Tech-Free Toys for Old-School Playtime

by Lindsey Hunter Lopez
Nov 14, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. ET

Modern tech toys are cool, but does anything stimulate kids' creativity quite like classic playthings? We know it’s tempting to pick up the latest cheap plastic gizmo or trendy video game for a kid's holiday gift — because honestly, they'll probably love it. But tech-free toys offer so much more leeway for their imagination to run wild. And bonus: They don't screech, blink or get insipid songs stuck in your head all day.

Your little one could get creative playing with a classic doll, build brain connections constructing a little log cabin or bond with family members over a board game. There’s plenty of time for children to utilize technology; it’s everywhere, and it can seem impossible to avoid. Providing old-school play opportunities is getting tougher, but we’ve found some quality options.

Click through to check out our favorite tech-free toys for the holidays and beyond. And these are just the tip of the iceberg; there are plenty more classic goodies to be found if you know where to look. Luckily, these retro gifts don't require an old-fashioned shopping trip — they’re all available online.

1 /12: Lincoln Logs

1/12 :Lincoln Logs

Talk about old-school; kids have been using these wooden building sets to construct small rustic cabins for a century. Celebrate Lincoln Logs’ 100th anniversary with this classic tin set, which features 111 pieces (chimneys, roofs and notched and flat logs). The included design is the 1925 Meeting House — children can learn about American history as they use their imaginations to build up their own version of the Old West. 

Lincoln Logs 100th Anniversary Tin, $49.99 at Fat Brain Toys

2 /12: Domino Express Classic

2/12 :Domino Express Classic

This toy is a throwback to simpler days when "fun" meant simply setting some dominos up in an elaborate pattern and then watching them knock each other down. Good times! The domino rally set includes tracks, 85 dominos, stickers, a manual and loops. When kids are done with this retro activity, they can even post a #ThrowbackThursday photo on social media. *Cringe* Are you feeling old yet?

Domino Express Classic, $18.95 at Fat Brain Toys

3 /12: Positive dolls

3/12 :Positive dolls

A doll can be the perfect simple toy — especially when it comes from the diverse Positively Perfect line. The 18-inch dolls come in a variety of skin tones and hairstyles to represent kids of color, and they feature fun accessories like glasses. They're great for ages 3 and up.

Positively Perfect Kennedy Doll, $29.99 at Target

4 /12: Janod hat box puzzle

4/12 :Janod hat box puzzle

Kids will be so absorbed in this underwater world, they won’t even realize that puzzle-building equals brain-building. This beautifully illustrated cardboard puzzle comes in a sturdy storage box complete with carrying handle. The detailed sea creature scene includes 100 pieces, so it’s best for kids age 5 and up. When assembled, the puzzle measures 19.5 inches x 15.75 inches. If ocean life isn’t your kid’s jam, the brand offers plenty of other colorful scenes to choose from — including a circus, forest, dance school and pirate ship.

Janod hat box puzzle, $17.99 at Target

5 /12: Loom

5/12 :Loom

Put down that tablet, kids, because you’re about to learn how to weave. Luckily, looms are cool again, so many kids will gladly engage in this no-tech craft. Alex DIY makes a super-simple handheld loom that allows for projects of multiple widths. Create headbands, scarves, a phone case, bracelets or a variety of other items with this kit. Everything they need is included, from yarn and beads to the loom itself. The tools snap into the back when not in use. It's best for ages 8 and up. 

Alex DIY Happy Little Loom, $28.99 at Alex Brands

6 /12: Budding Builders Tub

6/12 :Budding Builders Tub

With all kinds of elements that allow kids to build various creatures and structures, this is a perfect gift to encourage creativity. Best for ages 3 to 5, the Budding Builders Tub comes with 100 large pieces designed to improve dexterity and fine motor skills (you know, like they used to in the good old days). Rods, connectors and fun accents such as eyes and feet can be used to create the 50 suggested projects (detailed in the included guide) or whatever strikes a kid's fancy.

Kid K’NEX Budding Builders Tub, $49.99 at K’Nex

7 /12: Animal snow tube

7/12 :Animal snow tube

If you’re (un)lucky enough to live where it snows all winter, get kids outside and active with a fun snow tube. The Snowboogie polar bear (or penguin) tube is an inflatable sled, so it stores easily when not in use, and the 44-inch ride-on features handles and cold-resistant PVC vinyl. Could the polar bear snow tube be the new flamingo pool float? We think so, but it's best for single riders ages 4 and up. 

Wham-O Snowboogie Snow Tube, $14.99 at Sun & Ski

8 /12: Wood train toy

8/12 :Wood train toy

This engaging wooden toy will keep plenty of babies and toddlers busy. Tiny ones can build the entire beech and cherrywood train using 25 colorful blocks, then add cargo and three spring-neck animals: a rabbit, a duck, and a chicken. But the fun doesn’t stop there. It’s also a pull toy. Nonslip rubber makes the wheels silent, which is always a bonus for parents. When it’s built, the train is 20 inches long. It's ideal for tots 12 months and up.

Janod giant multicolor train, $35 at Land of Nod

9 /12: Miss Bernard Is a Wild Card!

9/12 :Miss Bernard Is a Wild Card!

Back in my day, children learned sentence diagramming by playing. OK, maybe that’s not true, but kids will learn language skills with this wacky board game. To win Miss Bernard Is a Wild Card, create funny sentences about fictional teachers using noun, adjective, action and rhyme cards to win points. Based on the popular My Weird School books, this game will make for a fun (and educational) night for families with kiddos ages 6 to 10.

Miss Bernard Is a Wild Card! game, $19.99 at Amazon

10 /12: KidKraft doll house

10/12 :KidKraft doll house

If you're looking for a splurge, a wooden dollhouse is a childhood classic — and KidKraft makes great ones. Some styles even feature modern themes like this house from Disney hit Frozen. Anna and Elsa’s Arendelle Palace is over 4 feet tall; there’s a lot to explore in these impressive mini-abodes. If you manage to squeeze a dollhouse under the tree this year, you'll probably win Christmas for little ones ages 3 and up. 

Frozen Arendelle Palace dollhouse, $149.99 at KidKraft

11 /12: Shape-sorting flower puzzle

11/12 :Shape-sorting flower puzzle

Little ones 12 months and up will be entertained by this colorful flower puzzle from Playgro. There are 22 sturdy pieces to sort, stack and match — so much to do. They’ll definitely build brain power figuring this toy out.

Shape-sorting flower puzzle, $19.99 at Buy Buy Baby

12/12 :Pin it!

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