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.
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
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:
- 12 Best Learning Toys for Preschoolers
- Favorite Children’s Books Roundup
- 11 Family Games Even a Three Year Old Can Play
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.
One of the most versatile, long-lasting, open-ended toy options. So many things to build!
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.
Perfect for toddlers. Our absolute favorite is this Tallest Tree set.
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
I’m not a fan of matchbox ramps, but my 3yo adores his car transporter (similar to this one).
6. Tonka trucks
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
2. Doctor kit
Skip the kits with many small parts. Instead, choose one with just a few sturdy tools.
3. Cooking sets
Kids can play store, ice cream shop, bank and more.
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.
- Farm animals
- Feeding set
- Big red barn
- Chicken coop
- Rabbit hutch
- Dog house
- Safari animals
- Safari wateringhole
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?