There are so many reasons to give our kids open-ended toys and engaging activities that will keep them busy. Some of them are very altruistic reasons: We want them to learn, and we don’t want to harm the environment by buying cheap toys they ignore after five minutes. But also, we have selfish reasons: A good, open-ended toy means our children can be occupied by themselves (or at least with minimal input from us) for hours.
This has been a secret to parenting since we lived in caves: Children are happier and easier when their imaginations are churning. Nowadays, we need toys to keep our kids busy when we travel with them, take them on errands, and when we’re all stuck inside and trying to multitask.
We also want our children to have fun, obviously. So while there are no shortage of flashy, trendy toys that they’ll beg us for because they saw them at the store, the playground, or TV, you’ll spend your money (and your space) more wisely if you can get them something that will stimulate their minds and inspire them to pick it up again and again.
Some of the toys we list here are open-ended toys, meaning there are no rules for how children should play with them, and they can come up with new ways to use them time after time. Anything from a doll that comes to life in a child’s mind to a box of LEGO bricks and blocks that can turn into entire cities and new species of animals qualifies as an open-ended toy.
Because all children play differently, we also included a few options that aren’t open-ended, but that stimulate their minds in other ways. That’s why we also included a science-experiment kit, an audiobook player, and two different kinds of puzzles.
Some of the toys here are on the bigger side — keeping kids busy while they’re at home. Others we listed are good to take on the road — whether that’s just across town or for a long trip during the holidays. These are all occasions in which we’re so very tempted to tether our children to a screen to keep them out of our hair. That’s OK too, but since we want them to grow into independent thinkers and problem solvers, we should probably pull them away from the devices from time to time and put some of these toys in their hands instead.
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