As technology advances it continues to spread into more areas of our everyday life. With that technology, the aspect of free play is also disappearing. It is being replaced with screens, overly busy schedules, and battery operated toys that don’t leave anything to the child’s imagination. There is so much to learn when children are able to use their imagination while they play.
Here is a list of toys for kids, that do not require batteries, and promote learning and thinking.
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Toys For Kids Who Love to Build
I love blocks as they are so versatile that children of all ages can enjoy them in their own way, continuously advancing and developing while they play. They can learn so much from playing with just blocks; from hand-eye coordination to fine motor skills, from colour and shape recognition to laying down the foundations for learning about fractions as well as addition and subtraction. For a more detailed explanation of what children learn from block play check out my post, Benefits of Block Play.
Magnatiles are plastic shapes with magnets along the edges allowing children to use their imagination to build whatever they want. They are easy to construct with and are a favourite toy for kids aged 2 and older. The quality is great and lots of children get these in their toddler years and are still playing with the same set well into their school years.
These magnetic tiles are great at developing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, colour and shape recognition, as well as problem solving. They are on the more expensive side but 100% worth it. Magnatiles are sold in various sets to fit your budget, expand your child’s play, and are very durable, long lasting toys.
Some childcare centers I have worked in have had some of these and even after many children playing with them every single day I never saw one break or show any signs of wear and tear.
There is a cheaper alternative called Picasso. They are very similar but I have heard the quality is not as good.
Most people can remember these from math class. They come with triangles, squares, hexagons, and diamonds. Pattern Blocks provide lots of opportunities for learning. They teach children about patterns, shapes, spatial awareness, and more.
Most sets have pattern cards for children to follow, or they can create something from their imagination. They are great quiet time toys.
Bristle Blocks have soft interlocking bristles that help the blocks connect. These are great for little hands as they can connect at any angle for frustration-free building. Little ones can develop their hand-eye coordination simply by connecting and pulling apart two pieces. As they get older and more advanced they can start exploring with creating buildings, vehicles, and characters too.
It is fun for ages 4-99. There is just a basic set where children use their imagination to create. But, there are also sets that have step by step instructions to build something specific. Lego is also a great activity for a parent and child to bond over.
There are some cool LEGO books:
- LEGO Jurassic World Build Your Own Adventure: With Minifigure and Exclusive Model by Julia March, Selina Wood
- 365 Things to do with LEGO Bricks: Lego Fun Every Day of The Year by Simon Hugo
- LEGO® Awesome Ideas by Daniel Lipkowitz
For the younger crowd there is Duplo, which is the bigger version of Lego. It is good for kids 1.5yrs old and up. There are various sets ranging in prices and difficulty. Lego and Duplo are toys that have amazing quality and will last through generations.
Brio Builder Set
Brio Building Sets promote creative experimentation and problem solving.
Kids are able to use the various pieces to build and create something they think up, or follow directions to create something specific. It’s a great toy for kids who enjoy construction and using tools. This is another toy that parent and child can bond over while creating up new and exciting projects.
Toys For Kids Who Like to Play Pretend
When kids are able to play pretend and go into a world of make believe they are working on social skills + team work, imagination, creativity, language + communication skills, life skills, independence, problem solving, numeracy, visual recognition, and fine motor skills. They are able to act out and process scary, confusing, or new situations.
Play kitchens are great toys for kids as they are able to recreate situations they are familiar with. Whether they are pretending to be chef, waiter, or parent at home. Kitchen sets can come in many different styles and budgets. There is so much out there to expand your child’s imagination and kitchen set.
There is an endless supply of accessories that can be added for further enhancing children’s play. Things like food, dishes, pots and pans, and utensils. Like most toys there are wooden versions as well as plastic.
If you are looking for childcare quality check out Learning Resources. They hold up well to being played with every day, being washed many times, and put into mouths and tested by young toddlers. I love their various sets as they promote healthy eating, colour recognition + sorting, and come with different accessories like shopping baskets etc.
Playing with dolls encourages empathy + compassion, life skills, problem solving, imagination, and responsibility. Although dolls tend to be classified as a “girls toy” they are actually incredibly beneficial for all children. One of the first toys recorded were dolls that were found dating back to ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Letting children play with dolls allows them to be more compassionate and empathetic grown-ups. They allow the child to gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them
Dolls are also part of the group of toys for kids that have a very large range in prices to suit every child’s need. There are now so many varieties of dolls for every child. Dolls of every race, dolls with wheelchairs, dolls with Down Syndrome, dolls with glasses or hearing aids, the list goes on. The brand Adora seems to have the largest gender neutral line for dolls, strollers, high chairs etc. that I have found.
When playing dress up, children are able to act out what they have experienced (I.e. seeing the doctor/ dentist, taking animal to vet etc.) and what they dream of being (pirate, construction worker, fairy, etc). Children process their fears through play. So giving children the opportunities to dream, use their imagination, and process their world is incredibly beneficial for them.
Dressing up gives them the opportunity to be someone else and to carry on a different role from their reality. It also promotes independence and self help skills as they get dressed and undressed. They have to dig into their memories as they remember what the doctor did at their last check up or how the princess was rescued in their favourite fairy tale.
Children don’t need store bought costumes, and a lot of costumes can be created from things around your house like old costume jewelry, hats, scarves, safety glasses etc. Sales after Halloween is the best time to buy dress up costumes.
According to We Have Kids “Doll houses engage children in imaginary play, which provides important educational benefits for intellectual and social development. When children are engaged in imaginary play they are able to freely investigate and learn about the world around them.”
Doll houses provide everything a house corner can provide on a smaller scale. They also allow the child to have more control over what furniture is in the house and where everything should go.
Animals and Dinosaurs
Many young children go through a phase where they love dinosaurs, or other animals. This is great for their cognitive development. When children have an intense interest towards dinosaurs it is a good thing. It is linking to them having an increase in their processing skills of information as well as having better attention spans.
Playing with Dinosaurs (or other animals) helps with children’s imagination and creativity. Since no one really knows for sure what dinosaurs looked and sounded like, it leaves it open for the children to use their creativity to fill in those blanks.
Schleich is my favourite brand of animals and dinosaurs. They are solid and very good quality. They last very well in child care centers and through all stages of kids. And when you’re children have outgrown them they have good resale value.
Toys for Kids That Go, Go, Go
Playing with toys that have wheels is so much more than just pushing cars and trucks around. They are a tool for developing a variety of gross motor skills such as bending, crawling, pushing, pulling, balance and coordination as they drive the vehicles around.
They learn about simple engineering dynamics around velocity and mass through experimenting how fast, or slow, the cars move and what happens if they add some extra force or weight, or a higher ramp; does the car go fast or further? They learn very quickly what works and what does not. They further develop their cognitive skills as they figure out what they can do to make it work.
Trains are another one of those things that a lot of children go through having an interest in.
While building a train track they learn patience, problem solving, foresight, trial + error, and gross + fine motor skills. Playing with trains can also ignite their imagination into using other toys to build a town around the track, or other scenarios.
Melissa and Doug have a large starter train set to get everything you need in one purchase. Brio is another well known company for wooden train sets. They have been around since 1884 creating toys for children. My brother and I had Brio train tracks when I was a kid and after many years of use they were given to a daycare where they still lasted for many more years.
Cars + Trucks
The movement of pushing a toy car around develops their gross motor skills, balance, and coordination.
They learn concepts such as stop and go, up and down, forward and backward. Playing with cars and trucks also boosts their imagination as they mimic what they have seen out in the world. I personally prefer to choose eco friendly toys when I’m shopping for my son. I try to stay away from cheap plastic if I can. Melissa and Doug have great wooden cars and trucks and they fit along wooden train tracks as well which is a huge plus for train lovers. Green toys also has fabulous quality toys for kids and they are made from 100% recycled plastic.
Toys For Kids Who Like To Move
Some children need more gross motor stimulation than others. Getting outside into nature and fresh air where they can run, jump, climb and explore is the best option. However, when parents work from home, the weather is horrendous, or it’s just not possible to get outside, there are several options for working on those gross motor skills indoors.
Developing gross motor skills early in life is beneficial for various skills. Simple things like playing around on the playground or for when engaging in various sports. They are also beneficial for the simple day to day tasks such as standing on one foot to put their pants on, or maintaining proper posture while sitting or standing.
Play silks are great open ended toys. Children can use their imagination to use the silk scarves as blankets for their baby or playing peek a boo. They can throw them around and catch them, dancing, using them as wings, a cape, the options are endless.
Balls are great toys for kids to work on gross motor skills, hand eye coordination, and team work. Giving children access to balls is beneficial from early babyhood. They come in all sizes and shapes and some have a sensory aspect to them for children to explore. Infantino has a set of small textured balls, for added sensory, for little hands.
Balance Boards are great toys for kids to develop their balance and coordination. These boards can be so versatile. They can be used for standing and balancing on, or sitting in and rocking. When not being used for gross motor they can be used as a bridge or tunnel for their cars, a table, slide, or house for their dolls and animals. They are very sturdy and can hold an adults weight so it can grow with them.
When the weather gets cold and wet and it becomes harder to get outside stepping stones are a great toy to bring out. You can easily change it up to match any developmental level. They can be added to an obstacle course or just used on their own.
In some families children are allowed to jump on the couches, in other families they are not. Being able to jump improves their muscle control, balance, and coordination skills. Having a small indoor trampoline is a great outlet for built up energy when you’re stuck indoors. Some even have a handle bar for children to hold on to for stability while they jump.
Toys For Kids Who Enjoy Sensory
Young children use their five senses to explore and learn about the world around them. Sensory play is crucial for brain development and it is recommended to give children plenty of opportunities to explore using the different senses. Good Start states “Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates a young child’s senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, as well as anything which engages movement and balance.”
Playing with musical instruments is beneficial for supporting sensory development, hand eye coordination, and accelerates brain development. Most children love music and making noise.
Percussion instruments that can be hit, slapped, and tapped (drums, maracas, piano) are proven to be the most beneficial to their developing brains. If you don’t have instruments its very easy to make some or pull out the pots and pans and some spoons.
Playing with play dough works hand muscles getting them ready for writing and holding a pencil, as well as, fine motor skills, encouraging creativity, and is quite calming for most children. It can be squished, squeezed, poked, rolled, flattened, cut, and chopped.
Play dough and accessories can be great toys for kids who are sensory seekers. Things can easily be added to play dough to enhance the sensory experience like small parts for a new feeling or essential oils for a new scent. Adding some lavender oil (or some of the plant itself) into play dough can be a very relaxing activity before starting a bedtime routine.
If money is a factor there are many recipes to make your own at home.
Playing with sand helps the development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, creativity, imagination, socialization, language, problem solving, and sensory – developing the sense of touch. There are various types of sand out on the market for children to explore.
Experimenting with finger painting is a great sensory outlet for some kids. They explore the wet, cold, gooey sensation on their hands while they learn about mixing colours and strengthening their finger and hand muscles.
If your child does not like getting messy, you can try offering different materials for them to use as the paint brush. They will offer a more visual sensory experience while also offering the sensory feeling of the various materials. You can use something very simple like leaves and sticks gathered from outside or using utensils to explore the different strokes they make on the paper.
Some children are very sensory oriented. Having a sensory table that you can fill up and occasionally switch out could be incredibly beneficial for some kids. Its a great way to keep things contained and it can easily be moved outdoors for a change of scenery.
Every year there are more and more toys added to store shelves promoting the newest and best toys out there. More often than not they are full of plastic and require batteries. You’re children beg you for them and then only play with it for a couple months (if you’re lucky) before they get lost in the bottom of the toy box.
Try going for toys that are open ended and can be used at various developmental levels and can be used for more than just one use. Although I would not classify them as toys, books are a material that is always recommended. They are incredibly beneficial to children of all ages.