5 Classic Toys for Imaginative Play

Post by Contributing Writer, Beth

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity? the author discusses the importance of creative play for children. She writes,

“Play is a remarkably creative process that fosters emotional health, imagination, original thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, and self-regulation.”

“Open-ended materials… encourage children to play creatively and in depth. Neuroscience tells us that as children play this way, connections and pathways in the brain become activated and then solidify.”

In this world of toys with flashing lights, noises, and singular functionality, our children are in danger of losing the benefits of creative play as outlined in the above quote. It is for this reason that I am intentional about which toys make the cut in our home. The following five toys have endless imaginative possibilities:

1. Blocks

Wooden blocks, legos, and more. Most kids love blocks from a very young age – older babies and toddlers love building and knocking over towers. As they grow a bit in their hand-eye coordination, duplo can be introduced, ending with the huge world of “big boy lego” (as it’s called by our four-year-old). The possibilities for what you can build are pretty well endless.

2. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

One of the only exceptions I make in allowing my children to play with branded character toys is for Thomas the Tank Engine. My son absolutely loves playing with his trains. We began collecting pieces two years ago, and he plays for hours “chuffing” his engines and cargos around his track, through lego tunnels, into the homemade lego shed. He makes up dialogue for the trains, invents scenarios, and plays contentedly in his own little world – imaginative play at its finest!

The same goes for any other toy cars, trucks, airplanes, etc. These are open-ended toys that are begging for some adventure complete with “vroom vroom” noises by a cute little kiddo.

3. Dress-Up

A well-stocked up dress-up bin is an invitation for imagination if there ever was one. My kids have not yet really been into dressing up, but the oldest is barely four, so I think there’s still time. We also really do need to stock the dress-up supplies more. They do love wearing sunglasses, hats, and mama and daddy’s shoes though!

4. Dolls & Stuffed Animals

My two-year-old daughter absolutely loves to play with dolls. We do not push gender stereotypes on our kids, but she has just naturally gravitated to pretend play with dolls – dressing them, rocking them, wearing them, and even nursing them (oh so adorable!). Her big bro often joins in too – he has a particular stuffed hippo that he calls his baby, and I love seeing his nurturing side come out.

5. The “Non-Toy” Toys

Kids play – it’s what they do. They see the world through their imaginative lenses, so they often spy things around the house that pique their excitement in ways only they can explain. I’ve seen a string being used as a guitar, a kitchen colander as a hat, and a bib (worn backwards) as a superhero cape. Cardboard boxes are a classic non-toy that are loved by any kid.

Then there is the vast array of possibility found in the great outdoors – sticks, mud, and rocks. Any kid with a decent imagination can play in nature contentedly. Blanket forts are also an essential part of childhood, in my opinion, and provide endless opportunity for imagination. A simple piece of material can be transformed effortlessly by a child at play.

What kind of toys do you give your kids to promote imaginative play?

Beth is a natural redhead, wife to a pilot husband and mama to (almost) 3 little ones. She is passionate about missions, motherhood, and finding the beauty in everyday life. She blogs from the Canadian prairies about the art and soul of audacious homemaking at Red & Honey.

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8 comments to 5 Classic Toys for Imaginative Play

  • Great ideas!

    We found some great household items that held our daughter’s attention while we were underway on our boat last summer. Some favorites–clothespins and yarn, and wine corks.


  • My forget toy for almost a year growing up was a shower caddie. I was a very easily amussed child….


    Michele Reply:

    That’s hilarious, Katie! :)


  • Beth, I love that your daughter nurses her dolls. That’s really cute. I’m a huge fan of basic creative toys, especially the active kind, like jump ropes!


  • Nada

    One of my daughter’s favorite things to play with is — are you ready for this? — an old crockpot. After an ancient one died, I cut off the cable, and set it on the floor in her “kitchen” and she cooks with wooden and felt vegetables, empty spice containers and a wooden spoon in it every day. It makes a lovely hands-on toy that looks and acts just like mommy’s!


    Michele Reply:

    How cute! What a great idea!



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