When you think of toys, you think of kids. They go together like bacon and eggs. BUT, you also know that too many toys aren’t good for kids — it can mess with their attention spans and set them up for entitlement. So where’s the happy medium? Providing toys imagination will be inspired by!
As a teacher and parent — and someone working towards having “less” — I know not all toys hold the same value. Some toys seem irresistible at first but quickly turn to clutter.
Other toys are timeless. Kids of all ages can get almost endless play with them. They’re classic, they’re fun, and they’re timeless — often because these toys encourage imagination. When kids combine toys and imagination, the toys can grow with the child!
Toys that grow with children means less to purchase, less to clean, less to organize AND more creative kids. It’s win, win, win, win!
Toys, Imagination, and Fun
Here are 25 toys that will encourage imaginative play amongst your children:
1. Wooden Blocks
Wooden blocks are literally THE most basic and classic toy, but basic does not equal boring!
You can build a stack and knock them over with a friend, build a castle, a house, a garage for your favorite cars, build a mountain and have a dinosaur knock it over — the possibilities are endless.
Not to mention, building with blocks improves fine motor skills and teaches basic physics and cause and effect.
2. Art Supplies
Nothing inspires imagination and creativity more than art supplies. Coloring books and crayons are a great start for younger kids, but as kids grow, so does their creativity.
Add different types of papers (printer, grid, construction), different coloring mediums (markers, pencils), and all types of adhesives (stickers, glues, tape, staplers, etc.) to your area and watch your kids create.
Pipe cleaners, stamps, stencils, dot markers, and washi tape are fun, too!
Okay, so maybe puzzles don’t really use imagination, but they encourage kids to be persistent and solve problems. Start simple and increase the number of pieces for puzzles as children age.
Model puzzle strategies and problem-solving skills as you build the edges first, look for picture clues, and turn the pieces in different directions.
Don’t want a big puzzle collection? Trade with neighbors and friends.
Imagination possibilities are almost endless with puppets. Kids can create puppet shows based on favorite movies and books, or they can create their own stories (this might come later).
If you’re looking to (slowly) build a quality puppet collection, I highly recommend the brand Folkmanis.
For extra fun on a rainy day, give them a giant box and let them make their own puppet theater!
Have you heard of Magformers? I hadn’t until fairly recently. They’re plastic, magnetic shaped tiles that stick together in every way imaginable.
Besides building math and physics concepts, kids can create buildings, roads, cars, and anything else. They’re also fun to use on the fridge.
6. Stuffed Animals
There’s a reason stuffed animals are synonymous with kids! In addition to being a comfort item, kids can use their imagination in a variety of ways with stuffed animals.
Stuffed animals can be friends to talk to, students in a classroom, patients in a doctor’s office, babies in a highchair, or wild animals in a zoo.
Often, stuffed animals are associated with babies and toddlers, but I’ve found that my children actually play with stuffed animals more the older they get (to an extent) in more imaginative ways. I’ve walked into my children’s rooms countless times to find stuffed animals “in school” or set up in other creative ways.
While these toys inspire imaginative play, they are also useful soothers when the world feels heavy and growing up is hard.
7. Fort Supplies
Want your kids to use their imagination? Toys aren’t always necessary! Give them a basket of fort supplies and watch them go to work.
Our fort supply bin includes old flat queen sheets and some beach towel clips. That’s literally all you need for hours of fun!
‘Member those puppets I mentioned above? Challenge your kids to create their own puppet theater using the fort supplies.
First, they do the building (fine motor skills, following directions, perspective) then they do the imagining — or sometimes they do both at the same time. Toys such as Lego are great for kids of wide ranges of ages and interests.
After the build is done, many of the sets include moving pieces and mini-figures — perfect for imagining all sorts of scenarios.
Don’t feel the need to purchase multiple sets at once or even purchasing sets at all. Sets can inspire play, but they can also force ideas on kids whereas a bucket of blocks will let kids go in any direction they please.
Need some Lego Organization Inspiration? Check out our Lego Closet!
They’re classic for a reason! Cars are a favorite toy of kids everywhere because play imitates real life.
Bonus Play: Create a city out of cardboard or a route of this road play tape on the floor!
Tubelox are another toy that I hadn’t heard of until recently — but as soon as I saw them I knew my kids would LOVE them.
They’re another building toy but they’re BIG so kids can create structures they can go in, cars they can ride in and tables they can sit at.
If you’re planning on purchasing these, be warned that they take up a lot of space, so consider storage options before you buy. We have ours in a large wooden toy box.
Again, no explanation needed. Books take you places your imagination can’t even fathom — until you experience them through reading.
Books are a fantastic building block for imagination. They help kids see that anything is possible and allow their creativity to soar.
Keep a small collection of favorites at home and visit the local library frequently for fresh supplies.
12. Babies & Dolls
When playing with toys and using their imagination, kids often mimic real life — and babies and dolls make that super simple!
Dolls can also be combined with other toys to encourage new play situations. Put dolls with a doctor’s kit and now you can play pediatrician.
Put the doll with the kitchen set and now you’re making dinner for a family.
Add some school supplies and, guess what, now you can play school!
Don’t think that because your child has a doll, they need a dollhouse. Let them make their own! Now you have imagination AND creativity.
13. Dress Up
Dress up seems to have become synonymous with princesses and superheroes, but I like to mix it up with fun non-branded accessories. Must we always bombard our children with marketing and brands?
Non-branded and non-gendered dress up sets such as doctors, pirates, animals, explorers, astronauts and cowboys/girls provide a TON of entertainment and have wonderful staying power throughout the years as children’s interests change.
Our Halloween costumes get added to our dress up bin once we’re finished with them for the season, too.
14. “School” Supplies
My kids, mostly my daughters, spend countless hours playing school. They use stuffed animals, books, and anything else they can get their hands on.
Enter bargain school supplies at The Dollar Tree. In the past few years, The Dollar Tree has stepped up its game. Grab some sentence strips, small chalkboards, chalk, stickers, highlighters, posters, play workbooks, rewards certificates, and lanyards.
Yes, it’s clutter-y but if you’ve got kids who love to play school they’ll LOVE it.
15. Plastic animals and dinosaurs
Small plastic animals and dinosaurs can keep little ones in the world of imagination for hours, especially if they have a vivid imagination. There’s just something about small items that make them more fun.
16. Doctor/Vet Kit
I have mentioned doctor kits a few times in this post, already. Once when talking about dress up and then again when talking about babies. That just goes to show how versatile a doctor set is.
Bring a baby to the doctor, bring a stuffed animal to a vet, or give a friend or sibling an exam. You can’t go wrong with a doctor set!
If you want to take it up another step, download a free “vet form” and attach it to a clipboard.
17. Marble Run
If you’ve got a little builder on your hands, pick up a marble run and watch them play for hours. Marble runs are fun because there are endless possibilities.
You can give them challenges or combine the run with other toys such as dominoes, army men, or legos.
18. Train Tracks
Wooden train tracks are another childhood staple. Young kids will need some help to set up a track, bigger kids will have fun building independently.
When Santa brought our 3-year-old tracks, he also brought a train table and glued the tracks down. Once he got a little older, we popped the tracks off the table and built fresh courses.
19. Play Kitchen
20. Blank Anything
Imagination grows when it has space to do so. Leave some things blank and let kids fill it in as they see fit.
- Blank calendars
- Blank notebooks
- Blank books
- Blank posterboard
- Blank canvases
- Blank board games
21. Time and Space
Finally, kids need TIME and SPACE to play. Every second of everyday doesn’t have to be filled with classes, sports, and fun activities.
Every inch of the playroom doesn’t have to be jammed with colorful plastic toys. Be picky. Leave open space. Rotate toys if the space starts to get too crowded and you can’t choose any that should leave.
And don’t forget nature: trees, dirt, rocks, sticks, leaves, bugs, all of it!
Toys: Imagination Inspiration
Not all toys are created equal. Some get played with for 15 minutes and then sit on a shelf for years. Others get played with for years and years.
Toys that grow with kids and inspire imaginary play are the ones you don’t mind messing up your space and cleaning up thousands of times.