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The Best Open Ended Toys for Kids

by The Artful Parent Editorial Team
March 23, 2023
creative toys featured

Open ended toys foster play, creativity, and imagination. Here is a list of the best creative toys for kids to promote pretend play.

Updated October 2023

When it comes to toys, less is more.

A few carefully chosen, open-ended toys can enrich your child’s playtime and save you from the overwhelm of too much “stuff.”

Open ended toys are ones that foster creative play in a myriad of way. These encourage imaginative play as your child grows and finds NEW ways to use the SAME toy. (Now that’s a win, win, right?)

Here at The Artful Parent, we have a few parameters in mind when it comes to choosing a great open-ended toy:

1. Requires No Guidance

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

2. Grows with the Child

A good open-ended toy can grow with your child and be used in different ways as kids mature.

3. Low-Tech

One of the biggest advantages of open-ended toys? Most don’t require batteries! 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 their own sounds and explore imaginary play.

gifts for kids who build

Open ended toys can be used in a variety of ways depending on the child, the day, their imagination, and desire. They foster play, creativity, critical thinking skills, and imagination.

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, we thought we’d share a few of our very favorite open ended toys, perfect for gifting! 

The Best Open-Ended Toys for Kids

If you’re looking to encourage open-ended and imaginative Lego play, we suggest skipping the instructional building kits and going for a big box of classic pieces like this one. Have a child younger than 4? Choose a larger block like these Duplos or Mega Bloks.

Basic wooden blocks have gotten a lot of play time in our families! They can be used as roads for cars, habitats for dinosaurs, castles for princesses… and so much more! We also love these rainbow blocks or these castle blocks as options for extending your basic set.

These magnetic blocks are so popular for good reason: they are SO MUCH FUN! You won’t be able to resist building a few things yourself. Already have a basic set? Check out this super fun add-on!

This cardboard building kit is full of everything your kids need to take their cardboard creations to the next level! They’ll never look at an empty box the same way again.

A set of play dishes like this one will be well-loved for many years to come. We especially like that all the pieces are dishwasher safe!

This tea set has it all: it’s made from durable silicone, features gender-neutral colors, and is even dishwasher safe. Perfect for sparking imaginative play with tea parties, picnics, sensory play… or even bath time!

Your kids will love the realistic look of this kitchen set. They’ll be cooking you up a feast in no time! Check out our In the Kitchen Printable Activities for even more open-ended play ideas.

It’s all too easy to go overboard in the play food department, but a few quality pieces can go a long way! Find a set like this one with a bit of variety and let imagination do the hard work.

We’ve had this cleaning set for many years and it’s held up great! I love that it sits compactly in any corner and the tools are high quality enough to actually clean.

We love how this farm set comes with a storage bucket and fence pieces. If you have the budget for it, consider purchasing a few pieces from Schleich; these are our favorites in terms of quality, and will be sure to last for many years! This fantastic toy barn is very sturdy and my kids had hours of fun using the pulley up to the hay loft.

These animals will have your kids building habitats and recreating their favorite trips to the zoo. We also love this adorable woodland animal set!

Fifteen dinosaurs ready for all kinds of adventure. These are great for imaginative play outdoors, inside, or even in a sensory bin!

We like a dollhouse like this one with a simple design that doesn’t take up too much space. The open sides make it easy for multiple kids to play simultaneously, and the basic design lets your child’s imagination do the hard work. We also love a dollhouse like this one that can double as a bookcase or display shelf as kids grow. Or what about a folding wooden castle is for fantasy play?

A basic wooden train set can truly provide hours of creative fun for your kids! Adding some extra track pieces can really expand the play as well.

A good quality set of small cars will be used in play for many years! And this super fun road tape might just be the perfect stocking stuffer for your little transportation lover.

Play scarves are maybe the one “toy” that got the most use for the most years at our house. They can be used for blankets, costumes, forts… anything your child can imagine!

Just like all great open-ended toys, a cash register can be a central player in all kinds of imaginative play: grocery store, restaurant, office work, farmer’s market, pet store… your kids will come up with all kinds of fun ideas!

Peg people allow your child’s imagination to take the lead in creative play. These people could be characters from their favorite stories, family members, or neighbors. We love how this rainbow set encourages sorting and pattern play as well.

We used and loved this science lab set in our own house for many years. It comes with everything you need for your budding scientist. Pair with a lab coat and our printable Science Creativity Pack for extra fun!

Sensory bins are so great for open-ended play time! Kinetic sand is one of our favorite sensory materials, and we love this fun beach set (also perfect for construction vehicles to drive through!)

little play kitchen
Photo by Rachel Withers

Fun Extras

These ideas are nice extras if your family has all the basics but you’re looking for birthday or holiday gifts for your kids that will last and be played with in many ways. These wooden toys are high quality, but pricier and by no means essential.

Rainbow Stackers

Build a sculpture, create a tunnel or just add a rainbow addition to your play area. Grimms produces the highest quality version in a mini & large size, but there are many other budget versions out there.

Loose parts

Create patterns, explore math concepts, feed toy animals on the farm, or add these to the play kitchen. With many options for use, these loose parts are a great addition for your child’s imaginative play.

grimms rainbow stacker
Photo by Rachel Withers

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

Creative Play Ideas for Kids

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