Children are naturally creative. But sometimes, it takes the right tools to bring it out. To help them unlock their full potential, here’s a list of the best open-ended toys that can expand children’s imagination and creativity.
Looking for the best open-ended toys can be a challenge, especially with so many options available in the market. But doing so is important as the right one can help enhance your child’s imagination and creativity, which are both critical to their development.
So to help you out and make your search easier, our toy design experts in Australia have spent dozens of hours researching local toy retailers like Grimms, Grapat, Haba, Melissa and Doug, and Goki. We also looked into leading online marketplaces, including Amazon, eBay, and Catch.com.au to come up with a list of the best toys for creative play, sequencing, roleplaying and understanding the fundamentals of math and science.
All the open-ended toys included below are suitable for children 1-3 years old but are still plenty of fun for those older than that. They are carefully selected to help improve imagination and creativity. They can also help develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills while allowing your child to explore, and more importantly, to have fun.
The Best Open-Ended Toys for Imagination and Creativity
- Best for Creative Play: Large Stepped Pyramid
- Best for Sequencing: Large Wooden Rainbow
- Best for Roleplaying: Together Wooden People
- Best for Physical and Motor Skills: Wooden Block Set
- Best for Basic Math and Science Understanding: Natural Building Blocks
- Best for Spatial Skills: Rainbow Building Blocks
1. Best for Creative Play: Large Stepped Pyramid
The Large Stepped Pyramid is a toy that fine-tunes your little one’s fine motor skills. By reaching for the blocks, stacking them, and fitting several pieces of blocks together, your child is developing their hand-eye coordination. Holding and putting blocks on top of the other also builds their finger and hand strength.
This set comes with 100 building blocks, each in beautiful bright colours. It can all be stacked together to create a giant pyramid. Since it offers endless possibilities, it can also build into castles, towers, magical palaces, cities, and whatever your child can think of.
This toy is recommended for 3-year-olds. But what’s great about toys like the Large Stepped Pyramid is that it can be added with other toys for more fun, especially for older kids. It can be used with toy cars and other building toys to create more elaborate designs and creations. Older children would also love it with the Grimm’s Cornerstones to build unique marble run games.
We highly recommend this toy to parents who want to start introducing building blocks to their children. It’s simple, colourful, and helps them develop their motor skills, creativity, and spatial skills.
The best part is, that this toy is incredibly durable, visually stimulating, and long-lasting. So make sure to check it out!
2. Best for Sequencing: Large Wooden Rainbow
This Large Wooden Rainbow is the perfect toy for teaching children sequencing while at the same time exposing them to different colours, shapes and sizes. It comes with 12 pieces, which is better than the 6-piece versions from other companies since it encourages more creativity and imagination. With it, your child can stack, sort, build, and repeat as much as they want.
We recommend this toy for children 1 year and up. They can start stacking up the pieces to complete the rainbow, then as they grow older, they can transform the pieces into tunnels, roads for cars, cradles for dolls, doll houses, animals, and other fantastic sculptures.
The Large Wooden Rainbow is a versatile toy that offers no bounds to fantasy and imaginative play. It’s recommended for parents who want to help develop their child’s fine motor skills, sequencing, mathematical reasoning, problem-solving, and language development.
Even better, this toy allows children to learn about different sizes and colours while letting them have fun. So check it out now!
3. Best for Roleplaying: Together Wooden People
Together Wooden People is a toy that helps kids practice their roleplaying and conversational skills. It includes 12 pieces of beautifully handcrafted figures, which your little one will certainly have fun assigning roles. They can pretend that a toy is a fireman, policeman, father, child, nurse, doctor, or any other role they know and create their own stories and world.
This toy is suitable for ages 3 years old and up. As your child grows older, you might want to consider joining in the game and controlling a character to create more exciting stories and scenarios. This will engage dialogue with your child, encouraging more interaction – which can then help develop their socialization skills, language, and storytelling skills.
We highly recommend the Together Wooden People Toy for parents who want to help their children explore and experiment. It’s also great for allowing them to act out roles and make sense of real-life situations.
The most notable feature of this toy, however, is the figures’ three distinct skin tones. This is great, especially for kids as it represents and celebrates the wonderful cultures and ethnic diversity across the world. So don’t wait any longer and get it now!
4. Best for Physical and Motor Skills: Wooden Block Set
This Wooden Block Set is perfect for developing your child’s dexterity and fine motor skills. Comes with 100 pieces in four colours and nine shapes, your little one will certainly enjoy building, stacking, and knocking down countless wonderful combinations.
We recommend this toy for ages 2 years old, but it’s also great for those younger and older than that. Wooden blocks are an incredibly fun and developmental toy that children can grow with. Between 16 and 18 months, toddlers may start to stack at least three blocks on top of each other. As they grow older, they can use the toy to come up with more advanced concepts, such as houses, buildings, cars, castles, and anything they can imagine.
A wooden block set is a highly recommended toy for a reason. Not only does it help with the basics when it comes to creativity and imagination, but it can also help build your child’s intellectual skills in a variety of areas, including colour and shape recognition, spatial reasoning, language and literacy, and math.
On top of that, this toy is made of wood, making it simple, long-lasting, and less distracting. This means that your child will supply all the sounds, alarms, and all other sound effects. This also means that there won’t be anything that would interrupt your child’s thinking process and imagination.
5. Best for Basic Math and Science Understanding: Natural Building Blocks
Natural Building Blocks are the best open-ended toy to introduce your child to the basic concepts of math and science. It helps develop their problem-solving skills, and creative thinking skills, and teaches them about structure, symmetry, elevation, and gravity – all while making sure they get all the fun they need.
This set includes 102 pieces of extra large, untreated beech wood. Each piece is based on a 4x4x4 cm cube, so structures built by your child will always have symmetry and stability. With so many pieces in different and interesting shapes, they can be built into houses, castles, cities, and anything your child can imagine.
The Natural Building Blocks by Haba is recommended for children ages 12 months and up. But with its variety of shapes, every child will be able to enjoy it. From babies to master architects, this is a toy for everyone. For older children, you may want to add the Haba marble track system for more complex creations and possibilities.
We highly recommend this toy for parents who want to unlock their child’s inner creativity and full potential. Aside from teaching kids the fundamentals of engineering and science, it also helps develop their speech and language, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.
Most of all, this natural building blocks set has excellent quality, is durable, and timeless. In fact, it can last generations! So make sure to check it out!
6. Best for Spatial Skills: Rainbow Building Blocks
The Rainbow Building Blocks by Goki is a great toy for helping develop your child’s spatial skills. There are rectangles, squares, semi-circles, and other shapes, which all have different colours and sizes. Different pieces can be put together to form an entirely different shape. Two triangles, for example, can be made into a square.
This set includes 38 beautiful pieces. They can be built into any colourful and unusual structure. They can be turned into buildings, houses, towers, and anything your child wants.
Here’s a toy suitable for 3-year-olds, but it’s still plenty of fun for older kids. Since this is an open-ended toy that can be played with in many ways, children will find it fun no matter their age.
For younger kids, you can first try fitting the shapes together, arranging them from the smallest to the biggest. You can then take them apart and allow your child to put them together on their own. For older children, you may add different toys like cars and people figures for roleplaying games.
We recommend this toy for parents who want to teach their children about different shapes and sizes – and what you can make out of them. Through stacking, rearranging the pieces, fitting things together, and taking them apart, you can also help develop your child’s spatial skills and awareness.
The best part is that this toy comes with a wooden box, so you can store it away easily and neatly. You don’t have to worry about any clutter or mess when not in use. So get it now!
How We Researched the Best Open-Ended Toys
With our vast toy design experience and combining it with reputable studies on the value of open-ended play for children, we made sure we are including only the very best open-ended toys Australia has to offer.
That said, we went through different toy retailers, from small local shops to large stores to see what is available in the market. We then made a list of all the toys we liked as well as those highly suggested by parents. After, we began identifying which toys are the best in their category.
In choosing which open-ended toys to include in this list, we first considered their educational value and impact on the imagination and creativity of children. Since open-ended toys should be versatile, we also considered the many different ways in which they can be played. We then looked at things like quality, safety, functionality, design and aesthetics, and value for money.
For this list, we have identified over 70 different toys from 20 different retailers. We were then able to cut it down to the final 6 you see in this list.
With this in mind, we guarantee that what you see in this list are truly the best open-ended toys for enhancing your child’s imagination and creativity.
What to Look for When Buying Open-Ended Toys
Shopping for toys for kids can be fun, but if you are looking for the right one that can help expand your child’s creativity and imagination, it becomes quite a challenge. Now, to help you out, here’s a guide on what you need to look for when buying open-ended toys:
When choosing the right open-ended toy, look for one that matches your child’s age, skill level, and developmental stage. Getting a toy that does not meet these requirements can make your child feel overwhelmed or uninterested.
Not sure whether a toy is suitable for your child? First, check the manufacturer’s age recommendation. If you are still having trouble, you can read this guide on how to choose developmentally appropriate toys by Michigan State University.
While it is tempting to buy the newest and flashiest toy on the market, it may not be the best for your child’s development. So pay attention to a toy’s age appropriateness and your child’s skill level. You should also base your decision on the interests and abilities of your child. It will then be easier for you to find the right open-ended toy that will encourage creativity and imagination – and more importantly, a toy that your little one can enjoy.
Before purchasing an open-ended toy, it is important to understand how the toy is played and determine whether it is suitable for your child. Some toys, although very helpful to a child’s development, can also be very complicated in nature.
Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, a professor of Early Childhood Education, states that some of the toys that look most interesting to adults are not particularly effective in promoting development in children. “Basic is better”, he says and recommends opting for simpler toys like hardwood blocks and classic wooden construction toys.
Looking at the materials used to create an open-ended toy is very important. Although some toys might seem attractive, the materials used might not be child-friendly and could potentially cause harm to your kid. Make sure to look for toys that are made of child-friendly materials before buying them.
Wood is an example of a child-friendly material. While toys made of wood are pricier, they are safer, more durable, and look far better than toys made of plastic.
Aside from the material, you should also look at a toy’s size, especially when buying for younger children. According to Fair Trading by the NSW Government, any toy or parts smaller than a 20-cent piece or ping pong ball is too small for a child under three. So the smaller the child, the bigger the toy should be. As the child becomes older and more advanced, they can then play with smaller open-ended toys.
Other features to look out for are the shape and surface. They should not be easily swallowed and have no sharp edges or points. All finishes should also be non-toxic.
Versatility is the most notable feature of open-ended toys. They can be played in many ways, depending on the child, their mood, imagination, and creativity. They are not bound to a single form of play.
That said, the more versatile a toy is, the more creative the child can get. So when choosing which open-ended toy to buy, look for those that offer a broad scope and limitless possibilities.
For example, building blocks like the ones we have listed above are great for all kids and all stages. Boys and girls from babies to toddlers, preschoolers, and even beyond will find them fun and enjoyable, too. They can be used for simple stacking or building more complicated structures, like houses, restaurants, castles, towers, cities, and more. They can even be added with other toys like cars, dolls, and wooden figures for more exciting plays.
Value for Money
Raising a child is expensive – and so are their toys! And on top of everything else parents need to spend on, toys may not be on their list of priorities. However, the right open-ended toy can help with your child’s development and enhance their skills. It can also encourage exploration, creativity, communication, and imagination. That said, a good-quality open-ended toy is a worthy investment.
So when looking for open-ended toys, choose something that grows with your child. Toys that, while remaining the same, offers new ways every single time. While such toys can be pricey, they are great value for your money since you don’t have to keep buying new ones for your child to play with.
Also, look for toys that are well-made and durable. They should be able to withstand the rough plays of children. The longer the toy can last, the more you can get out of your money.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning your child’s toys is important for their safety. So when buying a toy, you should consider its cleaning and maintenance requirements. While some toys can be easily cleaned with cloth and soap, other toys require a more specific cleaning method to get the germs out and stop mould from growing in odd places.
Before purchasing a toy, try looking for guides or videos on how to clean them properly. If the toy requires a more complicated cleaning method than you are comfortable with, you might want to look elsewhere.
Benefits of Playing with Open-Ended Toys
Encourage Imagination and Creativity
The biggest benefit of playing with open-ended toys is that it fuels your child’s creativity and imagination. Since these toys don’t have a pre-determined use, they can be anything your child wants them to be.
A single block, for example, can be a phone, a miniature chair, a car, food, and literally anything under the sun. And putting all the building block pieces can turn into a house, a castle, a tower, and more.
From the Engines of Our Ingenuity by Haleh Ardebili, a child’s imagination “in the hands of nurturing parents and educators, can become a strong foundation for a child’s future creativity.” So why does creativity matter?
According to a study, creativity plays an important role in a child’s early development in all domains, including socially, emotionally, and physically. It is also essential in enhancing their language and cognitive skills. Plus, it is through open-ended activities and toys that they can develop their thinking and analysing abilities.
Helps Improve Essential Skills
Open-ended toys can do great wonders in helping improve your child’s essential skills. For one, they can improve fine motor skills like grasping and hand-eye coordination as your child tries to manipulate them.
Additionally, these types of toys are a perfect tool for language development, especially when an adult or peer is involved. From naming colours and shapes to learning basic speech concepts such as “fall”, “up”, “high”, and “tall”, there is so much you can do with these toys to help your child’s language skills.
For older kids, open-ended toys can help improve their use of words as well as descriptive language. Roleplaying with people figures, for example, will allow them to explain what is happening and what their character is feeling. This not only expands their vocabulary and storytelling skills, but will also improve their understanding of thoughts, feelings, and others’ actions.
Supports Cognitive Development
According to an article, open-ended toys can help support cognitive development. This includes building blocks, which can help children understand spatial relationships or “the ability to understand dimensions and shapes and how they work together.”
Playing with blocks is also said to help a child learn how to balance and fit pieces to build towers. As one expands this type of play through experience, the child might build more complex structures like bridges and enclosures.
Keeps Children Busy
The good thing about open-ended toys is that they can keep kids busy for hours. Since there is no “finished product” or a specific way to play them, kids can come up with their own ideas. So they will be able to do more and spend more time playing without getting bored.
This is backed by a study, which found that open-ended toys are able to hold children’s attention for a longer period of time. This means that you’ll be able to make dinner without your child pulling on your leg. And who knows, you might finally have some time for yourself!
Helps Build Independence
Another good thing about open-ended toys is that it helps promote independent thinking. Since kids start creating structures on their own, they become more confident when it comes to decision-making – which is a very important trait that your child will need in other situations aside from just playtime.
Additionally, playing with open-ended toys creates a relaxed environment for your child. Since there are no rules and no right or wrong way to do things, your child can explore on their own without worrying about making mistakes. They can change the story and narrative at any point. Thus, allowing them free and independent play.
Building independence at a young age is beneficial later in life, according to Unicef. Free play is also said to be important to children as it allows them to learn problem-solving skills.
Helps Build Social Skills
Open-ended toys are perfect for building your child’s social skills when playing with friends. They bring an added challenge since the children would need to communicate what the objects are, what they are trying to build, what their goals are, and what they want to happen.
Such a process can improve a child’s communication skills, listening, and patience. It also teaches them about teamwork, taking turns, conflict management, and more.
Good Family Bonding
When playing with open-ended toys, parents and kids can either work on projects together or build against each other. This is a great way of building your relationship and having fun together. You can also motivate your child by showing them what they can potentially create with such toys.
Play that involves open-ended toys plus you, is especially important to children. As stated in the article published in the Utah State University, “playing with your child builds the child’s self-esteem, helps the child learn about the world, provides opportunities for the child to learn new skills, and builds the bond between parent and child.”