There is an endless amount of activities that can be done with open-ended toys!
That’s what we all want, right? Who wants to buy an expensive toy for a child that they will only play with once?
Open-ended toys grow with kids as they age. They allow your kiddo to use their creativity and imagination during play. I enjoy watching their little minds work in different ways to learn and have fun.
Now that you know a little bit about what open-ended toys are let’s dive into The 21 BEST Open-Ended Learning Toys for Kids.
Toy #1: Magnetiles
Magnetiles are one of the most popular open-ended toys on the market.
Kids can build many different structures with them, make patterns, create shapes, put them on the fridge, the list can go on and on.
Ways to Play
1. Build structures- Build amazing structures with Magnetiles! Let your little one’s creative juices flow by allowing them to come with their own design ideas or help them come up with a plan. Create castles, a car garage for their vehicles, or a home for their toys!
2. Practice letter/number learning- Place some dot stickers on the tiles or write directly on it with a dry erase marker (don’t worry, it’ll wash off!). Practice number/alphabetical order, build letters/numbers or create a game to find the missing number/letter.
3. Make mazes- Create a maze with Magnetiles by standing them straight up, connecting them, and make two rows for an object to make it’s way through. We use cars to go through the maze whenever we do this, but you can use any toy!
These are just a few examples of how kids can play with Magnetiles! There is no specific way to play with this toy, which is why it makes it a great open-ended toy for kids!
Toy #2: Animal Figures
Animal figures are an investment that you will use for years.
My husband played with the animal figures as a kid that we still have now. Not saying he’s old or anything :). But, they still look brand new after all these years!
Ways to Play
1. Adult and baby animal match- This is a simple activity to do with toddlers and preschoolers! It makes for a great homeschool lesson on baby animal names. Discuss the names of each baby animal and the name of the adult animal. Mix up the animals and have your kids try to find the baby and adult match by placing them back together.
2. Sorting animals- You can do this in several ways—separate animals by mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians, or insects. You can also sort them by land and water animals or even just big and small animals for toddlers! My favorite activity that I have done with my kids is an activity where I used Play-Doh for a sorting activity.
3. Sensory bin activities- We recently did a farm animal sensory bin, where I put three different types of sensory materials in a container. Pudding (mud), corn, and oats! Inside the plastic bin, I placed farm animal figures and barn. It was such a hit with my kids! Plus, they learned about animals that live on a farm, what they like to eat, and fun facts about each farm animal.
Toy #3: Grimm’s Wooden Rainbow
Doesn’t this toy just make you happy?
Grimm’s Wooden toys are fantastic open-ended toys.
Ways to Play
1. Stack and play- These rainbow blocks are so fun to build and create fun structures with! Build a giant tower, create an animal or a fun pattern with this colorful toy.
2. Color recognition- Grimm’s rainbow is a perfect way to work on color sorting and identification! Make a circle with each color strand. For younger ones, you can have a set of toys chosen for them, and they can separate them in the correct circles. Older kids can have the challenge of going around the house to search for items that would belong in each color section!
3. Create an aiming game- With the larger, outer strands, you can create a fun aiming game! Have your kiddo take a few steps back and give them a ball. They should attempt to roll the ball through the block. They can also try to kick the ball if it’s small enough! If they can do this easily, challenge them to do it with a smaller block.
Toy #4: LEGO’s
What can’t you build with LEGOs?
These LEGO Duplo blocks are perfect for kids aged 2-5! I also recommend other LEGO sets as well for older kiddos.
Ways to Play
1. Build structures- We buy LEGOs to build, right?! Let your kiddos go to town and build whatever structure they like. It doesn’t even have to be anything specific. My kids love to be creative and make their own buildings from video games they like to play, or imaginary castles, etc.
2. Word building- I love using LEGO blocks to work on spelling and sight word building with my 5-year-old. What a fun way to practice sight words, right? Write letters on the blocks with a dry erase marker to build specific words. You can write the full word on a bigger LEGO piece, and then they can use the blocks to match up the letters to create the word.
3. Bath time with blocks- You will thank me after this recommendation! Bring your LEGO blocks into the bath with your little ones. They will love filling them up with water and also creating things that can float in the water!
Toy #5: STEM Building Blocks
STEM building blocks are TOO much fun!
There are so many different objects that you can build and create with these blocks. What I love most about these is that toddlers can even use the tools to make designs! My 2 year old helps me build what he wants, and he is always very eager to do it himself.
Ways to Play
1. Create objects in the booklet- There are 42 designs provided in this booklet for you and your little one to create. There are things like animals, cars, letters, and numbers. What a fun way to practice letter and number learning! These are varied levels of designs for a variety of ages.
2. Race vehicles- Create two types of cars and race them around the house. You can even make a painter’s tape track like the one you see below to make the race more realistic!
3. Design your own ideas- One of my favorite things to do with these blocks is let me kids create whatever they want. A lot of times, we end up creating homes or vehicles for their toys to ride or play in!
Toy #6: Marble Run
Some open-ended toys are excellent because they teach children how to use problem-solving skills.
Marble run is a fun toy for kids! It challenges them to build structures to allow the marble to go through the tubes to make it to the bottom. However, kids need to use critical thinking skills to be able to create the structure, so it stands and allows the marble to make it through the towers.
Ways to Play
1. Make the structures in the book- Included in the Marble Run toy; there is a booklet that shows different designs that you can create for the marbles to go through. These designs can be helpful in the beginning when learning how to work with the blocks with this toy.
2. Create your own- Most of the time, we create our own marble track. What I love about this is that there are a lot of fails in the design. I stated earlier that this is a great toy to practice problem-solving skills. Have your kiddos try to figure out how to fix any issues.
3. Marble races with two towers- Create two separate towers, they can be the same or different and see which marble can make it to the bottom first! The kids will go WILD for this activity. They won’t want to stop doing it :).
Toy #7: Train Tracks
Train tracks are a classic open-ended toy that kids can find new ways to play each time they pull this toy out.
Ways to Play
1. Build your own track- Train tracks are so fun to build whatever design you want! Let your little one’s creativity run wild and let them create a track for the trains ride on.
2. Create sentences- I have created a sentence with words on a label and placed one word on each track. I mixed them up on our table, and my daughter read each word out loud. Then we started putting the words together to create a sentence that made sense. Once we got all the pieces in place to create the sentence, I had a train out so she could make the train go along the track so she could read the entire sentence.
3. Train track building challenges- Challenge your child to build a specific track pattern like a circle or a track that goes through a bridge! These challenges will allow them to use some critical thinking skills to see what train track pieces would fit together to create the pattern you want them to.
Toy #8: Letter Blocks
These wooden blocks are AMAZING! My mind is just racing with all the learning and play possibilities that you can do with these blocks.
They have letters, numbers, math symbols, pictures, and 10 frames on them! What?!
Ways to Play
1. Stacking blocks- My little guy loves stacking wooden blocks to see how high he can get the tower to be without it falling. Another fun spin on this activity is to place a few pieces of painter’s tape on the wall at different heights. Challenge the kids to build a tower as high as the taped lines!
2. Practice letters+numbers- These blocks are perfect for practicing number/alphabet recognition, alphabetical/number order, addition, subtraction, and bigger vs. smaller numbers. Blocks are an ideal play-based learning activity that kids will love and learn a lot from.
3. Name building- Practice name recognition by using these blocks! First, show your child the letters of their name. I also recommend singing a song along with showing them the letters of their name. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Then, challenge them to build their own name once they start saying the letters of their name.
Toy #9: Bug Catching Kit
My kids have been really into bugs lately. It’s springtime around here at the moment, so they are all about looking under rocks to see what kind of bugs they can find.
I just picked up this bug catching kit for my son for Easter this year, and I honestly think it was the biggest hit out of all the things both my kids got.
Ways to Play
1. Get outside- Obviously, this kit is made to be taken outdoors! Have your children lift rocks to see if there are any bugs under them. They can use their tweezers or scoop scissors to pick up the insects they see. They can then place them into the container to look at with a magnifying glass! After they scope them out, they can be set free back to where you got them.
2. Make a sensory bin- My kids are really into bugs/insects. I created a sensory bin with green water beads and the fake bugs that came with this kit. They played with the water beads and then attempted to scoop and pick out the bugs with the fine motor toys we have.
3. Insect hide and seek- Yes, this is a thing at our house. I take the fake bugs and hide them inside and outside our house. The kids run around and have a competition to see who can find more bugs. They work on counting skills, and it’s a way to get them moving!
Toy #10: Play Kitchen
There is an endless amount of different activities that you can do with a play kitchen and fake food!
We’ve had this play kitchen for about 5 years, and the kids still play with it at least once a day.
Ways to Play
1. Dramatic play- We have played restaurant, grocery store, cooking lessons, baking play, and many more dramatic play scenarios with our play kitchen. The kids love pretending to work in the kitchen to whip things up for us to pretend to eat. I love their imagination that goes into these dramatic play activities. It’s different each time we play too, which makes it still engaging and interesting to the kids.
2. Food group sort- Learning how to sort food into their correct category is a great homeschool lesson for kids that is simple to pull off! On a piece of cardboard, I wrote the category names at the top, and then we worked on sorting the foods in their groups. This is a great way to teach kids about what is healthy and what foods are not as healthy.
3. Create recipes- This kitchen comes with measuring cups, pretend condiments, cups, and utensils. Come up with some recipes with the fake food and kitchen supplies for your kids to make. They will LOVE this activity and want to do it over and over again. Plus, it’s great practice for learning how to cook and understand what measurements are.
Toy #11: Dress Up Clothes
I can’t even tell you how many times my kids want to play dress-up each day.
Currently, while I am writing this article, we have been in quarantine due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Pretend play has saved my sanity many times throughout this time :).
What I love about this set of dress-up clothes is that it is gender-neutral, and it also teaches children about community helpers! Also, maybe your kids will love these so much, they may want to use it for Halloween, which saves money there, right?!
Ways to Play
1. Dramatic play- All of these outfits can be used for different dramatic play scenarios. Some examples are to use the doctor’s costumes to get a pretend check-up, pretend to build with the construction outfit, and pretend to put out fires as a firefighter!
2. Community helpers- These outfits are a great way to introduce the concept of what community helpers are to your kids. Explain what each of the outfits represents and what the accessories are used for.
3. Fine motor skills- Developing fine motor skills is essential to build little hand muscles so they can do everyday life activities! These include things like buttoning buttons and zipping zippers! Challenge your kiddo to put these outfits on themselves if they are old enough. Encourage them to try to zip and button if they can. Assist when needed, so they don’t get frustrated, but it’s great practice!
Toy #12: Play-Doh
This is the coolest learning Play-Doh set that I have seen!
I wish this were around when I bought all my Play-Doh supplies; I bought everything separately. This is amazing that shapes, numbers, tools, and animal cut-outs are all together in one pack!
Ways to Play
1. Number and shape recognition- Included in this pack are number stamps and shape cut-outs. Play-doh is an excellent sensory activity for kids and a hands-on learning experience. Kids will be able to learn to recognize shapes and numbers through this fun way of learning because it will create a fun memory for them.
2. Play-Doh tray play- I enjoy creating tray play activities for my kids; it gets my creative juices flowing.
You need some loose parts (pom-poms, sequins, feathers, googly eyes, popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners) You place these in an organizational tray and let the kids use their imaginations to create something with the objects that you placed in front of them. Here is an example of the Toy Story themed Play-Doh tray I did.
3. Practice fine motor skills- When kids use the Play-Doh tools, they are using fine motor skills. I love Play-Doh accessories, too, because they are safe for kids to use! There is a roller cutter, a small plastic knife, and scissors. Using these tools will help them develop small muscles in their hands to build their fine motor skills!
Toy #13: Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is one of my favorite sensory bin fillers! I use it for letter and number learning sensory activities.
Not only is it great for learning, but it feels AMAZING! Every time I have it out for my kids and my husband is around; I always catch him playing with it too!
Ways to Play
1. Building with sand toys- Included in the pack are a few sand toys that your kids can use to build castles in the sand. Building castles is easy for even toddlers to do with this type of sand! You can also use sand toys that you play with outside too! The kids also enjoy hiding toys inside the castles we make so they can search for them with the tools.
2. Sight word sensory bin- I created a construction themed sensory bin for both my kids to play with. My younger one (2 yo) worked on alphabet recognition with the stones, while my older one (5yo) worked on sight word building. I have FREE sight word cards available for download! This was such a hit with both kids. Along with the kinetic sand, there are small stones and construction vehicles in this bin.
3. Shape puzzle- Create a shape puzzle by putting shape blocks inside the kinetic sand! Use shapes from a shape puzzle to create the design of each puzzle piece into the sand. Pick up the pieces and have your kids try to match up the shapes in the correct spot.
Toy #14: Easel
Do you have a child who loves art? Easels are a perfect toy for kids to work on a bunch of different art projects!
The best part about having an easel is the giant paper. Having the large butcher paper is great for your kids to do art projects on the easel, and I also use the paper for different projects, not on the easel.
Ways to Play
1. Free Draw- Let your little one draw, paint, or color with different supplies! Let them create whatever they want! This is an excellent way for kids to show their creativity and imagination!
2. Draw/paint the season- This is one of my favorite activities to do on BIG paper! Write the season at the top of the page. Brainstorm with your little one what objects, foods, weather, clothing, etc. remind them of the season that it is. We used our watercolor set to paint for this activity. This is an excellent homeschooling activity for preschoolers!
3. Spray the letters/numbers- There is a chalkboard on the other side of the easel! How awesome is that, right? Write the letters of the alphabet or numbers that you want to work on with chalk. Fill a spray bottle with water and ask your child to squirt a specific number/letter!
Toy #15: Doll Houses
We use our dollhouse for an unbelievable amount of play scenarios!
My kids just come up with new ways to play with different figures/dolls each time we play.
Ways to Play
1. Free play- Let the kids have fun just playing with the toys that are included with the house and their toys. They will have so much fun just playing out a variety of different play scenarios on their own! My kids just love lining up their toys in a row on our dollhouse.
2. Play games about things that happen at home- Play bedtime routine, dinner, practice talking about the potty, etc. These real-life situations that occur at home are so much fun to play out with their little toys.
3. Add something new into play- Bring in some other toys for different types of play with the dollhouse. For example, you can bring in a tea set, doctor’s kit, or animal toys to engage with the dolls to bring new play experiences in.
Toy #16: Puzzles
Puzzles are my FAVORITE learning toy for kids. I have had so much success teaching my kids the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors through the use of puzzles.
It does require many repetitions, but it works because hands-on learning is the best type of learning, in my opinion.
Ways to Play
1. Play, play, play- When it comes to learning numbers, letters, shapes, and colors, repetition is critical. At least 5 minutes a play and learning a day is needed to let this material sink in! It does work, I promise! With both of my kids, puzzles were the way they learned these essential concepts. Puzzles help kids remember these things because they are hands-on learning toys.
2. Hide and seek games- I want to make learning fun for my kids, so it doesn’t even seem like learning to them. When you hide letters, numbers, or shape puzzle pieces, they can go and search for them around the house. Once they find one, have them say what they found! This is a great way to go over recognition. You don’t have to use all the puzzle pieces as well if they don’t know them all! You can only focus on a few at a time with little ones.
3. Involve other toys they love- I have a very active 2-year-old. To get him to sit and concentrate for a little bit, I pull in his favorite toys to play, so it keeps his interest. It works like a charm! For example, he loves his Ghostbusters toys. So if I wanted to work on a number puzzle with him, I would have him choose specific characters that he has to name me some of the letters. He LOVES it! Give it a try with your kiddo’s favorite toys.
Toy #17: Cash Register
Looking for a fun way to introduce the concept of money to your little ones?
A toy cash register can be used for so many different play scenarios to show your child about the different coins, dollars, and how to give change.
Ways to Play
1. Coin sorting- Coin sorting activities are a great way to introduce the concept of money to your kids. I have a Money Learning Packet available for you to work on these skills with your kids. Use the coins and the dollars to bring these worksheet activities to life to help your kids learn about money.
2. Play store- This can be any type of store! The grocery, ice cream shop, restaurant, Starbucks, Target are some of our favorite pretend scenarios. Have your child ring up the items, type it in the cash register, and then return change if needed! This is a play-based learning strategy that will help teach the concept of money.
3. Add money- While playing store, switch roles, and have them be the person who buys the products. Work together with your child to add the money together to see if they have enough to buy each item. Inside the Money Learning Packet, there are also activities to add pennies, dimes, quarters, and dollars along with this fun who has more activity!
Toy #18: Jumbo Droppers
I just got these for us to use at home and we are LOVING them!
The kids enjoy the colors of them, and they know when they get brought out that they are doing a fun art or science project.
Ways to Play
1. Mixing colors- Kids loving creating their own “potions” by combining colors with these droppers. The best thing about this is that it’s super simple to set up. You need a few clear cups, depending on what colors you want to use, food coloring, and a larger clear jar our cup to create the potion in. Put some water and a few drops of food coloring in each small cup. Place the color droppers inside the cups with the food coloring. Let your little one choose which ones they want to add into the larger jar and let the fun begin!
2. Rainbow cloud experiment- This is one of my favorite experiments to do with my kids! In a clear glass, fill it 3/4 of the way full with water. Then, squirt a thin layer of men’s foam shaving cream on the top. Drop a few drops of food coloring on the top of the shaving cream and voila! Check out this beautiful rainbow in a glass! Your kids will love watching the colors in the glass.
3. Dropper learning- Break a longer piece of paper towel off and write a few numbers or letters with different colors scattered all over it. In a few separate cups, fill the cup 1/2 full of water a few drops of food coloring depending on what colors you want to use! Call out a number or letter you want your little one to find. With the dropper, they will squeeze up the color liquid and squirt it on the paper towel! This is a fun and great way to practice recognition skills.
Toy #19: Cleaning Toys
We don’t own this toy; it’s on my list of toys to get.
I always find it hilarious when we go to my sister-in-law’s house that out of all the toys there, my kids gravitate to the cleaning supplies toys.
Ways to Play
1. Free Play- You don’t need to have an activity planned for every single toy all the time. See what they want to do with it and let them drive the play experience!
2. Sweeping activity- This is a Valentine’s Day-themed activity we did, but it can be done with any shape using painter’s tape and foam stickers! Painter’s tape is one of my must-have supplies to have on hand! Create your desired shape with the tape on the floor. Do not remove the white film on the back of the stickers so the kids can sweep it up. Toss them on the floor next to the shape and ask your kids to sweep the mess into the shape!
3. Water play- Create a simple water sensory toy cleaning bin by placing water and tear-free soap into a large storage bin. Throw some of your kid’s favorite toys in the water (that won’t get ruined, of course) along with a small scrub brush or toothbrush that is meant for play that you won’t need! Have your kids clean each toy! They will love this 🙂
Toy #20: Vehicles
Toy vehicles are the best because they can be used both indoor and outdoor play!
My kids have played with cars on our carpet, kitchen floor, outside on the grass, on tables, you get the drift. They can be used anywhere, which makes them a fantastic open-ended toy.
Ways to Play
1. Painter’s tape road- This is fun and easy to create. Race cars by creating a road with painter’s tape! Have the kids race little vehicles, remote control cars, or even robots if they have them!
2. Cardboard box play- We had a giant cardboard box, and we created a little town set up with it! We used markers and do-a-dot markers to make the town. The kids used trains and cars that we had to play! They played the entire day with this set-up.
3. Car washing Sensory Bin- I created this color car wash sensory bin for my kids to play with. It was the biggest hits with them. To pull this bin off, I mixed men’s foam shaving cream and food coloring together. I scooped it out of the bowl and placed it all in a container. If you don’t want to color it, you can just use white shaving cream; it’ll work just as well!
Toy #21: A Ball
Yes, that simple, a ball!
There are ENDLESS amounts of gross activities that can be done with a ball for kids. I am a physical education teacher, and one of the must-haves in my gym is a bunch of playground balls.
Ways to Play
1. Throw and catch- Practice throwing and catching skills with the football and basketball! Show your child the correct way to throw the ball underhand and overhand. These are very important gross motor skills that will help them later on when it comes time to play sports and games at school with their friends. Make sure to have them step with one foot towards their target, throw with one hand, and aim for their partner’s hands!
2. Kick and trap- Soccer is one of the best games for little ones because it’s all about running and kicking! Also, work on trapping and passing skills by passing back and forth with this soft soccer ball!
3. Aiming skills- With the soccer ball, practice how to kick the ball to a target like a soccer goal or in-between cones. If you also have a smaller basketball hoop, you can practice aiming skills in the basket! Your kiddo will be a step above the rest if they start practicing these gross motor skills at a young age. Plus, it’ll boost their confidence if they practice and will be more willing to want to play sports in the future.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
After reading this article, do you see how cool some of these open-ended toys are? I only mentioned 3 for each toy. I could write an entire book about all the activities that could be done with these toys!
Open-ended toys are worth the investment because they will provide life long play experiences, allow your kids to imagine and create things, and try new ideas each time they play with these special toys.
Do you have any fabulous open-ended toy recommendations that aren’t on this list? I’d love to hear about them! Please share your knowledge with our community by commenting below!