It is important that many of the materials that children find in an early childhood setting encourage the use of their imaginations and assist them in expressing their own ideas. Open-ended materials are those that can be used in a variety of ways. Blocks, Lego, ladders and boards, paint, clay, play dough, sand, mud and water are examples of some open-ended materials. Early childhood educators must avoid the impulse to show a child how a material should be used. Part of the reason children play is for exploration. Materials and equipment are stored in such a way that children have the freedom to choose and to reach what they need. If they are to develop autonomy and independence, children must be able to choose the materials that they want to use. Storing materials in places that children can freely access is essential to the development of independence and creativity. Allowing children access to a variety of choices in materials and equipment indicates that early childhood educators trust and value the decisions made by the children and gives children the message that they are capable of choice. When choices are not available to children, it is important for early childhood educators to make that clear to them. When early childhood educators are not comfortable with the safety of a piece of equipment for the children in their setting, they can sometimes resort to rules to control the use of the equipment. If equipment is considered safe by the teaching staff and children feel free to use it, beneficial play is likely to occur. Children should feel the freedom to immerse themselves in activities without anxious adults communicating their fears and their concerns. Early childhood educators must have a firm foundation in child development in order to allow children to take developmentally appropriate risks and to encourage children in their risk-taking rather than to inhibit them.
Besides moving equipment to new places, it is also valuable to consider how it can be recombined. Combining pots and pans from the kitchen play area into the sandbox play area to incorporate more/different kinds of play. Simple play units such as swings, tricycles have low absorbing power, that is each item soaks up only one child at a time for play. When two kinds of materials or equipment are combined, such as digging equipment is added to the sandbox , the play unit becomes complex. This has stronger absorbent power than just the simple units. Better yet, the super play units, which combines three or more materials or equipment at once (water or sand play, digging etc) plays a more powerful absorbent for children drawing bigger groups of children for a longer and effective cooperative play.