains, cars, and blocks encourage endless exploration. The loose pieces in block and train sets for example, encourage creativity and problem-solving through building. Without sounds, lights and other distractions, children live entirely in their imagination and create that magical world of pretend-play. They become firefighters, astronauts, rubbish collectors, builders, or even a racecar drivers!  Candylab toys is the perfect example of a simple, yet beautifully designed collection of automobiles - all die cast in the USA. Another sought after brand is the German company Fagus who hand-make each of their gorgeous wooden trucks and cars, with very limited annual productions. Pair these with the king of open ended play, the Wobbel Board, as well as roads such as Waytoplay or Conifer Toys, and handmade figurines by Ostheimer or Grapat and your children will get lost in their pretend world for hours. 

Baby Dolls From Llorens Dolls

Llorens dolls - baby doll

Llorens Dolls - Crying Baby Doll Grace

Baby dolls have been a popular children's toy for decades! And, it turns out that they’re actually one of the best open-ended play toys you can offer your child. This simple yet classic toy offers children a sensory experience that’s human-like, allowing them to relate to the doll. Children are naturally drawn to pretend play with baby dolls where they get to act out experiences, hug, kiss, put the baby to bed, and even feed it! 

This human-like imagination play fosters emotional development in children, encouraging empathy, self-soothing, fine motor, and even non-verbal communication skills. Studies have shown that pre-verbal children who play with baby dolls, use their doll to communicate needs to parents, such as hunger and pain. So, not only are these beautiful handmade Llorens Dolls nostalgic for parents, but they’re also incredibly valuable to your little one's early childhood development.

Plush Toys from Maileg

Maileg Mouse toy

Maileg - Wildlife Guide Mouse

Plush toys like the famed Maileg mice offer cuddly companionship to little ones. It’s no secret that children are drawn to plushy toys for their soft texture and comforting feel, but what you may not know, is that these toys are actually great for open-ended play. Similar to baby dolls, plush toys teach children to nurture, foster imagination, socialization and role-play, and offer comfort and security, whilst also improving communication skills. 

The Maileg universe of mice open children to a world of imagination, where they can be anything they want! From wildlife guide to ballerina, these sweet little mice are among some of the most globally sought-after toys, for good reason.

Marble Run Toy and Marbles From Billes and Co

Marbles toy

Billes and Co - Box Matriochka Yelena

Are marbles a thing of the past? Not at CouCou! Marbles are among some of the most nostalgic toys, especially for millennial parents. And, while these toys may seem like a thing of the past, the developmental value they hold calls for a long overdue revival of this classic toy. Billes and Co marbles are designed and crafted in Paris, coming in gorgeous boxes, and in a myriad of colors, shapes, and textures. 

Marbles, and especially marble run toys, require patience and perseverance, as they tend to take a LONG time to build. They’re also incredible at developing hand-eye coordination and spatial thinking skills. As the marbles roll around, children are required to think ahead, plan their next steps, and use precision in placing their marbles and marble run pieces. 


As technology advances, take a step back with the toys you choose to surround your children with and embrace the world of nostalgic toys. Ditch the screens and noise that distract and overwhelm children and opt for classic toys like baby dolls, marble run toys, plush toys, and even wooden toy trucks and trains! Think of the toys that 80s and 90s babies played with. Before screens, children used imagination and creativity to play independently and entertain themselves. By creating an environment where your child can initiate open-ended play, you’re fostering essential early developmental skills! 

At CouCou, our collection of toys includes classic toys from small-label brands that prioritize quality, sustainability, and open-ended play. As the holidays approach, we recommend checking out our collection of Candylab Toys, Llorens Dolls, Maileg, Fagus, Osteimer, Billes and Co, and Little Lights for the best open-ended play toys.

- À Bientôt CouCou Family!