Junk Play

"Junk" or Open-Ended Play


Children love to build their own creations using ‘junk’ or open ended-materials materials. Junk resources are cheap and easy to find from the recycled, natural and man-made materials in the world around us. Junk play gives children many opportunities to experiment with the physical properties of an object.


What is “junk” or open-ended play?

“Open-ended means not having a fixed answer, unrestricted. Open ended materials are materials that can be used in numerous ways indoors and outdoors by children. The children themselves decide what do, how to do it and what to use, when given access to open-ended materials. They are objects/materials that have many uses and endless possibilities. There are no exceptions, no specific problems to solve, no rules to follow and no pressure to produce a finished project.


Why Use Open-ended Materials/objects?

Research has shown there are several advantages to a child’s development if they engage in play that has no expectations or outcomes.


1. Imagination is Enhanced

Open-ended materials provide children with opportunities to think beyond the obvious and to develop their own ideas and imagination. How often have we witnessed the box that the new toy comes in offer more fun to a child than the actual toy? And why not, depending on the size of the box, it can become anything, from a spaceship, to a house or to a bed for a cuddly toy.


2. Social and Emotional Abilities are Developed

With no predetermined outcome, open-ended play eases off the gas pedal of achievement and allows children to focus on creating based on inner inspiration. During play, children have choices and decisions to make. This format offers great potential for self-discovery.

Open-ended play gives children a sense of freedom and autonomy to develop initiative and self-confidence. They enjoy making choices themselves, affirming their ability to be responsible and self-directed.


3. Empathy, Cooperation and Problem-solving skills are Learned

While playing with open ended materials children are engaged in decision making and problem solving opportunities. By exploring the materials children become innovators, designers, explorers, artists and collaborators as they build, sort, design, manipulate, arrange and stack in a variety of different ways. 

Dealing with the infinite possibilities before him takes a big leap of faith. Making something no one has ever seen before requires trial and error and problem-solving and offers him the chance to create order and express meaning.



4. It promotes Cognitive Skills

By simply fiddling around with a wide range of materials, your child practices a wealth of brain-boosting skills that will serve him in school and throughout his life.

The use of open-ended materials supports children’s role as scientists who are constantly conducting experiments, testing ideas, and building their understanding of the world. As children play with the materials, they are exploring what happens, coming up with new ways of manipulating the materials, deciding that one material can symbolise something else and using lots of language. This type of play is open-ended and builds creative thinking.

Open Ended Items


Baby brushes
Baby food jars with beads inside
Baby socks and hats
Baby toys
Balls of yarn
Bottle brushes
Candy moulds
Cinnamon sticks
Cloth napkins
Coin purses
Coloured ribbons
Cookie cutters
Curtain rings
Discovery bottles 
Egg cartons
Empty salt and pepper shakers
Empty tins
Fabric books
Fabric swatches
Fall leaves
Felted wool balls
Garlic presses
Gift bows
Gourds and mini pumpkins
Hair rollers
Hand bells
Handheld mirrors
Honey dippers
Jar lids
Kitchen sponges
Knitted items
Large pieces of cork
Large shells
Leather wallets
Lids to pots and pans
Measuring spoons
Mini bean bags
Miniature photo albums with pictures 
Nesting dolls
Nesting Tupperware
Old CDs
Old fashioned clothespins
Oversized makeup brushes
Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
Pastry brushes
Pine cones
Plastic Easter eggs
Potato mashers
Powder puffs
River rocks
Rubber ducks
Sachets with fragrant herbs inside
Scrub brushes
Scrunchie hair bands
Sea sponges
Silicone ice cube trays
Silicone muffin cups
Silk ties
Slotted spoons
Small board books
Small metal pans
Small rolling pins
Small toy animals
Small wooden birdhouses
Small wooden toys
Small woven baskets
Soft Christmas ornaments
Spice jars
Tart moulds
Tea strainers
Thick paintbrushes
Whole fruits and vegetables
Wooden blocks
Wooden massagers
Wooden spoons
Wooden trains and train tracks
Copyright 2020 by Kildare County Childcare Committee