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best toys to encourage imagination and creativity

I often advocate for experiences over toys. In part because most kids already have far more toys than they need. However, I’m often asked which toys are the best to keep or buy, so I created this list of best toys to encourage imagination and creativity.

These toys are less likely to become clutter since they can be used in a variety of ways. None of them are electronic and many of them work well for a broad range of ages.

Many on the list are classic toys. There are no weird, creepy, trendy, or outlandish options on the list.

Without further adieu here are the best toys to encourage imagination and creativity.

Best toys to encourage imagination and creativity

1. Magnetic tiles

This was one of those toys that I kept hearing parents say that their kids loved. I wasn’t sure if my girls would so we started with a starter set. When it became clear that they did really enjoy it, we got a larger set to go with it. I also liked that they came with a lifetime warranty.

My daughter will spend a long time in her room playing with these along with her small princess dolls. She comes up with such interesting buildings and structures.

Boys and girls alike enjoy this toy and can use it in a variety of ways which is why it made the list of best toys to encourage imagination and creativity.

2. Legos

For this one, I must start with a confession. I don’t like legos. I don’t like stepping on them nor do I like all the little pieces. However, my engineer minded sister loves them and bought a set for my kids which they have enjoyed.

While many legos are sold in kits, you can still also find the regular blocks and kids can be creative with either one. My kids make up stories to go along with the elves in the kit they have.

3. K’nex

K’nex kits are great for kids who enjoy building. It’s fun to see what they can create with the set when they are making things other than the designs it was created for. My kids have made swing sets along with the intended carousel design in the set.

If you have younger kids, they make sets called Kid K’nex that are geared for ages three and up.

4. Lincoln Logs

We had Lincoln Logs when we were kids and enjoyed playing with them and my kids have experienced the same. Who doesn’t love a log cabin and creating a western town? Lots of options for this toy that promotes imagination and creativity.

5. Wooden blocks

You can’t get more classic than a set of wooden blocks. Kids can use their imaginations to build roads, homes, towers, etc.

My kids also enjoyed these wooden blocks with a wagon and came up with creative games when moving the blocks around. When kids have open-ended toys like this, you may sometimes be surprised to see what they come up with.

6. Wooden train

When my kids were toddlers, they loved this wooden train. They enjoyed taking the blocks on and off of it. They used the pieces both separately and together and played with it often.

7. Pattern blocks

Pattern blocks allow children to either create their own designs or try to figure out how to mimic a pattern card. You can find additional designs online if the ones that come with it aren’t challenging enough.

Just yesterday my husband and daughter got ours out and created their own designs and then drew pictures of them.

8. Balloons

Balloons can provide hours of entertainment for very little money. Of course, use appropriate precautions for babies and toddlers and use your best judgment for safety. We also bought a cheap pump for it at our local dollar store for when we tire of blowing them up ourselves.

Our kids love playing with them when friends are over. Each person gets a balloon and they try to keep them from hitting the floor. They’ve made up a variety of other games for them too.

They are small to store and when you tire of them, pop and throw away.

9. Cardboard box

While not as easy to give as a gift necessarily, large cardboard boxes can provide hours of fun for kids. We gave our kids markers to use in them to ‘decorate’. Kids are often very creative with very little.

Check with a nearby retailer to see if they have an extra appliance box you could pick up.

10. Fort kit

While you can, of course, do your own DIY fort kit with a sheet, couch, chair, and some clothespins, a fort kit is fun for kids to design and put together themselves.

Cute little children playing with kitchenware while sitting in hovel at home

11. Costumes

My kids love to dress up when they play. Right after Halloween is a great time to get deals on costumes you can use for playing. You can also check garage sales, Facebook marketplace, or thrift stores.

I give my kids some things I don’t want any more like hats, scarves, and belts that they use. My clutter becomes their costume.

12. Camera

A couple of years ago my daughter got this camera. While she loves being able to take her own pictures, which is how we hoped she would use it, it does have 2 downsides. It has games loaded on it and the picture quality isn’t great. The upside is that thing has been dropped all over the place and hasn’t broken.

We are hoping to get her a different model this year like this one which appears to have much better image quality and doesn’t have games loaded onto it. I love encouraging kids in their artistic pursuits. It’s interesting to see what they think is picture-worthy.

13. Dolls

I’m always amazed by the creative games and imaginative play that my kids include their dolls in. My kids have especially enjoyed the dolls I bought them from the Our Generation line at Target.

They also have played with these smaller princess figurines often. They build castles for them with the magnetic blocks and use the Kinex with them as well.

14. Cars

We have had a few matchbox cars since the time the girls were little. They incorporate them into playing with the magnetic blocks sometimes. My nephews enjoy them when they visit too.

best toys to encourage imagination and creativity

Sensory

I would not recommend these for very small children or without supervision or you may end up with a gigantic mess on your hands!

Sensory toys are great for all kids whether they have sensory challenges or not. They can help them feel more relaxed and who doesn’t want a more relaxed kid?

15. Kinetic sand

Kinetic sand is really fun to play with. Not just for kids but even adults too. The texture of it is great and you can mold it into various shapes. Because I have girls, we opted for the pink sand and this mold set.

You can also get this kit that includes a folding case that includes the standard sand color. While 2 pounds may seem like a lot, it actually isn’t so you may want to order a couple of additional bags of sand.

16. Water beads

Water beads are inexpensive and are simple but fun to play with. They are very small to start with but as soon as you put some in water, they immediately begin to expand.

My kids enjoy watching them get bigger and then touching them in a bowl. There isn’t a lot you can do to play with them, but they are interesting.

17. Play-Doh

Play-Doh has been a part of many childhoods. You can create different shapes as far as your mind can imagine. We also have this accessory set my kids have used with ours.

It can be messy and it will dry out if the lid isn’t put on correctly, but kids do enjoy using their creativity and imagination with it.

18. Thinking Putty

We discovered this putty last year and bought a tin of it to try out at home. The girls love playing with it and it doesn’t make a mess.

My sister-in-law later bought them a putty kit so they could create their own. They really enjoyed picking the colors and adding sparkle and glow to them.

19. Clay

With this clay kit, kids can create all sorts of shapes and figures. I love that it comes in a nice case for storage and includes some fun accessories.

Arts & crafts

20. Perler beads

These fusion Perler beads provide hours of entertainment as kids create their own patterns and shapes. You’ll want to get pegboards too so they can arrange the beads in the pattern they want before you iron it to fuse it.

21. Drawing book

Drawing books are great for helping kids learn but also to let them be creative and use their imagination as they create their own spin on it. I have a friend whose kids make up stories about the things they draw.

22. Coloring books

Coloring books are fun for all ages. As my kids are getting older, they are starting to enjoy more detailed relaxation coloring books like this one. Coloring books allow them to add their own drawings if they want and choose whichever colors they want.

We like coloring with colored pencils often, but sometimes use markers too if the page is thick enough that it won’t bleed through. You can also give kids blank paper and have them create their own coloring book for the ultimate use of imagination and creativity.

23. Rock painting

If you want to be part of the trend that’s been happening the last few years of coloring rocks and hiding them for other people to find, this is a great rock painting kit that will help you do that.

If you prefer to use pens over paint and a paintbrush, make sure you get acrylic ones. Also be sure that when doing this craft, kids are wearing clothes that it’s ok to get stained.

Kids get to be creative in their designs and in deciding where they want to hide them later.

24. Paint & accessories

Now if you’re at all like me and messes are hard for you, plan the painting at a time you are mentally prepared for it or when your kids can do it outside. Thankfully I’ve found that washable paints truly do wash out.

My kids have also enjoyed having bath paints. If you have a kiddo who is reluctant to take a bath, paints can make it more enjoyable for them.

Gifts

While I am an advocate for experience-based gifts, I know that doesn’t always work for everyone. If none of the items on this list of the best toys to encourage creativity and imagination was a good fit, you can also check out this post on clutter-free gift ideas for all ages.

Our family also really enjoy playing family board games and I included our favorites in that post. The end goal is buying gifts or owning things that are useful and don’t become clutter in your home. Here’s to more creativity and imagination.

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