Are you tired of toys lying around that your children never play with? Do you desire toys that will encourage imaginative play and spark their creativity?
Having been a mom for over 20 years and also a childcare provider for many of those years, I know the value of great toys and the frustration of low-quality toys. Today I am going to share which types of toys will help your children develop both their imaginations and creativity as well as how to save money on these types of toys.
10 Toys That Encourage Imaginative Play: Plus How To Save Money On Them
(Links in this post are affiliate links. I will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking those links. See my disclosure page for more information)
My definition of a great toy
A great toy ignites the child’s imagination and/or works on an important developmental skill. An excellent toy can be used in thousands of different ways, allowing the child’s imagination to go wild. Great toys last through not just one child, but several. Excellent toys often come in sets that can be made larger over time, allowing several children to play with them all at once.
The toys I am listing here are excellent! Sure, they still may clutter your floor like their poorly made counterparts, but at least that clutter is used on a daily basis–not just tossed out of the toy bin so that your child can reach other toys.
As early as one year old, my children had Duplo. We made towers from it that they loved to knock over. As time went on, they still didn’t stop playing with Duplo; instead, the building got more complex until my daughter at 11 made a Christmas display out of our rather large collection of Duplo.
I recommend you start with a set like this one that has a good amount of everyday bricks to begin your child’s collection.
As they grow older, you are going to want to start a collection of regular-sized Lego. My boys for years loved getting new Lego sets for Christmas and first building the set according to directions, then coming up with their inventions. My daughter has enjoyed it as well.
Lego is incredibly long-lasting; my children are playing with some of the Lego from my childhood.
If you want to buy a lego lover a gift, but you think they have everything, try buying specialty pieces like this set of doors, windows, and roofing tiles.
2. ZOOB building sets
ZOOB building sets are a little known, wonderful imagination inspiring toy. Children can make animals, robots, aliens, vehicles, and more from these toys. These were my middle child’s favorite toy for years; something created out of ZOOB went everywhere he went. The box says they are for six and up, but he started playing with them around three years old –he had excellent fine motor skills. My future grandkids are definitely getting ZOOB building sets from me.
Start with the biggest general ZOOB set you can afford and add on each Christmas or Birthday.
3. Hot Wheels
My boys got a lot of different brands of toy cars over the years, but the only brand that could put up with the rough play my sons gave them was Hot Wheels.
I found that the track sets you can get for them were not used enough to warrant the space all the pieces took up. However, a roll of easy to remove masking tape and access to Lego and other building toys and my children would spend hours creating a world for their cars to take a day trip in (painters tape will also work in a pinch–do not use duct tape, though…that will leave tape gunk behind).
4. Tinker Toys
From props for imagination play (lollipops for the candy store), to massive towers, Tinker toys provide hours of playtime.
5. Plastic Animals & Dinosaurs
Plastic animals and dinosaurs are one toy where I didn’t favor any particular brand. In fact, some of the ones that are still ticking in our home after years of play are dollar store purchases.
Still, scrutinize the toy to make sure it will stand up to rough play. You want to make sure it doesn’t have sharp plastic edges and that the animals can stand up on their own. If they are hollow, is there a way the water can be drained from them when they end up in the bath?
And if you have little ones in the house, start them off with Fisher-Price animals. They can’t be swallowed, and they can be easily cleaned. My kids learned all their animal sounds and set up all sorts of farms around the home, thanks in part to Little People farm animals.
6. Wooden Block Sets
You can make a wooden block set yourself if you are handy. If not, there are many great sets available on the market, including this one by Melissa & Doug.
7. Brio Wooden train sets
Brio train sets last and last. Start with the basic figure-eight loop and grow your set piece by piece from there. There are other brands out there, but I found Brio to hold up better than any other brand. Brio is worth the extra cost in my thrifty books.
If you already have the Brio basic figure-eight loop set, consider purchasing this expansion pack as a gift. It will allow your train lover to build a more complicated track.
8. A Dress Up Box
The best dress up boxes are not too deep and have a lid that can be removed and placed out of the way when in use. One of these storage ottomans would be a great inexpensive option that would blend into most people’s decor.
9. The Makings Of A Fort
You probably have all you need to make a magnificent fort–pillows, blankets, and a large piece of furniture to drape a flat sheet over.
10. Art Supplies And Access To The Recycling Bin
When my daughter was young, a box full of art supplies and an OK from me to use whatever was in the recycling bin for her creations kept her busy all afternoon. She created all sorts of items. She is an older teen now, and she is super creative and talented in what she can make out of everyday items from around the house.
Here is a list of art and craft items to keep handy:
- Markers (felts)
- Pencil Crayons
- Glue sticks and a bottle of glue
- Scissors made for little hands
- Play-dough (bought or homemade) and a rolling pin
- Yarn or string
- Construction paper in various colors
- Stickers (these simple ones are great for creating all sorts of art and very inexpensive)
- Popsicle sticks
- Paper plates (these really thin ones can are easy for little ones to cut up as they wish)
- Googly eyes
7 Ways To Save Money On Toys That Encourage Imaginative Play
Toys that build imagination and creativity are worth every penny you pay for them. But since I am thrifty I couldn’t resist giving you a few ways to save money on them.
1. Christmas Sales
At Christmas time, these toys often go on sale. I see Lego in buy one get one half price events frequently over the Christmas season. Amazon usually runs deals on Melissa & Doug toys. Hot Wheels are available for less than a dollar around Christmas time.
2. After Christmas Sales
After Christmas, sales are an excellent time to add a few Christmas themed items to the dress-up box, such as heavily discounted Santa hats. This is also a great time to get marked down play-dough sets.
3. Back To School Sales
Stock up on loss leaders art supplies such as markers (felts), crayons, and pencil crayons at the back to school sales.
4. Daily Deal Sites
I have seen ZOOB building sets and Mellisa and Doug’s toys offered a few times at discounted prices by Zulily.
5. Find Them Secondhand
I gave my children secondhand toy sets when they were little and they were delighted to receive them. By buying them used, I was able to provide the children with bigger sets than we ever could have afforded new, and the toys were still in excellent shape.
Try yard sales, Craigslist, eBay, thrift stores, and consignment sales and stores. Just make sure you know your sale prices well because sometimes the secondhand market isn’t as great as some awesome deals you can find on new items. In general, though, secondhand market prices are lower, especially yard sale prices.
6. Cash In Your Points
There are many point reward programs and apps; here is my list of point reward programs I use. You don’t have to do time-consuming tasks such as fill out surveys with many of these programs, many offer ways to earn points for things you are already doing–like shopping. Trade those points in for gift cards to Amazon and other retailers that sell toys.
7. Install And Use These Two Browser Tools
Honey–This browser extension tool has saved me a lot of money. To get it, you first need to go here and sign up for Honey. Then download their browser tool. Once downloaded, when you are on a website that Honey has promo codes for, it will go orange. At check out, Honey should pop up and tell you to click to apply promo code, but if for some reason it doesn’t, just click the browser tool icon and it will instruct you as to how to use the codes.
Rakuten–This is a cash back company with a minimum cash out threshold of $5, but it won’t take you long to reach that. To use it, go here and create a Rakuten account, then download the browser tool. If there is a cash back offer for the website you are about to shop at, a Rakuten box will pop up, telling you to click on it to activate the deal. Once your account reaches $5, you will receive an email next time they are sending out payments; in that email, you can choose your preferred way of payment.
What other toys would you add to my list? Do you know of a great way to save money on high play value toys?
3 Posts That Will Help You Raise Children On A Tight Budget
- How To Raise A Thrifty Child
- 20 Thrifty Ways To Spend Quality Time With Your Child
- 10 Ways Thrifty People Save Money On Back To School Shopping
Become A Snail Pacer
Receive a monthly newsletter full of tips for making life changes at a realistic pace.