When I look at which toys have received the most use and love in our house over the years, both by my two kids and by the stream of friends and art group members who have played with them, the clear winners are the open ended toys.
Open-ended toys are those that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the children, the day, their imagination, and desire. They foster play, creativity, and imagination.
Think building blocks, dress-up accessories, and animal figurines.
In a NY Metro article on why simple toys prove to more beneficial for kids, Colleen Multari, says,
“Open-ended toys result in open-ended play. This type of play can evolve over time while also encouraging children to create and problem-solve as they explore the world around them.”
So today, as many of us are starting to think about holiday gift shopping, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite open ended toys.
Note :: Most of these can be purchased from Amazon (I know we all like the Prime shipping), Imagine Childhood (amazing quality and mission), and Discount School Supply (I have my own storefront there now!). I’ll even include some of best open-ended toys you can make yourself (you’d be surprised!).
The Best Open Ended Toys for Kids
We’ll start with building and construction, move on to pretend play and role play, then cover homemade toys.
The Best Open Ended Toys for Construction
(besides cardboard boxes, sticks, stones, etc…)
- Magnetic tiles building set
- Wooden blocks
- The Fort Magic kit (here’s just some of what can be built with this kit)
- Joinks (I haven’t actually used this one yet, but they look really fun. I just ordered a set for my kids for Christmas and can’t wait to try it out.)
The Best Open Ended Toys for Pretend Play
We especially like the quality of the Schleich animals.
- Farm animals set
- African animals set
- We usually buy our animals as individuals in the toy store bins, such as this awesome rhinoceros or this horse figure.
Stuffed animals (we love the realism and quality of these plush animals)
Dollhouse and doll play
- We had this folding wooden castle and it got SO much use over the years (there’s also a non pink version)
- This fold and go wood barn has a handy carry handle and comes with animal figures
- This wooden dollhouse comes with furniture and everything, plus the sections are all separate and can be assembled in any configuration (including 2-3 smaller dollhouses for siblings or friends)
Car and truck play
Dress Up and Role Play
(Our dress-up bin is filled with scarves of all kinds as well as thrifted dress up clothes. Crowns and wings have gotten a lot of play time in our home as well.)
- Silk scarves (and the much cheaper non-silk play scarves)
- Reversible silk cape
- Butterfly wings
- Role play hats
The Best Open-Ended Sensory Play Ideas
(Many of these can be combined effectively with other toys, such as animal figurines, matchbox cars, kitchen play items, etc.)
- Water beads
- Colored kinetic sand
- Playdough is great for sensory play and pretend play
- Sensory play boxes (with rice, wheat, cloud dough, water, etc)
The Best Open Ended Toys You Can Make Yourself
- Magnet sticks for the fridge
- Playdough snowmen kits
- Play silks
- Cardboard doll houses
- Plus more! (21 craft ideas for kids to make and then play with)
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