Inside: The best toys for preschoolers – open-ended toys to grow with kids.
Looking for the best toys for preschoolers? Here’s the list for you.
Toys are important.
Play is the work of childhood and toys are the tools for play. Our kids need the right tools to make that play happen, but sometimes the “right toys” get over looked for the “brightest, flashiest” toys.
Kids need open-ended toys and here’s why.
RELATED: Need more toy ideas? Check out my full “Best Toys for Kids” list.
What are open-ended toys?
In my opinion, there are two toy categories: “One & Done Toys” and “open-ended toys.” Our kids need the latter.
You know a “one and done toy”: they usually have bells, whistles, batteries, and all the glitz and glamor. These toys entertain are children with flashy lights, screens, songs, and faux academic questions.
In reality, these toys are anything BUT academic.
The academic toys our kids need are simple, open-ended toys.
Open-ended toys turn play into learning
When our children get their hands on open-ended toys, they get a chance to be the entertainer – to write the script on their play, to imagine, create, build, explore, and interact with the world around them.
On the flip side, when a child turns on a “One and Done” battery filled toy, they are often told what to do and given only one option for how to play. This kind of toy won’t hold their attention the way an open-ended toy will.
How do we fill our homes with open-ended toys?
We are the gatekeepers to the toys in our homes and we decide which toys get to stay (and which get the boot).
The toys on this preschool list are awesome examples of open-ended play continuing as our children grow.
If your preschooler doesn’t have (for example) a train set – check out the one on my toddler list!
Many of the toys on all these lists will be played with by our children for years to come. I saw this in my first grade classroom when so many of these toys were still played with everyday by seven year olds.
Now that’s some longevity that we just can’t expect from “One and Done” toys.
Remember, toys don’t have a gender
This list is GENDER NEUTRAL (as all toys are). Everything on this list is fantastic for both BOYS and GIRLS, and equally loved and used by all.
Please don’t skip past a toy because of your preconceived notions – our kids deserve every chance to play and practice various skills.
In no particular order…
These are the best toys for preschoolers (and toys will keep loving, and using, and playing with far into the future).
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Such a great little toy – we’ve had this for years. Eight little horses in a stable and it is just simple fun. These horses are used all over my house and in all sorts of play, then put away easily in their stable holder.
We got this crane Christmas 2015. It is still a day-to-day toy in our home. Kids gravitate to this toy and it’s a joy. I see animals, firetrucks, dolls, and blocks all being lifted and moved by this treasured crane.
Do you have a child who loves to put on shows? This theater is perfect! It’s a tension rod design so it stores compact and sets up easily (adults do this part) in a door frame. We have loved owning this.
This is a giant tent that inflates with a box fan. It is a super hero on rainy days and just so cozy. My kids LOVE setting this up – fits adults too. It’s a great size.
These small, rock/gem like wooden stones are a pretend play dream. They can be food. They can be currency. They can be hidden treasure. They have endless possibilities and have been a joy to own. 10/10.
This magnetic maze is a favorite of my preschoolers – he can sit with this for longer than I could ever have imagined, quietly working on using the magnetic bird to move the balls through the maze. It’s a simple toy – but effective a promoting concentration and motor skills.
This is an award-winning toy and for good reason: it is an open-ended dream. There are limitless possibilities for families to be created and social situations to play out. This toy is special (it’s also filled with math learning, too).
Looking for a fun collection to start growing together? The Calico Critters are a great one. There’s so many animals, families, scenes, and accessories: this is a fun one to grow over time/holidays/birthdays.
**This summer, my kids (ages 8, 6, 5) got really into Calico Critters and it was a joy to listen to them play.
This is the best. Kids can make and design their own tree house system and it has years of play life to it. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this toy is. (The little people are awesome too and sold separately)
Anyone else love watching rhythmic gymnastics? I think that’s probably the reason I bought this for my kids, but nonetheless, it’s been a delight to add to their imaginary play bin.
Dramatic play is one of the treasures of childhood, and it takes on a vibrant life in the preschool years. This vet kit is the full meal deal – and provides hours/days/weeks/years of play.
This set is AWESOME!!! A chance for kids to build domino course – so much cause and effect, so much spatial awareness. The plain-colored blocks also double as a great “loose parts” toy.
My daughter begged for this for years and I drug my feet. I finally bought it for her when she turned 5 and I should have bought it years ago. The building pieces are crafted from real bamboo. It’s a wonderful addition for any builder or animal lover.
Jigsaw puzzles (in a frame, like this one) are the next step in puzzle building after knob puzzles and chunky puzzles. BUUUUUT this comes before “free form” puzzles (like the floor puzzles I have below). The progression of puzzle skills is something you know best about your child which is why I’ve listed both styles in this gift guide.
Some preschoolers may be ready for “free form” puzzles. Large floor puzzles are the next “progression” in the puzzle development. Look for puzzles around 48-60 pieces for this age group.
Do you have a little one who loves fantasy? Dragons, castles, kings, queens, and knights? I do. And this is a slam dunk with all 3 of them.
Dress up is so much fun for this age and these superhero capes are the best. We have two sets, we love them that much. This is the other style we have.
When you first start out buying LEGO bricks, start with a box like this one with a little bit of everything. Get your kids going on free building before introducing kits and directions. LEGO bricks are essentially the OG of STEM toys – don’t overlook them!
This may be one of the most perfect toys ever invented (and yes, it’s a giant version of a 90s toy many of us loved.
UPDATE: There is a robot version of this toy now, too!!!
This fire truck is special: it actually shoots water. My kids have been going nuts for it for years. It’s big – so note the measurements before you commit (wink), but it really is a unique take on the traditional rescue toy.
Quick story: there are knock off brands out there, but this is the best one. My parents had one of the off brand sets and threw it away after playing with this fort builder kit. It’s just so easy to use!
This game (and the two listed below) have been fantastic “alone” games for my kids, especially at quiet time. Kids can work through the brain games / logic puzzles without adult help.
Think of this set as a middle toy between simple ramps and complex marble runs… but with plenty of legs to stand on its own. The truck drives up the ramp from it’s built up energy – it’s super cool. This is part of a larger series from Haba (called Kullerbu) so it can grow and build with your child.
What a fun and intricate way to build! Magnetic tiles are the “next step” after wooden blocks (although don’t discount wooden blocks from the preschool game – they are still very much loved and needed).
I’m such a HUGE fan of this collection of toys – it’s almost in the same category as a puzzle. It takes a lot of problem solving for kids to put this toy together, take it apart, and build it again.
A toy with a battery! I KNOW! But Walkie Talkies get a special exemptions for how awesome they are. We’ve had this set all year and the range is incredible – almost a mile!
Kinetic sand is absolutely the best and a perfect indoor, open-ended sensory activity for all ages. I recommend having one bag per child playing.
This set could be: an additional set for an expert block builder OR a stand alone set for a block-building novice. It’s a great size, stores in a canvas bag that comes with it, and has loads of play options. It also comes with some building ideas and instructions for those who like to follow directions.
My 6 year old would like me to note that while she is heads of heals about these blocks, the puzzle road it comes with is not good and she recycled it ASAP.
No matter the child’s gender – an outdoor excavator is the best! This gets used by everyone to dig holes. It’s also great for hand-eye coordination and grip strength.
Having a small, battery free, plastic kitchen outside as a dedicated mud kitchen is one of the best ideas I had for my kids. They (and the 8-10 year old neighbor kids) make mud pies and all sorts of other imaginary treats in their kitchen.
Open-ended toys are where it’s at!
We all want kids who grow up to be great thinkers and great doers, and that starts with a childhood full of play.
Open-ended toys let kids’ imaginations make the decisions – some of the highest levels of play come right from their creativity.
Find those good toys and get them into their hands.