The Best Open Ended Toys for Kids
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The Best Open-Ended Toys for Kids

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Open ended toys foster play, creativity, and imagination. Here is a list of the best open-ended toys for kids, focusing on construction and pretend play.

The Best Open Ended Toys for Kids

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.

Open ended play and open ended toys for kids

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 open-ended toys can be purchased from Amazon (I know we all like the Prime shipping), Imagine Childhood (amazing quality and mission), and Discount School Supply. I’ll even include some of the 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.

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Construction Sets

The Best Open Ended Toys for Construction 

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Construction Sets

(besides cardboard boxes, sticks, stones, etc…)

These construction toys teach our children how certain pieces can fit together. They also encourage the comprehension of different directions and shapes and teach them spatial concepts. Critical thinking allows them to discover on their own if the piece is going to fit or if what they are building is going to fall down or stay upright.

As they grow older, these open-ended construction toys can grow with them as they learn math concepts, including counting and basic geometry.

The Best Open Ended Toys for Pretend Play

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Kitchen Pretend Play

Pretend play is good for kids because it allows them to experiment with different social and emotional roles in life. It is cooperative play that also teaches children how to take turns, share, and problem-solve. These pretend play toys can be played with independently or in groups with their friends.

Kitchen Play

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Kitchen Pretend Play

Animal figurines

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Animal Pretend Play

We especially like the quality of the Schleich animals.

Stuffed Animals

Stuffed Animals 

We love the realism and quality of these plush animals. Stuffed animals encourage the child to nurture, and they always give the best hugs! Children also see stuffed animals as being dependable. They don’t break or dent, and there are no batteries to keep up with.

Dollhouse and doll play

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Dollhouse 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)
  • The Melissa & Doug Doorbell House isn’t a traditional dollhouse. It comes with four ringing doorbells, locks, and four play people. It is easy for them to carry around.

Car and truck play

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Car Play

Car and truck play can help children develop a ton of fundamental skills and can help them better understand different STEM concepts. They are learning to move things around. They are moving their cars and trucks from one place to another. They are learning how to roll them, and how much force it takes to get them to roll across the floor. Car and truck play also teaches children about directions and speed: left, right, back and forth, up and down, fast and slow.

Dress Up and Role Play

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Doctor Kit and Cash Register

(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 playtime in our home as well.) Dress up and role playtime lets kids use their imagination and reflect their own personality, which is fun to see as parents. It also lets them continue to explore any current interests they have while promoting independent play.

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Dress Up and Pretend 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.)

The Best Open-Ended Sensory Play Ideas

Best Sensory Play Ideas for Kids

Many of these can be combined effectively with other toys, such as animal figurines, matchbox cars, kitchen play items, etc. Sensory activities are fun for kids of all ages and encourage them to explore. Sensory play also helps build nerve connections in the brain and encourages the development of fine motor skills.

The Best Open-Ended Toys You Can Make Yourself

Best Open Ended Toys for Kids - Homemade

Your Guide to Shopping for the Best Open-Ended Play Toys for Kids

When it comes to toys, less is more. We want to get some high-quality toys we know the kids will love instead of distracting them with mediocre toys that will be lost and forgotten about in just a few days.

Requires NO Guidance

Open-ended toys are great because the kids can play with them independently without any instruction or guidance from the parents. Their imagination is what drives playtime.

Grows with the Child

Another great thing about open-ended toys is that they can be used in so many different ways. So much so that the toys can grow with them. Most are gender-neutral and encourage critical thinking. It gets our children to ask questions, and then find that they play around until they find the answers.

Batteries NOT Included

One of the biggest advantages of open-ended play toys? Most don’t require batteries! Yes, you read that right. Not only do we not have to worry about running low on our battery supply, but we also get to watch as our kids make up sounds themselves instead of losing focus and becoming distracted with the sounds many electronic toys make for them.

You get to watch as your little one plays with their favorite stuffed horse toy and listen as they learn how to make the neighing sounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even said, “electronic and digital add-ons increasingly found even in physical toys may actually hinder caregiver-child interactions. The harmful effects of screen time are also an important consideration, especially for young children.”

Another bonus to ditching the loud and distracting electronic toys? No more bothering the parents when the toy is left on.

Encourage Imaginative Play

All of the toys we have included on this list were selected because they encourage imaginative play. From their favorite stuffed animal to more creative play with costumes, the possibilities are endless when it comes to imaginary play and your child’s imagination.

Which of these toys on our list are crowd favorites in your home? Let us know!

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A list of the best open-ended toys for kids, focusing on construction & pretend play. Toys like these foster play, creativity & imagination. #creativehome #play #playroom #parenthood #parenting #toys
The Best Open-Ended Toys for Kids

13 Comments

  • Avatar
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    Crystal
    November 28, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Pretend play, art supplies and books are my girls favorites. My girls love their princess dresses and we have an understanding that building forts is permissible. Little dolls are also popular here.

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    Talia van der Westhuizen
    December 13, 2016 at 1:40 am

    The toys that truly stood the test of time for my daughter is her tent and the melissa and doug best friends forever set. Her legos make an appearance every couple of months, and she continues to play with her littlest petshops in the bath tub.

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    arrowcopter
    March 1, 2017 at 3:20 am

    I would like to add one more toy to the list i.e. arrowcopter. It is the best toys available at Whistle Copter that enhances creativity among children.

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    Shirley
    April 3, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    I love the ideas of open-ended toys and give kids a great opportunity for imagination and creativity. Are these toys appropriate for 7-8 years old too?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      April 4, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Yes, absolutely, Shirley! That’s the beauty of most open-ended toys! They can be used by different kids, at different ages, in a variety of ways. :)

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Alana
    April 4, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Jean – a very thoughtfully researched list! We own almost everything in your list, and absolutely second your suggestions! I will be sharing your post!! Thank you for taking the time to curate this list!
    x
    Alana

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      April 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      You’re so welcome, Alana! Glad to have you second my suggestions!! :)

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    Kristin Meunier
    April 5, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Great list!!! Thank you for compiling these. I will definitely use this as a resource for our “minimilist” playroom. I would recommend adding the Gonge Hilltops or River Stones as well. They came be seats/baskets/obstacles/etc. They are fairly pricey, but I am going to invest in them soon. They have had GREAT reviews on a minimilist family blog that I follow.

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    Roy Advika
    June 27, 2017 at 1:17 am

    This is a great article that has helped me understand the concept of Open-ended toys better. Thanks a lot for this informative post. :) Now I know what to gift my nephew for his birthday.

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    Amelia Rebolo
    September 19, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Hi! I love this article, I’m always looking for inspiration for my kids’ gifts etc. The image at the top shows a tent like structure around the kitchen and I would like to know how to make it! Do you know where to find directions?

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    Isabel Coimbra
    February 3, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks. I’ve seen children pick things up from scratch to make beautiful inventions. Because all humans were made in the image and resemblance of God. God is our Creator and the First Artist of surpassing talent and power unending, never failing us, His Creation.

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    Christine Sweet
    September 24, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Our kids LOVE Brain Blox! You get 100-300 (depending on which set you get) solid wood planks and there are sooooo many things you can do with them! My kids legit spend hours playing with these! You can get them on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Blox-Wooden-Building-Blocks/dp/B079ZJFFD5/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1537803255&sr=8-2&keywords=brain+blox

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    Gotchoo Covered
    July 9, 2019 at 7:47 am

    I like your post and we are also supplier of cool toys for kids If you wants more then visit to our site
    and I like your that product.

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