Skip the Gadgets: Best Toys for Creative Play

Best Toys for Creative Play

Need a little help choosing the best toys for creative play?  Each toy listed below has been well-loved by my three children.  Your kids will love them too!  

Our 3+1 Christmas Gift Policy

If you’re like me, there are a few times of year when you find yourself in search of the very best toys for creative play.  One of those times is just before each child’s birthday, and the other is the holiday season.

At our house, we have a 3+1 Christmas gift policy.  Each child receives three individual gifts plus one big joint gift.  We also do stockings, which is where I put things like new socks, underwear, and toothbrushes, plus a few small toys, candy, and maybe a music CD or audio book.

Our 3+1 gift policy keeps Christmas gift-giving from getting out of hand, and it forces us to be selective with each child’s gifts.

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My simple criteria when selecting toys for my children:

1. Will my child appreciate this gift?

Legos may be on the list of best toys for creative play, but if my 7 year old isn’t interested in Legos, he won’t be very excited to receive them as a gift.  On the other hand, my 11 year old loves Legos and could build Lego creations for hours every day.  A gift of Legos would thrill him.

2. Is this one of the best toys for creative play? 

Does this toy foster creativity and open-ended play for my child?  An open-ended toy is versatile.  It can be used in many ways and for many purposes, depending on the child’s imagination.

Blocks are a great example: my boys have used blocks to build zoos, farms, towers, bowling alleys, ramps, microphone stands, and more.  As toddlers, they haul blocks around in wagons and dump trucks and line up all the blocks in a row.

3. Is the toy sturdy and long-lasting? 

Will it serve us well for years?  We’ve all received gifts, often cheaply-made plastic toys with batteries, that end up in the trash or donation pile.  No thanks!  I want to choose sturdy toys that will stand the test of time.

Best Toys for Creative Play | Yankee Homestead
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Best Toys for Creative Play

Note: This list is admittedly skewed towards boys.  I have three of them, after all!  However, we’ve noticed girls love to play with these toys just as much as my guys.

Each toy listed below answers questions #2 and #3 (from the criteria list above) with a resounding yes.  For question #1 Will my child appreciate this gift? only you can decide!  Be a student of your child.  Ask sly questions.  Observe them at play.  Notice what they choose to do when it’s completely up to them.

More gift ideas:

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Blocks & Building

Studies show that building with blocks helps to develop creativity, problem-solving skills, spatial skills, and even math ability.  Pretty cool, right?  My boys have spent countless hours devising block creations of all sorts.  From simple wooden block structures to elaborate Lego towns, building is a fun way to stretch a kid’s brain.

1. Wooden blocks

One of the most versatile, long-lasting, open-ended toy options.  So many things to build!

2. Legos

We especially love the Lego Creator sets.  Lego Education sets are pretty cool for kids who love to think up their own creations: wheels, windows & doors, minifigures, and more. Don’t forget to include plenty of baseplates.  Also consider a book of Lego Awesome Ideas.  For beginner Lego enthusiasts, try Lego Juniors.

3. Duplo blocks

Duplos are basically Legos for toddlers and preschoolers.  An extra set of Duplo-compatible people was a big hit at my house.

4. Nesting/stacking blocks

Perfect for toddlers.  Our absolute favorite is this Tallest Tree set.

5. Pattern blocks

Be sure to pick up a pattern block book or pattern block cards, and a simple pattern tray.

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Towns & Transportation

Playing with toy vehicles develops fine motor skills.  It also allows kids to simulate real life and build vocabulary.  Plus, if you’ve got boys, you’re well aware that they love anything that rolls.  Bonus points for doors that open, compartments that can be filled, or hooks that connect multiple vehicles.

1. Train tracks

Don’t forget to add trains, signs, and extra tracks.

2. Town block set

Pairs well with train tracks, wooden blocks, and matchbox cars.

3. Wooden road sign set

Pairs well with train tracks, wooden blocks, and town block set

4. Matchbox cars

I’m not a fan of matchbox ramps, but my 3yo adores his car transporter (similar to this one).

5. Diecast community vehicles

My guys loved building a collection that included a school bus, fire truck, mail truckambulance, police car, etc.

6. Tonka trucks

Invest in the steel versions! This mighty dump truck is a beloved toy at my house. Smaller options include tow trucks, dump trucks, and bulldozers.

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Simulated Play

Experts tell us there are social and cognitive benefits connected to imaginative pretend play, but the truth is that it’s just plain fun.  Kids love to imitate adult behavior, and they love to invent their own “real life” scenarios.  Each of the pretend play toys listed below gets a ton of mileage at my house.

1. Dress up clothes

The sky’s the limit!  My kids’ favorites are superhero capes and random castoffs: old dresses, hats, & belts.

2. Doctor kit

Skip the kits with many small parts.  Instead, choose one with just a few sturdy tools.

3. Cooking sets

Add play food, bake ware, and a chef’s hat.

4. Musical instruments

Choose a sturdy collection like this tambourine set or this band in a box.  Or consider a percussion set with a drum (big hit at my house).

5. Cash register

Kids can play store, ice cream shop, bank and more.

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Animals: Schleich

These high-quality, realistic, and hand-painted animals and accessories from Germany are some of my family’s favorite toys.  Schleich toys are a little pricey, but well worth the cost.  My boys love them so much that they regularly save up their allowance money to add certain animals and habitats to their collection.

I’ve listed some of our favorite pieces below, mostly from Schleich’s Farm World and Safari Wildlife collections.  Schleich animals are perfect for Christmas stockings and Easter baskets, and they make great sibling gifts.

Stay tuned for more curated gift lists for kids including puzzles & games, outdoor toys, audio books, non-toy gifts, and more…

What would you add to this list?

Need a little help choosing the best toys for creative play?  Your kids will love these sturdy toys that foster imaginative and open-ended play.  | Best Toys for Creative Play | Yankee Homestead
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Best Toys for Creative Play
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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>

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