Encouraging Open-Ended Play

Since tomorrow has the possibility of being a “snow day” here in south Texas (really, it is going to be an “ice morning” that’ll probably shut down the schools) I thought I’d post this idea to keep the kids busy. My  friend, Amie, a mother of three year old twins, originally posted this idea on Facebook.

Amie is a child development specialist so she has a ton of ideas for encouraging play–which we all know is how children learn. Some of the best play is what is called open-ended: it doesn’t have any specific rules or directives so children use their own imaginations and their own creativity to play. Amie took two or three bins and filled them with dried beans. She added items from the kitchen: plastic cups, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas. The kids looked like they were having a great time.

So, I decided to try it for my three year old.

I didn’t have bins (and I’d recommend them!) but I did have a few empty cookie tins that I filled with a few bags of legumes: black, pinto, lentils.

cookie tins of beans

I pulled out the cupcake tin, measuring cups, spoons.

open ended play

And then watched. . .Dylan was completely absorbed in scooping and filling and dumping. Really have you ever just put your hands into a tub of dried beans. It is sensory heaven!

Before long, the older kids had to join in the fun, too.

open-ended play


We did have beans all over and if you are a type A person, this might drive you crazy. But, I left my type A-ness in the dust about four children ago. Anyway, a little vacuuming extended the play.

open-ended play

I was surprised how much mileage we got out of this activity. They played for almost an hour straight.. At the end of it, I put the beans into a zip-lock bag for the next time I need an activity for a three year old, especially during those harried dinner prep times.

open ended play

Of course Dylan had to “cook” his creations. We sold our play stove before Dylan was born (mistake!) and so he likes to use the cold real one. I think a cardboard box fashioned like an oven would probably be even better.

Dad did a little clean up. You know, cooking can be a little messy.




I am a mother of two sets of twins and a singleton. I explore the wild world of multiples and provide resources for other parents of multiples.
  1. Great idea,,,and I think you might have a future chef on your hands!

  2. Looks like a fun day/ We’ve never played with beans but I’m sure my Little Man would love it.

    1. Lisa, just the texture is addictive to adults! There’s a certain Zen aspect to running your hands through the beans!

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