What’s the best toy in your house right now? No matter your answer, I’ll bet you it’s an open-ended toy. They stand the test of time and foster focused, independent play.
The only types of toys I’m asking for this Christmas – and I really don’t want or need more toys – are open-ended ones. I’ve compiled a list of the very best open-ended toys in a variety of price and age ranges. Don’t give junk for Christmas this year – the toys on this list will make the kids and their parents very happy!
Why are open-ended toys best?
It feels like the majority of children’s toys on the market these days involve pressing a button, hearing a noise, watching a movement, and… that’s it. There’s really no interaction or critical thinking on the child’s part. These toys are typically made of low-quality plastic to boot.
These “one and done” toys don’t keep your child’s attention for more than a minute, and they’ll end up in this mountain of toys you want to donate but never do.
Open-ended toys, on the other hand, allow for critical thinking and problem-solving. Your child can get creative. They can use their imagination. They start to explore different possibilities.
Other bonus? Open-ended toys are generally pretty fun for parents and grandparents, too!
Open-ended vs close-ended toys
One of the best ways to truly understand the difference between open-ended and close-ended toys is to see an example.
This interactive dinosaur does different movements when you press a button on the remote. That’s really the extent of this toy – sure, you can press different buttons and watch the dinosaur slide instead of chomp, but there’s no real learning happening here.
Compare that to Magna-Tiles, which allows for creativity as the child builds a structure using their imagination. This toy develops math, science, spatial, and tactile skills. There are no buttons or batteries or sounds or lights. It’s all hands-on, focused play.
That dinosaur? It’ll be in a bin in the closet in two weeks. These Magna-Tiles? Your child will play with these for years.
The cost of open-ended toys
Using the example above, you can see there’s a pretty big cost difference. That dinosaur is $30 whereas the MagnaTiles are $119. I’m not blind to that massive difference and can see why some families opt for the cheaper toys because that’s all they can afford.
However, every mom I’ve talked to says these open-ended types of toys are worth the price tag. We’d rather have one good open-ended toy instead of 20 close-ended toys any day. Our kids play with them for years instead of days, and they’re generally more durable.
That said, there are plenty of options for open-ended toys that are on the less expensive side. I’ll share a variety of options, but just be aware that open-ended toys are likely to be more expensive.
The Best Open-Ended Toy Gift Ideas
With all of that in mind, here’s a list of the best open-ended toys for Christmas gifts (or any gifting occasion). We own many of these toys, but I’ve also consulted with hundreds of moms to gather input on their favorite open-ended toys.
These are the toys you’ll bring out time and time again for imaginative, high-quality, and focused play.
Note: most of the product links below are affiliate links, which support this blog. When you click on my link, there is no cost to you, and sometimes, I can even get extra discounts for us! I’ll share those if and when they become available.
1. The Lovevery Block Set
The Lovevery Block Set is one of our favorite toys of all time. It’s a bestseller for a reason!
I have an entire article on my blog dedicated to all the reasons I love this block set, but the main reason is it’s high-quality and open-ended.
There are literally 20 different ways to play with the blocks, including threading the blocks, turning the storage box into a car, using the shape sorter lid, and sorting blocks by color. You’ll be amazed at the concentration and focus this toy brings to your toddlers.
It’s more expensive than other block sets you’ll find on the internet, but it’s well worth it.
Perhaps the toy at the top of my Christmas list this year is more Magna-Tiles! We only have a small set currently, and my kids adore it. We are desperate for some more tiles to open up even more possibilities for creative constructions.
It’s award-winning, and it’s the No. 1 recommended open-ended toy from other moms I’ve spoken to.
I should also add there are off-brands online, and while some say the Picasso Tiles are good, most people say the Magna-Tiles, which were the original magnetic tile brand, are the best.
P.S.: Don’t forget the Magna-Tiles storage bin!
3. Train Tracks
My kids are obsessed with wooden train tracks. They are a solid part of our toy rotation around here, and for good reason. They can create their own roadways that are unique each and every time they start piecing the tracks together.
Plus, you can start somewhat of a collection, adding accessories for their tracks for birthdays and holidays. Most train tracks and accessories play nice together, which is a big bonus. All of these brands are compatible:
- Thomas the Train
- Melissa and Doug
- Tiny Land
In my experience, the top two brands are Thomas the Train and Brio.
Thomas the Train is probably the most recognizable brand. You could resell when you’re finished with them at a premium price point, but it’ll cost you at least a few hundred dollars to get a solid train track set going.
My mom still has all of the Thomas the Train items she bought for my brother over 15 years ago, and they’re in perfect condition. These really do last, but make sure you get the wooden ones and not the new plastic version.
Brio is also up there. You can start with a small set and add on expansion sets later on. Or, you could go crazy and get the deluxe set for around $350.
4. Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is such a mesmerizing texture, and while some parents hate how messy it is, there’s no denying it’s loads of fun.
My kids get SO excited when I pull out our kinetic sandbox. You can purchase just the kinetic sand, but I do like these small sandboxes if you’re just starting out. It gives you a “place” to keep the sand, and you can teach your toddlers that the sand stays in the box.
Although… good luck with that.
5. Play Dough
Play dough is another very fun open-ended toy for toddlers. I recently learned how to make my own and created a short TikTok tutorial. You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry.
If you don’t have the time or energy to make your own, I highly recommend eco-kids dough or Dough Parlour. Eco-kids is made the USA and Dough Parlour is made in Canada. Both options are non-toxic. You can get eco-kids dough from Amazon and Dough Parlour from Maisonette.
6. Bristle Blocks
Bristle Blocks are soft, rubbery interlocking blocks (with bristles on them) that connect together at any angle. Kids can use their imagination to build cards, houses, people… whatever they can think of!
I like this particular Bristle Block set as it comes with a storage container. If you buy the other Bristle Block set, you’ll need to buy a separate storage case.
7. Mega Bloks
I do like Legos, but they can be a little small for toddlers. I prefer the brand Mega Bloks, at least for kids under age 5. These extra-large building blocks come with a storage bag and endless building possibilities.
They’re the #1 preschool building toy in the USA and are much easier to put away than traditional Legos. Our kids love these!
8. Modeling Clay
Modeling clay is really fun to use with kids over age 3 (manufacturer recommended age is 4-10 years old). They can create whatever their heart desires, and you can let it harden naturally to preserve their handiwork.
This bucket of modeling clay from Crayola is highly reviewed and is a very good deal for the quantity. You can incorporate color by using acrylic paint, either mixing it in while it’s still damp or painting it after it hardens.
9. Lincoln Logs
Lincoln Logs were invented by John Lloyd Wright in 1916, and let me tell you what: there’s a reason they’re still around over a century later.
Lincoln logs promote STEAM learning, or science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. The logs are made of real wood, and the manual that comes with the 100th Anniversary Tin edition includes three building ideas.
10. Balancing Scale
Monti Kids just announced that you can purchase a few of their toys without subscribing to the play sets, and these toys are beautiful!
I particularly love the balancing scale, which is a great early STEM activity for toddlers. You’ll find your kiddos grabbing things from around your house to weigh in no time.
Monti Kids toys are, in my opinion, the highest quality children’s toys on the market. They’re made of FSC-certified wood, are 100% non-toxic, and use water-based stain and finish. These toys are incredible, and I cannot speak highly of them enough!
Related: Monti Kids Full Program Review
11. Play House
Play Houses are fantastic for open-ended and imaginative play. My son and daughter routinely act out scenes using dolls, cars, and playhouses. It’s amazing to watch.
The play house we own is part of a Lovevery play kit, and I really recommend that one, but it is part of a subscription.
If you want to purchase a standalone play house, this one from Wonder and Wise by Asweets is very high-quality.
11. Nugget Couch or Member’s Mark Couch
The Nugget couch is an absolute cult favorite among moms with young children. It may sound like any old child-sized couch, but IT’S NOT! We have the more affordable Sam’s Club version, called the Member’s Mark Kids’ Explorer Sofa, and we adore it.
Your kids will turn it into a fort, a slide, a reading nook, a floor is lava game show set, a magic carpet ride, a pirate ship… it’s seriously one of the best things we own.
It’s only four pieces, and you can unzip the fabric to wash it. If you have room for this in your home, you will not regret it!
12. Learning Resources Smart Counting Toys
Learning Resources makes this fantastic play food that also incorporates learning numbers, color sorting, fractions, and more. My kids have a hand-me-down play kitchen, and they’ll make pretend food for hours on end.
I love that toddlers can play with this pretend food, but it also grows with them. When they’re ready, they can start learning numbers and fractions.
13. Climbing Furniture (Pikler Triangle, Arches, & More)
My favorite company for purchasing climbing furniture is Lily and River. They have four amazing pieces that encourage movement, exploration, and all-around fun!
These types of toys help toddlers get their energy out, and they’re also fantastic for wintertime when it’s too cold to be outside for long stretches of time. In general, climbing toys like Pikler triangles are ideal for gross motor skill development, balance, and coordination.
14. Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Building Blocks
This one’s for the bath! Blockaroo magnetic foam building blocks click together, rotate 360 degrees, and create a multi-sensory experience that kids love. If your child has any qualms with taking a bath, they will ask for one when you put these in the tub!
They’re dishwasher-safe and are built to last. They are on the pricey side, but they are tough and will encourage lots of creative play.
15. Marble Runs
Another great open-ended toy for kids is a marble run. We used to love playing with these, even up to our preteen years.
There are different styles for every age range – we don’t need your 2-year-old choking on a marble this Christmas!
Fat Brain Toys has a fantastic oversized marble run that’s appropriate for ages 18 months+.
For ages 3+, Montessori Services has an incredible marble run race track with mostly wooden materials. I absolutely LOVE this one.
And for ages 4+, this is the ultimate marble run from Hape, the same brand that manufactures Lovevery toys (very high-quality stuff).
Your kids can create all kinds of runs using all of the pieces that come in this set. Plus, it’s not made of cheap plastic, so it will last.
Clixo is an innovative, creative tool for kids ages 3+ to click and construct 3D creations from flexible 2D shapes and powerful magnets. Create everything from simple shapes to fantastical lands – Clixo’s potential is infinite.
One of the reason I love Clixo and toys like it is the play is limitless, and it’s something you can enjoy doing with your kids. Plus, the pieces stack together so it’s much easier to pick up and keep things tidy when you’re done.
18. Fort Building Kit
Fort building kits are so fun, and you can introduce this as early as age 4, though the packaging says ages 5+. Crazy Forts! from Amazon has great reviews and can be used indoors or out.
The fort-building kit we have was actually part of the Storyteller Lovevery Play Kit, and we love it. I highly recommend that one if you’re intrigued by the other toys in the kit as well – it’s a fantastic value!
19. Peg Dolls
Peg dolls are a classic Montessori toy as they encourage imagination and creativity. Your child can use the pegs to talk to each other, roleplay different scenarios, and create their own little world.
There are tons of different peg dolls available online, but I really like this family version on Etsy. They’re diverse and hand-painted.
20. Play Silks
We were first introduced to play silks in a music class we did for my daughter when she was two. The kids would wave their silks around in the air as they learned about staccato and legato – it was so fun!
Silks are wonderful for imaginative play, dancing, pretending to be a superhero, or cradling a doll. These ones from Sarah’s Silks are 100% silk and are designed specifically for toddlers and kids.
You can also buy her clips, and your kids can make a little house or fort by clipping the silks to things around your house.
21. Animal Figurines
We play with animal figurines all the time, and it’s always in a new way. Sometimes, we practice animal sounds. Other times, we’re stomping their feet in play dough. Other times, we’re hiding them in a sensory bin and finding them again.
There are so many ways to play with animal figurines, and they’re definitely a favorite toy around our house.
22. Rainbow Pebbles or Stones
Rainbow pebbles can be used in so many ways! Stack them, sort them, line them up from smallest to biggest, or create designs. They’re also a very tactile toy; they’re smooth and warm to the touch.
I love toys like this that can be used in so many different ways. Your kids will also surprise you by playing in ways you never would’ve thought of on your own.
23. Rainbow Building Blocks
Rainbow building blocks are wonderful for talking about colors and shapes. Plus, your toddler will have a ton of fun stacking and building.
These blocks are good for 12 months and up.
24. Cardboard Construction Kit
Turn your empty Amazon boxes into an evening of open-ended play with this cardboard construction kit. It comes with screws, a screwdriver, and a cardboard saw that allow your little one to build any cardboard creation they can think of.
Even toddlers will have fun just sawing at the cardboard! (I know the packaging says ages 6+ but I would totally do this with my 2-year-old!)
25. Doctor Kit
My kids go in and out of phases, but right now, both are firmly in an “I’m the doctor” phase. They’re ages 2 and 4, and the second someone gets a bug bite or falls on the driveway, it’s doctor time.
Like most kids, they love using bandages (which make an amazing stocking stuffer, by the way), but they also whip out their doctor’s kit.
We have a wooden kit and it has stood the test of time. I love that this one also comes with a bag to contain everything.
26. K’NEX Model Building Set
Most of the toys on this list are suitable for toddlers and up, but this one is ideal for the age range of 7-15. The K’NEX set comes with almost 500 parts and pieces and endless building possibilities.
Kids can really unleash their creativity and skills by forming different figures, shapes, and models. This is totally something the grandparents can sit down and enjoy with the grandkids!
27. Gears Building Set
Learning Resources has a great open-ended building set called Gears! Gears! Gears!
It features 150 pieces, and the gears interlock for endless building combinations. Like the rest of the building-style open-ended toys on this list, it’s a STEM learning toy that helps your child build critical thinking skills.
I also selected this particular version of the toy as it comes with a container for easier tidying.
28. Stamp Sets
Using stamps helps kids with their pincer grasp and fine motor skills, which is awesome, but you can also encourage some really imaginative play.
Set up scenes on regular paper and let them go to town with their stamps!
As an example, I love these stamp sets where kids can make their own bugs, sea creatures, and flowers. You can outline a little scene, such as a grassy hill or an ocean and let your kids fill it in using their creativity!
I especially like that these stamp sets allow your kids to make their own things. As an example, the bug stamp set has the legs separated from the bodies, so your kid can do lots of different combinations to make their own bugs!
29. Village Building Blocks Set
Grimm’s is an excellent toy brand with fantastic wooden, open-ended toys. You really can’t go wrong with any of their toys, but I especially love this village building blocks set. You can pair this with peg dolls and play silks (as rivers or lakes) for a ton of imaginative play.
You can get $10 off your order of $50 or more by using my referral link. You can find the product mentioned here by typing “Village Building Blocks Set” into the search bar!
30. Nesting Cups
Nesting cups are another fantastic open-ended toy that you can stack in both directions, use in the bathtub, outside in the dirt, for color sorting… there are so many amazing ways to play with them.
Our favorites are from Lovevery, which you can buy from Target!
Magna-Tiles, block sets, Bristle Blocks, play dough… all the good stuff is right here. Please share your favorite open-ended toys in the comment section.
Merry Christmas, and happy shopping!
Love the suggestions!