How to support STEM learning with open-ended play

September 9, 2019 Published by

(Part 2/2. Read the first article in this series here: 'Why play doesn’t have to be ‘educational’ to prepare children for school')

In the previous article, we explored the pressure on parents to get their child school-ready through educational play.

I've already touched on the importance of taking a balanced approach to play, so now let's look at why open-ended play in particular is so good for supporting children's learning.

Open-ended play: the creative way to learn

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “don’t run before you can walk”?

Many skills or concepts are out of a child’s reach until they have developed certain prior ability.

For example when learning to write, a child does not start by picking up a pen and making legible marks. They first have to strengthen their hand and arm muscles, be able to sit up at a table, and so on.

Because of this it isn't possible to make a child progress faster by pushing them to achieve, because there is only so far their knowledge and skills can grow at any one time.

Instead it’s important that children have a stimulating and nurturing environment that lets them grow at their own unique pace. Open-ended play, such as arts, crafts, or construction is great for this because there are no right or wrong answers - just lots of opportunities for experimenting, solving problems, and being creative.

Hands-on learning with STEM 

The STEM approach combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, focusing on hands-on learning and developing skills that are valuable across the four subjects.

Children's love of STEM has been going down in the last few years, with a 10 per cent drop in interest since 2015 amongst nine to 12 year-olds.

Experts say that a greater emphasis is needed on skills like art and design - which play a huge role in careers such as engineering - in order to widen the appeal of STEM subjects.

With open-ended play, we can find a balance between offering children a creative and engaging activity, and supporting their learning.

For example, the Geomag Mechanics and Mechanics Gravity construction sets encourage children to experiment with the invisible forces of magentism and gravity, by building their own working models.

But you can start encouraging this interest in STEM right from the early years. With toddlers and pre-schoolers, something as simple as a set of building blocks can really foster their curiosity and help them learn mathematical concepts like shape and space.

The Magicube Free Building sets add an extra element to this by introducing little ones to magnetism and allowing them to build in any direction they want, opening up many more creative opportunities!


Children need more than numbers and letters to succeed and be happy in school. We may consider it ‘frivolous’, but play is certainly much more than that, with children picking up some really core tools they need to thrive in a school environment.

By balancing a little educational play with lots of other types of play, we can help children reach their full potential in all walks of life.

Sponsored Article: This article may contain links to internal/external content related to our sponsor. All opinions are our own and all products mentioned have been approved by Fundamentally Children through strict, independent testing processes.


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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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