This is where you’ll find the best toys for kids. It’s the ultimate gift guide full of curated and expertly selected toys for children ages birth to 9+. Search lists organized by age and interests to find open-ended toys for kids.
The Toy TED Talk
Play is the work of childhood and toys are the tools for play.
Let that idea marinade for a second.
Toys are more than just stuff for kids. They’re not just things to gift a child because it’s the holidays. Toys don’t exist just to fill houses and become the clean-up bane to every parent.
Toys are important.
Toy are the tools used for the learning, developing, and skill building that is critical in childhood. Toys are the tools used in a childhood tasked with building the foundation for a lifetime.
And these toys – these tools – they’re important. They have an incredible job. They can literally make or break a child’s ability to play independently, and that is not an exaggeration.
I’m not trying to scare you or guilt you, but I do want to impress upon you what a surprisingly big deal toys are.
The two categories toys fall into
Very generally speaking, two kinds of toys are marketed to children: “one and done toys” and “open-ended toys.”
Let’s break apart what each category is, and why marketers might pick one over the other when selling toys.
“One and done toys” are typically flashy. They’re trendy. They may have batteries, buttons, lights and sounds. These toys tell children how to play with them or serve only one very set purpose.
One tell tale sign of a “one and done toy” is the toy’s lifespan: the child’s engagement and interest in this toy fades quickly. A “one and done toy” is not likely to hold your child’s attention year after year after year.
These toys may work for the child today, but as they age, they rapidly grow out of the toy (sometimes in just a few months).
Please note my language: Often, likely, typically. Some seemingly “one and done” toys will hold your child’s attention for years or are very necessary for their personal development.
Toys are tools – that’s the message to leave this article with. If a toy is a tool for your child and their play, that toy has value.
Toy marketers push “one and done toys”
Flip through a toy catalogue and you’ll see them jump off the page: the push for “one and done toys.” It’s not surprising marketers would pick these toys to sell.
These toys lack longevity and typically don’t captivate or hold attention spans like open-ended toys. This is a financial gain: more toys are bought as toy interests fade.
“One and done toys” are usually fun for a moment. They have their time to shine. Then interest wanes, they clutter the toy box, and they make it harder for children to find their play… the play that is so critical to the child’s development.
Why open-ended toys work
Open-ended toys stand in opposition to “one and done toys.”
Open ended toys typically spark play. They are meant to hold little attention spans and allow for creative usage. Open-ended toys grow with children and though they fall in love with them as youngsters, they continue to play with them (evolving that play) as they grow older.
We don’t often see marketing around “open-ended toys” and that makes sense. These are forever toys. Toys that grow with children. Toys that don’t need to be replaced in a few months. These toys will be played with for years.
Open-ended toys are often simpler toys. They allow children to be in the driver’s seat of play. We want to see a child playing with a toy, using the tools, and actively engaging with the toy.
These open-ended toys most often support independent play in early childhood.
They are the toys that will often help a child learn to imagine, create, and think. They’re the toy tools that children use to navigate the world, act out social situations, learn to problem solve, explore, and develop.
Open-ended toys are powerful.
A caregiver’s job with toys
Our job as caregivers – as gatekeepers of the toys – is to make sure the right toys come into our homes and into our kids’ lives. Again, right doesn’t mean fanciest or biggest, and right will be subjective and vary from child to child.
We are looking for the right toys that our children can imagine with, make believe with, and create with.
We must think thoughtfully and critically about the toys we bring into the home. More toys doesn’t equal more play. Fancier toys don’t equal fancier play. Bigger toys don’t make for bigger play.
It’s about finding the right toy for your child to do their play work.
Tip: How to use these gift guides
The brilliance of open-ended toys is that they are ageless.
The toys on my gift guides – from baby to big kids – are listed by the first age a child may be interested in the toy. It is not by “age they will ONLY be interested in this toy.”
My toy lists are like age suggestions on a board game box. Just because Monopoly says it’s for ages 8+ doesn’t mean that only 8-year-olds like it. It’s simply the first age a child might enjoy Monopoly.
My gift guides are structured the same way, by first age to enjoy… not only.
Check out all my lists and decide what your child needs to play well independently. Since these toys grow with kids, you can pick and choose from each list as you transform your house into a play wonderland.
Remember: Toys do not have a gender
My toy lists are gender neutral (as all toys are).
Everything on this list is fantastic for all kids, and equally loved and used by all. And equally valuable to all.
Consider all the learning that a play kitchen can do for all kids, or LEGO bricks, or a doll house (which my son uses when he plays “Fire Fighter Rescue”).
All kids need an opportunity to practice engineering skills, imagination skills, creativity, empathy, care giving, to act out social scenes, to work on life skills…. when we gender toys and limit toys as a result, we send a clear message to kids on what they can or cannot do or be in life.
Let’s stop doing that.
Reveal: Busy Toddler’s Gift Guides
The ultimate list of toys for kids is here. Click the image for the list you want to see
Frequently Asked Questions
Good toys for kids are the toys that help a child grow, develop, and learn through play. This will look different for each child.
Generally speaking, this means an open-ended toy where the child is in control and command. The child isn’t being told what to do or how to play. They are making decision on how to use the toy – and that’s where the magic of learning through play unfolds.
Instead of looking for one specific “unicorn, mythical and perfect” toy, look at buying toys within categories. Children should have access to at least one toy from each toy category:
Toys that build (blocks), toys that help them create, toys for imaginary play (kitchen, wand, costumes, doll house), toys for care giving (doll or stuffy), toys that are animals, and toys that are vehicles.
This gives children a well-rounded access to the toys they need for their play.
That’s a varying answer for every family. It depends on home size, budget, and number of children. It also depends on the needs of each child.
If you have a children who is struggling to find their play or unable to sustain play without significant adult assistance, audit their toys. They may need fewer options. You know that feeling of frustration when you can’t find something in a kitchen drawer? That’s how kids feel with an overwhelming toy box.
You can. Toy rotations are great, and a way to vary and change up the toys in the house without buying new ones. This isn’t something I can do at my house. We don’t have space to storm toys (no playroom or basement or giant garage). All the toys we have live in my kids’ rooms. This works just fine for us – no toy rotation needed.