21 of The Best Open-Ended Toys to Encourage Creativity and Imagination

Let kids’ creativity and imagination soar with these open-ended toys. 

open ended toys for toddlers and kids

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A child’s imagination is a thing to behold.

Over the years, my girls have dressed up as chefs and “served” us three-course meals, taken care of horses and zoo animals, built a fort out of tree branches that’s “only for kids” and created whole cities in our living room – complete with a swimming pool, basketball court, and music room.

While all this play is whimsical and fun, there are also numerous benefits of open-ended play. It’s through play that kids increase their social competence, emotional maturity, and problem-solving skills.

Often times kids need very little to take part in pretend play – a few tree branches, pine cones, or simply just a room or yard to run around in.

But sometimes simple toys – especially toys that are open-ended, or rather, have no specific purpose but are designed to be left to a child’s imagination – can help inspire new storylines or simply add to whatever goal kids have in their play.

We’ve been parents now for ten years and have seen a number of toys – both purchased, gifted, and handed down – come into our house. It’s without a doubt that open-ended toys have had the greatest longevity and continue to be popular even as our daughters get closer to adolescence.

The following is a list of our favorite open-ended toys our girls have enjoyed over the years and a few others that stand out as sure winners.

Open-Ended Building Toys

Building toys are a great addition for promoting imaginative play. Kids don’t need to be aspiring architects to have fun erecting castles or towers. My kids also incorporate building blocks into more elaborate fort designs.

We love these wooden blocks.

Other fun building toys include:

The Best Toys for Make-Believe

Playing make-believe isn’t just fun for kids, it also helps them try to understand others and the world around them. That’s especially true for preschoolers and toddlers.

Melissa and Doug, in particular, is a great source for not only toys that promote pretend play since most of its toys are open-ended.

My girls loved playing chef when they were younger with a Melissa and Doug kitchen:

Pretend play melissa and doug kitchen

Melissa and Doug also has a number of food and kitchen accessories that coordinate with their play kitchen. Some of our favorites include:

Dollhouses also provide opportunities for pretend play and kids are intrigued by their small size. We used this Melissa and Doug dollhouse for many years along with these peg dolls.

melissa and doug doll house

Hape also has a basic wooden dollhouse that leaves a lot to the imagination.

And what kid wouldn’t love this whimsical tree fort?

Dress-up clothes come in handy when kids want to put together a show or simply pretend they’re a fairy, a pirate, or in a certain profession. It’s often fairly easy to find dress-up clothes or costumes on eBay, Freecycle, or consignment shops, but these play silks let kids “design” their own dress-up clothes, and any type of wings come in handy to let kids imagine they’re able to fly.

 Animal Figures

Just like dolls, toy animals can be used in many of pretend play. There are a wide range of animal figurines to choose from, here are just a few:

Cars and Vehicles

It can be fun to pretend to drive cars, trucks, and other vehicles just like adults! These wooden ones provide high-quality but affordable play.

See related:

60+ of the Best Outdoor Gifts for Kids

101+ Experience Gifts Your Kids Are Going to Love

39 Eco-Friendly Gifts for Kids of All Ages

20 of the Best Educational Subscription Boxes for Kids

20 Meaningful Non-Toy Kids Gifts 

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About Kerry Flatley

Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.