In the preschool years, kids are learning so much about how to interact with the world around them. One of the best gifts you can give them during this time is a love for creativity and imagination. And what better way to encourage imagination than with open-ended toys?
RELATED: Open Ended Toys that Encourage Imaginative Play
There are a million ways for 3-5 year-olds to play besides toys that sing the ABCs and count. Toys like this, that are mainly played with by pushing a button, are called “active toys,” but they make your kids passive. Your children mainly need “passive toys” that require active play. That’s why toys without batteries are best for your preschooler.
Whether you’re looking for a battery free toy holiday gift guide, or the perfect no battery toys for a preschooler’s birthday, these toys are all great gifts for an imaginative child from ages 3-5.
Read on to see which battery free toys are best for your preschooler to encourage open-ended, creative play.
Blocks and manipulatives
You can never go wrong with blocks! Children are learning every day how to use their little hands and work in the world they live in. Blocks are perfect for building towers for dolls and figures to live in, and they grow with your child. Read on to learn about our family’s favorite styles of blocks.
Magna-Tiles are a big hit in our home! Each block edge has little magnets (sealed away very well) that allow you to put the tiles together edge-to-edge. Preschoolers will love building different structures with them, as well as recognizing colors and shapes. I love this new set with quarter circles and windows.
(Note: You can find cheaper alternatives to Magna-Tiles at big-box stores, but they don’t work as well. The magnets aren’t as strong, so structures fall down. It’s worth the investment to just go with Magna-tiles.)
Duplos are the perfect size for preschoolers. You can make towers, trucks, houses, and more with these little building sets.
Duplos make open-ended packs of blocks, or you can get specific sets featuring popular characters. It’s probably best to have some of each: A large set of more general Duplos for open-ended fun, and maybe a set or two of character-driven Duplos for pretend play.
Wood block set
No-frills wooden blocks (or “unit blocks,” if you want to use the educational term) are also a staple in our home. Can you tell we really enjoy playing with blocks?
These Melissa & Doug blocks are a lot of fun for us. Our kids enjoy building with them and seeing how high a tower they can make with them. And unit blocks are affordable – This pack contains 100 blocks in 9 shapes and 4 colors for a good cost. The slightly rounded edges keep your kids safe during play.
Nesting rainbow stacker
If you’re looking for something more unique for your kids to play with, check out a rainbow stacker.
This beautiful set of nesting arcs can be arranged all sorts of ways to make roads for cars, homes for small stuffed animals or peg people, towers, and more.
Spoiler alert: Rainbow stackers aren’t just fun for kids. I have fun playing with this toy. Making designs with it is soothing.
I really love the Grimm’s Rainbow Stacker (it’s what we have). It is truly a piece of craftsmanship, cut from one solid piece of wood and hand-stained. The only problem? It can be pricey. Sometimes you can catch them on sale for less than $100, and if you do, you should snatch it up. Lately, I’ve seen them around $200, and I just have a hard time suggesting you pay that much for a set of blocks, no matter how lovely it is.
In case Grimm’s rainbow is not available at a good value, this nesting rainbow is also well made (although it has a glossier finish instead of a satiny matte) and a fraction of the price.
It’s good to have large stuff that your children can play and climb on. Especially when you’re stuck indoors on a rainy day, it’s a good way to let your kids burn off some energy. Here’s my favorites for the 3-4 year old set.
This Giddy Buggy Crawl Through Tunnel from Melissa & Doug is a great toy for preschoolers. It can be used both indoor and outdoor, and you can press it flat for storage later.
If you have room for something with a larger footprint, this set of 4 tunnels and 4 tents can be hooked together in different layouts for even more exploration.
Preschoolers will love this hopper ball for bouncing around an open area. Our kids each have a ball at my in-law’s house and they have a blast with them.
Have you ever seen Step-a-Logs? These short balance beams are connected to one another, so your child can step from one to the next. Once your child becomes confident with the balance beams close to one another, you can move them farther apart for a little more difficulty (and a lot more fun).
Dolls and stuffed animals
Dolls and stuffed animals are great for girls and boys. For young children, I love soft, cuddly dolls.
I most like to let my kids play with stuffed animals and dolls that aren’t from a particular movie or cartoon. That way, their play is most wide open to imagination. That’s why I love these two sets of dolls and stuffed animals.
Baby Stella Dolls from the Manhattan Toy Company
Baby Stella is a particular type of doll with a happy little face and cuddly body. There are boy and girl dolls available from the Manhattan Toy Company.
This little guy from the Manhattan Toy Company holds a special place in my heart. In our home, his name is simply “Baby,” and my oldest son got him for his first birthday. The pacifier is magnetic and will stick to Baby’s mouth.
And of course, there are several adorable little girl dolls too. Really, the only hard part about these dolls is how to pick from this super-cute collection.
And if you have a baby doll, your child will love having a stroller to roll it around in.
It is surprisingly difficult to find a doll stroller that is not super pink (not that there’s anything wrong with pink, but if you want a different color, it may be hard to find. However, this little denim doll stroller fits the bill nicely. It’s well made to withstand wear and tear, and it even comes with a little buckle so kids can strap their “babies” in their seat.
If you’re a family where you carry babies in a wrap or sling, your preschooler will love having their own baby carrier for their dolls. This one comes in several sweet prints.
Wild Republic stuffed animals
Wild Republic stuffed animals are my favorite brand. They’re detailed, cuddly, and super cute. Plus, they include a bunch of different animals from around the world.
Whether you want a honey badger (yes, really), a giant squid, or a baby penguin, Wild Republic has you covered.
Plus, there are dinosaurs (our stegosaurus and T. rex are named Spike and Bite, respectively), extinct animals, and more imaginatively colored stuffed animals if you prefer. Your child can create a whole zoo from these stuffed animals.
Beginner board games
Preschoolers will enjoy these board games. The rules are simple, they con’t require reading, and hey, no one says you really have to follow the rules.
Zimbbos is a whimsical, fun game that teaches counting and fine motor skills. Basically, you roll a die to see how many elephants you stack. The person who finishes the elephant pyramid without it falling over wins.
This game involves counting to 10 and number recognition, good beginning skills for little ones.
These funny little animals are super enjoyable to play with. My kids often play Zimbbos without bothering with the rules (we’re rebels like that). There’s nothing quite like making towers of elephants, polar bears, and clowns!
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game is a big favorite around here. There’s no reading necessary, just counting up to two and color recognition.
There’s a little strategy involved with Sneaky Snacky Squirrel: You can sometimes steal another player’s acorn, so you have to think about which one you should choose. But if your little one would rather just use the squirrel tweezers to pick up acorns, that’s okay too.
A list of board games for young children wouldn’t be complete without Candy Land! This game is a classic for a reason – with easy, no reading required rules and fun game play, your kids will enjoy playing with you.
We love Dinosaur Escape in our home. First of all, there’s dinosaurs (always a win), but secondly, it’s cool because it’s a cooperative game. In this matching game, everyone works together to survive, or else the volcano takes out your dinosaurs. No reading required.
Toy cars for preschoolers
My 3 year old boy loves toy cars and trucks (and his sisters did too when they were this age). We have a list of several great options that have been a hit in our home.
Whether you’re wanting to play with it indoor or in a sandbox, a good dump truck is great for preschoolers. This one gets great reviews for being nice and sturdy (which seems to be a problem for a lot of other brands).
I love this little set of cars with a truck to carry them from Green Toys. This set is made from 100% recycled plastic and has no paint (meaning no risk of toxic heavy metals). Plus, they’re just fun to play with!
And if you’re looking for somewhere for your kids to play with their cars, you might want a road playmat like this one from KC Cubs. The backing doesn’t allow the mat to slide around on hard floors, and also because it combines my kids’ love of both cars and dinosaurs.
And if you want little dinosaurs to roll around your dinosaur play rug, these are perfect. We have them at our house and our son loves to play with them.
My 3.5 year old son is obsessed with playing with his train set right now. Even before, he enjoyed running his train around the track if you set it up for him, but now, he’s old enough to come up with a track design himself.
This 100 piece train track set is great for preschoolers. Some reviewers complained that the track pieces didn’t fit together tightly, but honestly, that’s a good thing with little kids! You children will love assembling the track, connecting train cars with their magnets, and running their train along the track.
Your little one is growing and wants to be like you! Give him some toys and tools that are just his size.
Child’s cleaning set
Whether you’re looking for pretend play, or you’re doing Montessori and need brooms and mops for little hands, this cleaning set fits the bill. Either way, your little one will be delighted to help mommy.
A kitchen playset like this one from B Toys is a great choice. My kids all enjoy making “cakes” and “soup” for me to try.
This adorable wooden pretend kitchen is much nicer than many of the plastic ones you can find. Plus, it comes with a bunch of accessories, like pots and pans, spatulas, tongs, and salt and pepper shakers.
Play food for preschoolers
If you have a pretend kitchen, you probably need pretend food to go with it. There are a million different pretend food sets, but many of them aren’t very nice looking. For that reason, I narrowed it down to just a few that I like.
These wooden fruits and veggies are really cool because each half has Velcro. Your child can use the pretend knife to “cut” the produce in half (also a very Montessori-type toy).
These little Ikea fruit and vegetable baskets are adorable, and they’re stitched from felt (instead of molded plastic). They’re soft and super cute.
And finally, I love how kids can make their own sandwiches from this felt food sandwich kit from Melissa & Doug. So cute and creative.
Preschooler vet’s kit
If your child likes animals, she will love to play vet. This vet set comes with a dog and carrier, as well as pretend medical equipment.
Conclusions on my battery free toy gift guide for preschoolers
I hope these no-battery toys are perfect for your preschooler this holiday season. Obviously, your child doesn’t need everything on this list (that would be overwhelming), but even just a few choices would be great.
Make sure you grab my printable battery-free toy gift guide to make it easy to give suggestions to friends and family. Let me know what other toys for 3-5 year olds you wish were on this list!