The Best Imaginative Play Toys for Toddlers

Finding the best imaginative play toys for your child is so hard!  There are a million toys to choose from, and they all look fun.

But when I buy a toy for my kids, I want it to be something that they will play with for years.

I find that this tends to happen more with toys that inspire play instead of direct play.

What do I mean by that?

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Well, basically, I mean toys that require the child to do the playing.

For example, remember how when we were kids, dolls were just dolls?  You could pretend to feed them, change their clothes, diaper them, hold them, put them to sleep, etc.  Along the same lines, a truck was just a truck.  This is what I mean by imaginative play toys.  Now, so many dolls and trucks say or do things at the push of a button, eliminating the need and opportunity for the child to use their imagination.

Recently, I have majorly decluttered my kids toys.  They had hundreds of toys that were fun for a second, and then quickly tossed aside.  Typically, these were the toys had lights, sounds, or movements.  And, after doing some research, I found out that too much toy clutter is actually bad for kids.  So choosing the right toys is pretty important.

With all of the different options, how do you narrow it down to the toys that are actually imaginative play toys?

Well, here are my kid tested, mom approved choices.  We own and actually play with all of these toys (though perhaps not the specific one listed).

Top Ten Imaginative Play Toys

1. Blocks

Wooden building blocks inspire hours of fun.  I’m talking about towers, castles, bridges, car tracks, and even hamster mazes.  Wooden blocks are great for children from about 12 months on.

2. Legos

Legos are a more advanced version of building blocks, though I find that kids can play with them as young as age two if you’re no longer worried about them swallowing small toys.  Even though my children aren’t old enough to follow the directions to build specific things, they love building their own creations!

2. Doll Houses (or a Firehouse)

We have a KidKraft dollhouse and it is delightful!  I love them because they come with all of the furniture that you need, including pianos, beds, toilets, and refrigerators.   This dollhouse is made out of wood, as is all of the furniture, making it something that can be enjoyed for years to come.  It is great for children aged 2 and up.

The dollhouse does not come with dolls, but you can use a Barbie, or check out this doll family that is made for the house.  They are also made out of wood, and have cloth clothes and yarn hair.

And, in case you want a more boy-friendly option, KidKraft also makes a really cool fire station that comes with a rescue helicopter and helipdad, a firetruck, 2 firemen, and all of the furnishings to complete the fire station.  Check it out here – Kidkraft Fire Station Set.

3. Musical Instruments

These are great for kids ages 1 and up.  I love the Melissa and Doug set because it is made out of wood, and really sturdy.  My kids have not broken anything from their set, and we’ve had it for four years.  We love playing the instruments along to other songs, or just making our own music.

4. A Toy Kitchen

My kids love their toy kitchen!  They make all sorts of pretend creations, and play pretend schemes like house, school and restaurant with it.  It is hours of fun, and this particular one comes with some play food and cookware.  I like the plastic play kitchens better than the wood ones (surprisingly!) because they are lighter and less likely to have hinges that will break.

5. Tents

We love play tents!  Yes, you can absolutely make one out of a sheet and some furniture.  But for those days when you don’t have (what feels like) hours of time to devote to setting up and resetting up a sheet tent, one of these little tents is perfect.  They pop right open, but also fold flat for storage.  This particular one comes and pink and blue, and is just so fun looking!

6. Puppets

Puppets are so great for imagination.  Babies as young as a few months old love to have a puppet playfully bop them on the head, and kids of all ages love to pretend to talk and play through a puppet.  My kids like performing puppet shows for us, and laugh hysterically when we play with our puppets.

7. Dress Up Toys

From about the age of 2 on, kids love to play dress up.  My daughter is some variation of a princess or a fairy every day, while my son pretends to be a firefighter, dragon slayer or a super hero.  Dress up outfits are great for kids because they get to actually feel like they are whatever they are dressing up as.  And, many of the costumes you can buy come with corresponding props, making them play even even more realistic.  As an added bonus, dressing up helps kids develop their fine motor skills.  Your child may not be motivated to learn how to put on their boring old t-shirt, but they may be super motivated to try to get their fireman outfit on on their own!

7. Water Table

For some outdoor fun on sunny days, a water table is amazing!  It allows kids to explore all of the properties of water without playing with it all over your house when you’re not looking (anyone else’s kids do this!?).   This water table is kid sized for all ages, and has a plug to dump it out when the fun is done.

8. A Truck

Both my kids love having a car or truck to play with.  The ones with lights and sounds are always so tempting, but I find that the ones that actually get played with are the ones you have to push yourself.  My son has a 15 year old version of this one that was my little brothers.  Because it’s made out of steel, its still is perfect working order.  My daughter loves this Minnie Mouse pony cart because she can create a whole play scheme out of Minnie and the pony.  

9. A Doll

The good, old fashioned kid that don’t do anything!  Your little one can pretend to be mommy or daddy.

10. Play House

This playhouse is perfectly sized for kids ages 5 and under.  It is made of cedar, making it naturally bug repellant (to a degree) and hardy for the great outdoors.  It has a little sink, a stove and a phone inside, and has a window on each side for your little love to look out of.  The door latches closed and there is a spot for flower pots in the front (so cute!).  We’ve had ours outside for 3 years now, and I am just starting to think about repainting or restaining it for longevity.  The price is right too for a wooden playhouse!

If you are wondering what to get your son/daughter/grandkid/neighbor’s kid, these are some of the best imaginative play toys on the market.  They inspire hours of creative play, instead of just a few minutes of pressing a button and then moving on to something else.  And, since they are (mostly) classic toys, they are great for kids up to age six (or beyond!).

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