If you’re like me, you want your children to play with imaginative toys. After all, that’s much better for them than the one-trick pony toys that say a few phrases over and over. Plus, you probably don’t want those noisy toys in your home either! That’s why I’m all for creative toys for kids.
Toys billed as educational, like those that teach letters and numbers by speaking, initially seem to be a great choice. After all, they’re teaching your kids to read; that’s got to be good, right?
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. You can read my full policy here.
Despite what marketing tells you, it’s best for your kids to have simple creative toys, not toys that sing the alphabet (thank goodness!).
Looking for toys for specific age groups? Check these posts out:
RELATED: Creative toy guide for toddlers
RELATED: Creative toy guide for preschoolers
RELATED: Creative toy guide ages 6-10
PS: I don’t have this list sorted out as “creative toys for girls” or “imaginative toys for boys,” because guess what? All children’s toys are for all kids. So here you have it: The best creative toys out there for kids and toddlers.
Table of Contents
Creative toys for imaginative play
The good thing is, there are lots of creative toys out there that are great for your kids to play with. Check these toys and dress-up options.
Indoor climbing toys
Have you ever heard of a play couch (aka modular sofa)? These super-fun toys are big blocks of foam that can be used to build forts, tents, and more. My kids love their play couch.
Or if your kids need somewhere for down time, the play couch is great for a calming corner as well.
I chose Brentwood Home’s play couch because it’s non-toxic and well made (you can check out my full review here).
The Pikler triangle (or climbing triangle) is a simple but super engaging Montessori-style climbing triangle for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. A pikler triangle can be introduced as early as 6 months. As babies look up at, crawl under, and pull up on this structure, their vision and gross motor skills develop.
As babies grow, they start testing their limits. That’s when the climbing triangle becomes really fun. At this age, your baby can start climbing up and over their toy.
Climbing triangles are still fun even as your child gets older. They can make a house or stuffed animal hotel by covering the Learn N’ Climb triangle with blankets.
RELATED: Learn N’ Climb Pikler triangle review
You can never go wrong with blocks! Blocks are perfect inspiring toys. Plus, there are many styles, great for kids from toddlers to tweens. Here are some of my favorite toys for kids who like to build:
If you’ve never seen Magna-Tiles, they’re really cool toys. Each edge has little magnets (sealed away very well) that allow you to put the tiles together edge-to-edge. My daughters love to build little houses or towers with Magna-tiles and then use the structures as homes for small stuffed animals (They use these Squeezamals. I don’t know where they got them from but they’re the perfect size to fit in Magnatile houses and towers).
(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 don’t hold.) Magnatiles are best for kids 3 and up, although my 2 year old enjoys them as well.
Want a creative toy option for young toddlers? Mega-bloks are a great start. They’re like really big Legos.
I just sat down and played with Mega-Bloks with my little guy the other day, and we had a wonderful time. He enjoyed stacking the blocks as high as he could and then knocking them down.
If you need an “in-between” step from Mega-Bloks to Legos, go for Duplos. They’re big enough for toddlers and preschoolers to easily manipulate, but small enough to make fun designs. Plus, they have a bunch of fun little kits for kids to create with.
And of course, you can’t forget the classic imaginative toy of Legos. My daughter plays with her Legos for hours. You can either get one of the many sets that come with instructions to build a specific play area, or you can get a brick box for more open-ended builds.
And of course, simple wooden blocks are always a good option. They’re fun for building towers and homes for small stuffed animals.
We enjoy this set of colorful Melissa & Doug blocks at our home. You get 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
And 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 used to recommend the Grimm’s Rainbow Stacker (it’s what we have). It is pricey but hand-crafted, cut from one solid piece of wood. But it has since gone to 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.
This nesting rainbow is also well made (although it has a glossier finish instead of a satiny matte) and a fraction of the price.
Dolls and stuffed animals
Dolls and stuffed animals (yes, for girls and boys) allow kids to imagine into other characters. They are able to work out feelings and concerns from the day through play. Not to mention, they’re just fun.
While my kids have some toys representing Disney characters (because I’m not pedantic about the whole thing), I prefer to choose more generic toys for them. That way, they’re less locked into particular roles by a toy.
Soft dolls for young children
I love this little guy from Manhattan Toy Company. He’s super cute, super soft, and perfect for even one-year olds.
And my own little guy loves this doll too. He likes to use a doll stroller to push his baby around.
Looking for a little girl doll? Manhattan Toy Company makes those too, in all different skin tones!
If you want small people to go with your block sets, peg people are a great choice.
If you don’t want to buy a set of pre-painted peg people, you can get a set of unfinished peg people and some acrylic paint and made my own. I’m really happy with them, and so are my kids!
Pretend play toys
Anything that allows your children to play pretend and to become someone else is a great choice.
Wildlife Figurines from Schliech
My kids have so much fun pretending with Schliech figures. They are beautiful and well made. They have several types, including horses, farm animals, wildlife, and more fantasy type characters.
We recently got some beautiful unicorns and fairies from their Bayala set and they are so much fun (like, I enjoy playing with them too). I wish I had these when I was a kid!
But seriously, listening to my kids play and come up with adventures for their Bayala unicorns is really wonderful. They’re better for kids 5 and up, so we keep them upstairs in my oldest daughter’s room. She knows that they are special toys and treats them respectfully.
If you’re looking for more menacing (but still beautifully detailed) characters, the Eldrador line might be more for your kids. I’m hoping mine show interest in characters like these one day too, because they’re awesome.
Dress up and imaginative play
Dress up clothes often don’t require a special purchase; you can just give up some of your old dresses or use old Halloween costumes. But there are some toys that can add a little extra imagination!
Kid’s doll carrier
If your child sees you carrying a younger sibling in a baby carrier, he or she may love having a carrier of their own for baby dolls!
A cleaning set for kids for playing house
A small cleaning set is a another great choice for imaginary play. This set doesn’t even have to be pretend play; you can get a set that’s well-made and actually can be used by your kids to help you do chores!
Kids love to play in their own kitchen, too.
A kitchen playset like this is a great choice from 2 and up. My kids all enjoy making “cakes” and “soup” for me to try.
And for doing real work, your older child (at least 5 years) will love this tool kit, weighted and sized for small hands.
Like I said, this tool set isn’t just a toy! These are real tools of good quality, just small enough for your kids to use easily.
Pretend doctor’s kit
Many kids enjoy having a doctor’s kit or a veterinary kit too. After our kids have had a few kits over the years, I recommend getting one that has a bag that won’t immediately fall apart.
Cars and other vehicles
All children, whether boy or girl, need cars and trucks to play with. They come in so many sizes and shapes, great for a variety of ages.
My boys love their train set. It’s the best of both worlds: They get to build the tracks and then push the little train around the track. It’s perfect for creative play.
The Oball car is a perfect first car for babies. It doubles as a rattle and is easy for little hands to grip.
The Lewo Toddler Wooden Ramp Racer set is great for toddlers from 1-3. Toddlers will love rolling the cars down the ramp!
For slightly older kids, these wooden cars will serve well for pretending to have a race track, a construction site, or more.
And of course, a road playmat is a fun place for driving little cars around. I like this one because the backing doesn’t allow the mat to slide around on hard floors.
Conclusions on the best creative toys for imaginative play
I hope this list of creative toys for kids was helpful. If you’re overwhelmed because your kid’s toy collection doesn’t look like this at all, it’s okay! Start with curating your current toys and then slowly work on adding the items that will resonate with your children.
Your child doesn’t have to have everything on this list to have an enriching childhood; that’s not the point. But think about which of these open-ended toys will best serve your family, and maybe choose a couple of them for the next birthday or holiday. Remember to use this printable guide to make things easier on yourself.