Over the past year, I’ve become an unlikely warrior for the importance of open-ended toys. I say unlikely because before becoming a mom toys were not something I ever gave much thought to. I assumed my kids would have all the brightly colored, battery-operated toys we see in commercials.
But if you’ve been around my site for a while you know that I also consider myself a minimalist. And it’s almost impossible to pursue minimalism without starting to focus on quality over quantity in all our possessions, and that includes toys. Obviously, I’m not a psychologist. But real psychologists have found that kids with fewer, more quality toys, learn to think more creatively and become less bored easily. That’s the opposite message of what our consumeristic culture would have us believe but great news for parents!
The Best Open-Ended Toys For Toddlers
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Scientific studies aside, I’ve seen this proven in my own life with my toddler. She may get very excited about a battery-operated toy but quickly loses interest after a few minutes. Do you know what she returns to again and again though? Her plain building blocks, plain wooden train, and Duplo building sets. She never seems to tire of them and as she gets older I can see more creativity as she learns to make new things with them. (Also, they’re quiet, which this noise-sensitive mom appreciates!)
What makes a toy open-ended? Here are a few key characteristics.
- Kids can play with them on their own without any instruction or supervision.
- The same toy can be used in multiple ways.
- The same toy grows with the child for years to come.
- No batteries! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “electronic and digital add-ons increasingly found even in physical toys may actually hinder caregiver-child interactions.” Plus, I don’t have to hear any annoying sounds for mom and dad.
Here are my favorite open-ended toys that will sure to be well-used and well-loved by your toddler. Not only that, but they will spark their creativity and keep their little mind busy for hours. Consider this a gift guide if it’s around the holidays or birthday, or return to for ideas in the future. This list is not conclusive by any means but in my opinion, includes the best toys available to help your little child learn through play.
(Also, if you enjoy this article, I have a feeling you’re the type of person who will also love “How to Reduce Toy Clutter” in your home as well.)
Hands down my little girl loves these toys the most. The possibilities are endless and I love seeing her try to make everything from houses to dinosaurs out of the same shapes. They make so many sets in different colors and shapes, and even themes, but sometimes simpler is better.
Little kids love to see how high they can stack things and these farm animals make the activity even cuter. I’m actually getting these for my toddler for Christmas and can’t wait to pass them on to her baby sister in a few years!
Duplos, legos for littles, are perfect for little hands to help them build muscle strength and use their imagination! The things my daughter tries to create with her Duplos crack me up. But I also love to see her happily playing with them for a long time without getting bored!
My favorite brand, because the quality is so high, are Schleich animals. I linked the farm animals because if you couldn’t tell, I like farm toys. But they have every animal your kid could ever want. Kids love to make animal noises or make up pretend scenarios with them. We have a bucket of sharks I put in my toddler’s bath each night that she’s still just as excited about two years later.
5.) Stacking rainbow
If you’ve looked at kid’s toys recently I’m sure you’ve seen the iconic stacking rainbow. Not only is it great for little minds and hands but looks beautiful in your children’s bedroom too. Obviously, kids can stack with them, but also love to turn them into roofs for houses, beds for dolls, or anything else their imagination comes up with.
6.) Wooden peg dolls
There are a number of peg dolls out there from very simple to more complex but I’m in love with these ones from Tender Leaf. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m getting them for my toddler for Christmas. Kids love to make up stories with dolls and I love ones that don’t have a million accessories, change color in the water, make noise, etc! Plus, if you want to go more extravagant, Tender Leaf makes some adorable houses and furniture for the peg dolls that are beautiful, but still simple enough to spark your little one’s imagination.
As I said, these are just a few of my favorite open-ended toys. When in doubt, follow the guidelines I listed above to see if a toy falls under the category. Playdough is another popular choice but I didn’t add it because I know a lot of parents hate it. 🙂 Puzzles are also another great option along with play food and dishes.
What’s your favorite open-ended toy I didn’t list?