Hands down and year after year, the toys which have received the most love and use in our home by our children, and their friends who have played with them, are the open-ended toys.
Open-ended toys are those that can be used any number of ways depending on the day, the children, their imagination and desire. They stimulate creativity, investigative play and imagination. They are the ones your kids fondly remember years from now.
A good toy is 90% child and 10% toy!
For play skeptics, experiments conducted by the Early Childhood Cognition Lab in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) show how it helps children calculate probabilities during play, developing assumptions about their physical environment, and adjusting perceptions according to the direction of authority figures.
Other researchers are also discovering a breathtaking depth to play: how it develops chronological awareness and its link to language development and self-control.
Think multiplied hours of building farms with animals, toy soldiers and castles, racing cars on mats, dress-up accessories and home-made forts, building blocks and talking animal figures.
So today, as many of us are starting to think about holiday gift shopping, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite open-ended toys.
Open Ended Toys Worth Owning for Kids
We’ll start with building and construction.
- Magnetic tiles building set (above top)
- Wooden blocks: Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Solid-Wood Building Blocks With Wooden Storage Tray (60 pcs) not shown)
- The giant Fort Magic Kit (354 Pc flexible tubes and connectors) (above bottom left)
- Schleich North America animal figures (including Andalusian horse in top image)
- Marble run (above bottom right)
- Legos (we found much of our extras at garage sales) – again multiplied hours learning without knowing it! (top of post photo)
- LEGO Yellow Submarine in the pool (unless you live in warm weather, this will require some delayed gratification 😀
(clockwise from top right)
- Wooden Train Track compatible with major brands including Thomas
- Engineering Building Blocks (above bottom left)
- 12 Pc Wooden Engines & Train Cars Compatible with Thomas Wooden Railway
- Lego Creator Space Shuttle Explorer
- Jumbo Extra-Thick Cardboard Building Blocks (above left)
- Toy Car Road Tape (extra long and wide) as seen in the very top image (upper left)
- Melissa & Doug Pirate Ship 3-D Puzzle and Ship in One (100+ pcs, 21 x 16 x 5.25 inches, assembled)
- Lincoln Logs (below)
- Gears! Gears! Gears! (below)
- Fischertechnik Building Sets beloved by our boys (age 9+, high quality) (not shown)
Food and Kitchen Play
- Melissa & Doug’s 4 food groups set
- an emptied kitchen base cabinet doubles as a ‘house’. Add a childrens’ real usable dishes and pots and pans near where you you cook
- Their Let’s Play House Dust! Sweep! Mop!
- other Melissa & Doug Wooden cooking sets
More Toys – Ones That Don’t Do Much On Their Own
(…besides big cardboard boxes for playhouses and race courses…)
Some Of Our Other Favorites For Make Believe Play
- Melissa & Doug Deluxe Puppet Theater
- chunky dolls, stuffed animals, puppets
- plastic Army men, green vs tan
- manipulatives and sensory bins
- old costumes, props, silks
- scraps of fabric and an inexpensive sewing machine
- camera (not tied to internet)
- couch cushions, sheets
- car mat
If we were talking outside the house, it would have to be the hammock which is not a kids’ toy at all, but gets more use than anything else outdoors.
- And H.A Rey’s (creator of Curious George) fabulous Star and Constellation books (that readers ages 8-80 can understand) and this 5-star monocular telescope for older children and young adults
- a sprinkler
- a wagon
- a small wading or larger pool (also used to clean after sandbox, mud puddles, painting)
- clothesline to make a tent with sheets and tarps
- scrap lumber (nails and hammer), a hatchet
- bubble wands, silks, butterfly and moth wings all from Magic Cabin (photos below)
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of open-ended play!
“You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw