Latest post

New Balance Sneakers for the entire family!

* This post is sponsored by Superbalist. It's the beginning of a new school year and the start of all kinds of extra-murals and sports for our crew... That means shoe shopping. More specifically, sneaker shopping! Growing feet need new trainers for netball, hockey,...

New Balance Sneakers for the entire family!

* This post is sponsored by Superbalist. It's the beginning of a new school year and the start of all kinds of extra-murals and sports for our crew... That means shoe shopping. More specifically, sneaker shopping! Growing feet need new trainers for netball, hockey,...

read more

Best open-ended toys in South Africa

by | Nov 4, 2020 | Gift Guides, Just Kids, Play + Learn | 6 comments

2020 has been the year of play! With many parents and little ones staying safe and at home. Play has been brought to the forefront and we all now understand the value it holds – not just for fun but also for learning, exploring and growing. Playing however doesn’t require an ever-growing collection of toys… In fact, the most beneficial play happens when we challenge our kids to be more creative, to set their own rules and learn at their own pace. This is what the best open-ended toys do!

Open-ended toys can be played with in multiple ways…

  • There are no set rules, guidelines or instructions for play. Kids make up their own and decide how they want to proceed.
  • Open-ended play is relaxed and easy because there’s no “right” or “wrong” way of playing.
  • Open-ended materials and toys are non-descriptive, giving children the opportunity to let their imagination run wild!
  • The same toy can be played with, in different ways dependant on the child’s age, developmental stage, preferences and interests – making open-ended toys, “forever toys”.

Why is open-ended play important?

Benefits Of Open Ended Play

* For more benefits, have a look at our previous blogpost 5 Reasons why we love open-ended toys.

How to encourage open-ended play?

How To Encourage Open Ended Play

A lovely new local online toy store, passionate about open-ended play is…

Harper + Sloane

Harper + Sloane only stock the best, carefully sourced (local and international) toys that encourage little one’s to use their imaginations, be creative and explore. The toys are selected based on their own experience as parents, taking into account how their children play and those toys that have proven their worth over time.

The collection includes:

  • Sensory trays and kits to “explore
  • Sarah Silks playsilks to awaken the “imagination
  • Loose Parts Play (a.k.a Grapat Mandala pieces) for endless “play
  • As well as innovative educational toys to make “learning” fun and easy

Now for our TOP Toy Picks from Harper + Sloane…

First up, the Loose part play pieces

(Please note: Loose part play pieces can be a choking hazard. Our girls only starting playing with loose part pieces after age 3)

Grapat Mandala Piece South Africa

Playing with loose parts inspires creativity and problem-solving. Children choose and use the various pieces as they see fit, and experiment without any rules or right way of completing a task. Pebbles, a jar of beads, cotton wool or any collection of items would work but it’s worthwhile investing in wooden pieces like these.

How To Play With Loose Part Pieces

Think sorting, scooping, pouring, matching, counting, sequencing, rolling, sinking and floating, designing, stacking and building. The possibilities really are too many to list… All while learning about colours and shapes too. Playing with these are also very calming and gives little one’s the opportunity to self-regulate when feeling overstimulated, just like play-dough. Another plus!

Harper And Sloane Loose Part Play Pieces

What I appreciate most is the affordability of the Harper + Sloane loose play part sets. Usually one would need to buy each shape in a set of their own. These sets, however, offer 54 pieces that include cones, disks, honeycombs, mushrooms, droplets and more.

Loose Part Play Pieces

Choose between hand-painted or neutral wood. Both come with a branded linen drawstring bag for easy storage.

What Are Loose Play Pieces

Add in some Rainbow Rings too for extra play!

A set contains 7 wooden rings, for the 7 colours of the rainbow. Roll them, thread them, sort and stack them, or make a pattern. Use with your loose part pieces as another shape to explore.

Rainbow Rings Open Ended ToysBest Open Ended Toys And Where To Buy South Africa 1What Are Rainbow Rings

Peg dolls

Peg dolls may look simple but don’t be fooled. Kids get to make up their own characters – male/female, young/old, of any race/culture – whatever they prefer! There are no limitations set by our preconceived ideas of gender or race.

Harper And Sloane Rainbow Peg Dolls

They create stories, games and entire worlds for these characters using not only their imagination but also language skills through storytelling and conversation. Play flows without restriction and it’s actually amazing to see and hear what our girls come up with, all on their own.

Best Open Ended Toys And Where To Buy South Africa 2

Peg dolls also complement other play such as construction play and early maths. Harper + Sloane has a few different peg dolls to choose from, all super sweet.

Benefits Of Peg Dolls


This is not just a piece of fabric. The Sarah’s Silks playsilks are made from 100% silk, handpainted and measuring at approximately 90cm x 90cm. They are incredibly soft and float through the air. The colours are vibrant and turn almost translucent when rays of sunlight hit.

How To Play With Play Silks

You want to hold, play with, twirl and cover yourself in these playsilks. And the play opportunities start when our kids are babies. Stroke different parts of baby’s body, exercise those tiny eye muscles as baby tracks the play silk from side-to-side and let them grasp the silks (but only when supervised). As your little one grows older they will discover more ways of play (without any help from mama). Think props, backdrops, streamers, blankets, capes and other dress-up ideas.

What Are Playsilks

And if they become dirty… Another learning opportunity arises… Our girls don’t mind hand-washing their playsilks themselves. Definitely another worthwhile investment.

Sarahs Silk Playsilks South Africa

Other open-ended toys we love (and where to find them)

10 Best Open Ended Toys 2

  1. Handmade Rainbow Stackers available in large (12 arches) and small (7 arches) from Thornewood Treasures. Choose between traditional bright colours, soft pastels, sunset blues, earthy autumn colours or our favourite, natural raw wood.
  2. Perspex Easel from Frankie & Friends. Use indoors and outdoors for drawing, painting or sensory play with shaving cream, gels, jellies etc. This easel holds far more play opportunities other than art.
  3. While on the topic of sensory play… Don’t forget about play dough! Dough Ray Me makes small-batch play dough using only edible ingredients. Softly scented and uniquely coloured. Our girls can’t stop playing with theirs.
  4. LEGO. Need I say more? In our home, not a day goes by without some LEGO playtime and yes, mom and dad get involved too.
  5. Colour Blocks from Takealot. Stacking, construction, sorting while learning about light, colours and shapes.
  6. Imagimags Magnetic Tiles from Timeless Toys. I know you’ve seen these… What makes Imagimags different? These are compatible with other leading brands such as Magnatiles, Connetix and Playmags. PLUS Imagimags is the creation of Nicola Frick, a Hout Bay mom that knew South African parents and kids would appreciate an affordable alternative designed locally! (Keep an eye on the blog – we’ll be sharing more soon.)
  7. A set of quality Wooden Blocks. These are quite easy to find. Thornewood Treasures sell “Plankies” – Rectangular blocks, all the same size, stored in a handy wooden box. Either go for the 250 or 400 piece set. Timeless Toys sell the Janod Kubix 100 set – 100 wooden blocks in a variety of shapes (cubes, cones, pyramids, rectangles, arches, cylinders, and more). Only non-toxic paints and stains are used. I found a similar set in neutral wood on Takealot and Little Amber Rabbit also sells a 64 piece set packed in a sturdy wooden crate.
  8. Stumped Knock-a-Block available directly from them or Timeless Toys. These can be used to build anything you can imagine… Homes, roads, bridges, maybe a robot or a car. I would definitely recommend saving up and rather purchasing a bigger set.
  9. Building slats or trays from Thornewood Treasures. Roads, mazes, 3D structures houses and buildings, create patterns and designs.  Different shades of the same colour for colour exploration activities and various sizes of the same shape introduces proportionality. All wonderful ways of learning maths in a concrete and playful manner.
  10. Bilibo by Moluk from Timeless Toys. We’ve been fans for years and have actually reviewed these before. To read our full review CLICK HERE.

And that’s it, our favourite open-ended toys in South Africa.

We’ve come across others while travelling abroad and I’m sure more exist, but the ones mentioned above have kept our girls happily playing (and learning). Best of all, they play together, no matter the age and developmental differences. Each finds a way to make these toys work for them.

Less really is more when it comes to play and quality always trumps quantity but please, do share your favourite open-ended toys with us too. We love finding new brands to support.

Best Open Ended Play Toys In South Africa 1

Remember to go check out for more open-ended toys!

* For more toy review CLICK HERE

* For more gift guides CLICK HERE

approved banner eots rect a


  1. Rosa

    Honest Toys is the only local shop authorised to sell Grapat in South Africa. We (Honest Toys) worked very hard to develop a relationship and bring the real Grapat products into the country. Grapat products and the business itself are incredible in their quality, concern for the environment and care for their employees. All products are made from sustainably sourced, FSC certified wood, dyed with natural, safe pigments and made under ethical conditions.

    Harper and Sloane do not sell Grapat loose parts, they sell knock-off parts manufactured under unknown circumstances in China, from possibly non-sustainably sourced wood. It is not known if the pigments used are non-toxic and whether the loose parts have undergone safety testing.

    Beyond that the Harper and Sloane loose parts are an infringement on the intellectual property of Grapat.

    We have gently reached out to Harper and Sloane earlier this week asking if we could chat about our concerns. We are so sad that our message was ignored and that our attempts to resolve this situation amicably dismissed.

    We encourage all your readers to do their research when buying knock-off brands or wooden toys that have been manufactured in China as the safety regulations are incredibly lax and the labour processes are often exploitative (which is why the products are so much cheaper).

    As Honest Toys we take great pride in the quality, safety, eco-conscious and ethical credentials of our brands.

    • Mari-Louise

      Thank you so much for your comment Rosa and for bringing your toy store to our attention. You stock a lovely collection as well. We understand your concern and have therefore chosen to share this comment with our readers. We have however seen many brands in local toy stores selling loose part toys under various brand names. The H+S set was the 1st set that included a variety of shapes (meaning we did not have to buy each shape separately). H+S also assured us of the material and paint being used in manufacturing and our girls (as seen in the photos) definitely enjoyed playing with these. That being said, we take IP very seriously and have forwarded your concerns to H+S and will assist as best we can to facilitate a conversation between both parties.

      • Rosa

        Thank you so much for your response.

        We have managed to connect with Harper and Sloane and have had a productive conversation. It was reassuring to learn that they colour their loose parts themselves using safe, non-toxic pigments and sealants.

        Thankfully, as mothers with a shared passion for open-ended play and learning, we are able to chat constructively about our concerns.

        We’re not surprised your girls enjoyed them! Loose parts, no matter the shape and colour are always a hit 😊

        • Mari-Louise

          I’m so glad to hear you ladies could finally get in touch and that you could also get more insight into the H+S range. We have so much respect for both your brands. Please do keep an eye on our blog, we have 2 more toy gift guides coming up this month. I think you’ll especially enjoy our eco-friendly selection. Have a great weekend. friendly regards

  2. Klara

    Rosa, thank you for your comment and statement in this regard. I feel the same way, as a mom and business owner it takes a great deal of effort in scouting and retrieving of ethical sustainable products and toys, being able to make it accessible to our local market and making a difference. Unfortunately sustainable wooden toys are few in South Africa due to not having reclaimed wood available for toys.

    I also believe in representing products that you can be proud of when it comes to manufacturing, which is sustainable to the earth, kind to our children and that can last from one generation to the next – we actually teach this to our children through the toys that they play with.
    But there is still a long way in shifting the general population’s mind to that insight.

    Child development and nature are two of my greatest passions and therefor I am proud to represent both of these through PlanToys and my business Soufi.

    But nevertheless thank you Marie-Louise for your open ended gift guide, it will help me with my Christmas shopping.

    • Mari-Louise

      Hello there Klara, Thank you for your comment. I think both H+S, Honest Toys and yourself (and all the brands mentioned above) can be proud of the items you stock as well as the standard you all adhere to when selecting the toys that form part of your selection. We will not and have not ever endorsed the use of toys that have not been tested and researched by the stockist and ourselves. My experience as an ECD teacher and the added bonus of our other business rooted in steel and wood manufacturing gives us even more insight when researching our posts.

      I am glad this post helped you with your Christmas shopping. That was the idea and hopefully, it also introduced you to other local brands (stocking local and international open-ended toys). South Africa can do with more bespoke toy stores helping parents make informed toy choices.

      Ps: I have a feeling you’re going to love our “Eco-friendly” gift guide even more. Keep an eye on the blog. Have a lovely day.



  1. A more minimal and sustainable Christmas - […] A gift guide on open ended toys by Just a Mamma […]
  2. Gift Guide: Wooden toys made in South Africa - […] design invites play and usually hold more than one function providing for open-ended exploration. (Click here for a list…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the sisterhood

of motherhood

Just a Mamma

Just a mamma

is a space for Mammas by a Mamma. Intended to inspire, motivate and be helpful. No judgement or expert advice – just gorgeous photo shoots, fun celebrations, great finds for mamma and baby, inspirational moms I have come across, places to go and vacations to have, as well as my own journey of motherhood and family life.

Best Parenting Blog Winner
Best Parenting Blog Winner
SA Parenting Blog Awards BEST TRAVEL BLOG
south african mom blogs finalist

Seen on CapeTownInsider

Posts you may also like

Christmas gift ideas for tweens

Christmas gift ideas for tweens

I love a good gift guide! Especially for those "less than easy" to buy for loved ones. So, this year, I roped in our 10year old and together we came up with a few gift ideas for tweens... Categorised according to the “4 gift rule“, also known as the “Wear, Read,...

Party inspiration | 40th Birthday party, for him!

Party inspiration | 40th Birthday party, for him!

We love a good celebration and putting together a pretty party has always been my thing. So when Mr. Perfect turned the big FORTY this year, I knew we'd be doing something special... BUT planning a 40th birthday party for him would be very different from anything else...

FREE Resurrection eggs printable + “Local” Easter Finds

FREE Resurrection eggs printable + “Local” Easter Finds

As our girls grow older we consciously move towards incorporating more Biblical meaning and symbols into our Easter celebrations. All in an effort to keep Jesus the focus. Resurrection Eggs are anything new. A quick google search renders millions of results. I however...

Easy label making with the STAMP ‘n STICK + Giveaway

Easy label making with the STAMP ‘n STICK + Giveaway

Easy label making is a MUST in our home. With 3 kids, all in school, I often forget to order everyone's labels in time and we always seem to be running low on clothing labels... Plus, labels are EXPENSIVE! Until I've found a DIY "one-for-all" stamp kit that saves me...