The Value of Open-Ended Play or: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From The Little Mermaid

Open-ended play, Fort Boards, and Mermaids

Fort Boards is a custom fort building kit for kids. It says so right on the front page of our website. It’s on the internet so it must be true right? Well… it’s mostly true… Fort Boards are durable construction toys that can be used to create forts. Yes. That is a true statement. But the beauty of Fort Boards is that they are merely tools for open-ended imaginative play. So… it’s a fort building kit in the way that a pen and a piece of paper is a letter writing kit.  

There are some incredible toys on the market today. To paraphrase Ariel from the Little Mermaid, “There are gizmos and gadgets aplenty.” There are toys that can do SO many things with the push of a button. But the problem is that the focus so often switches from what the child can do to what the toy can do. Again, Ariel said it best, “ big deal. I want more.” Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to imagine catching fish and he’ll pretend to eat for a (very short) lifetime.

For some children the biggest allure of Fort Boards is opening a box up and following the instructions to build an exact copy of a suggested fort. These are the kids that can sit for hours working through the 10-page instructions to build the Lego Deathstar. There are lots of benefits to this type of play. These children are learning valuable skills about reading and following diagrams and about which angles are needed to form which structures. These kids are the ones you’ll want to call when you need your IKEA furniture assembled.

There are some studies, however, which suggest that building educational toy sets from the instructions can be stifling your child’s creativity. The kids that free build their own creations have to visualize what they are trying to achieve first and then as they build, they learn how to problem solve the areas where the structure may need additional support. They naturally learn how to improve their fort by adding a connector piece, changing an angle or redesigning a certain part of it. This adaptability may be one of the character traits that is most linked to happiness.

These types of activities are so beneficial to the development of children because they are still a well-structured activity (and children do benefit from structure) but also have natural challenges that occur and require an adaptive behavior.

To go back (yet again) to Ariel, she was raised with a lot of restrictions and an all too rigid structure. King Triton was what is known as an authoritarian parent. But if he were trying to instill adaptability so that his daughter wasn’t susceptible to scheming sea witches and didn’t need the help of crabs and flounders to problem solve, he would have had better success with an authoritative or permissive parenting style.

So in summary, this reviewer gives The Little Mermaid two fins up! But more importantly, open-ended play is hugely beneficial to a child’s development. Open-ended and imaginative play is not only what helps to create giggles and laughter now but what helps to create happier people later on. That imaginative play is where we figure out what to do with those lemons life keeps giving us. Whether it be to pout, juggle those lemons, or build a lemonade stand, those are hugely important life lessons.

Kids at play with Fort Boards fort building kits, an imaginative educational toy 

Kids at play with Fort Boards fort building kits, an imaginative educational toy