Gifts for Kids that Encourage Creativity and Open-Ended Play

If there’s one thing I love, it’s putting together fun gifts for kids. I often choose to go the homemade route, but I also have a few go-to store bought items that I’m excited to gift anytime I have the opportunity. In general, these things tend to stand the test of time and inspire open-ended play and creativity, which is exactly what I look for when selecting toys.

Here are some of my go-to gifts for kids broken down by age…

1 Year Olds

Play Scarves – If you’ve not seen these before, they are quite simply very lightweight, often sheer, colourful scarves for little ones. I love gifting them to one year olds because they’re perfect for peek-a-boo and little object permanence games, but they transition super well to fort building, dress-up, and parachute making down the road.
Musical Instruments – Oh how I love giving wee ones musical instruments! Not only is music making fun, but it promotes fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, an understanding of cause and effect, among other things! Bongo drums, xylophones, and egg shakers are my go-tos and I usually opt for wooden instruments when possible.
Stacking Cups – Something all babies and toddlers should have in my opinion! Beyond building towers and knocking them over {which is oh so much fun}, they’re fantastic in the bathtub, great outside in the sandbox, and they’re perfect for learning about colours and sizes too. There are a ton of options available, but I usually go for a set that is quite simple and made of recycled plastic if possible.

2 Year Olds

DUPLO – A true classic! While I tend to be a bit of a minimalist, I do love toys that get better as the set grows, and DUPLO bricks definitely fall under this category. Kiddos can use them to build structures, sort, count, set up small worlds, and so much more.
Baby Dolls – Is there anything sweeter than a toddler caring for his or her baby doll? I’m not sure there is. I love gifting a baby doll with a little swaddling blanket, a washcloth, and a tiny diaper so that the little one can mimic caring for the baby the way his family members care for him. I love going for a very realistic, anatomically correct baby if possible.
Wooden Trains & Tracks – If you ever visit a store or office that has a train table out for kids, you’ll most likely find it swarming with happily playing little ones. And for good reason – there’s building the track, building the trains, AND driving the trains around the track, which provides all sorts of opportunities for critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative play. When buying train sets for little ones, I usually opt for the simplest non-branded ones made of wood, but if the recipient already has a train set started, you’ll probably want to add pieces that are of the same brand.

3 Year Olds

Dress Up Clothes – 3 seems to be an age when imaginative play just takes off, and I love fostering that by giving dress-up costumes as gifts. Astronaut suits, doctor’s coats, hard hats, chef’s aprons, puppy dog ears – the sky is truly the limit when it comes to dress-up!
Doctor Kit – Whether you put together a DIY version of your own or grab a store-bought kit, doctor’s items always seem to be super well-loved, plus they inspire all kinds of imaginative play and make visiting the actual doctor’s office seem more familiar.
Play Kitchen Accessories – Play kitchens always seem to be a hit with the preschool crowd, don’t they? If the little one you’re shopping for has a play kitchen at home, adding to their stash of kitchen-related items is a fun idea! I usually go for wooden food items, a mini shopping cart, a simple cash register, or small pots and pans – all of which are fantastic for imaginary play.

4 Year Olds

Play Dough Kits – My absolute number one gift for kiddos who are around the age of 4. I just adore play dough… It’s a fantastic sensory play material, playing with it builds those oh so important hand muscles, and it can be played in countless ways. There are SO many really wonderful store-bought options, but when it comes to this one, I always put together my own play dough kits based on the child’s interests. All you really need is a divided container, some great homemade play dough, and a small collection of loose parts and voila – you have an awesome gift. {A few of our favourites include this dinosaur play dough kit, this mermaid play dough kit, and this construction-themed play dough kit.}
Kinetic Sand – Anyone who has played with this before will tell you how amazing it is! If you haven’t seen it in action before, it’s a loose, dry sand that almost moves like you’d expect slime to… Almost as though it has magnetic properties. Pair it with a tray and a couple of moulds, cookie cutters, or kitchen utensils and you’ve got a gift that will inspire loads of play, exploration, and experimentation.
Art Supplies – A fantastic gift for kiddos of all ages in my opinion, but I particularly love giving quality art supplies to little ones who are school-aged or nearly school aged. I usually aim to go beyond the usual crayons and colouring book combo and search out items the child might not regularly have in his or her art supply stash. Some of my go-tos include tempera paint pucks, nice quality watercolour paper (the thick stuff that can handle copious amounts of paint), patterned washi tape, and watercolour pencil crayons. I also love to throw in things like big packs of coloured construction paper and rolls of plain old clear tape that kids seem to go through like crazy.

5 Year Olds

Magnetic Tiles – Quality magnetic toys tend to be a bit of a splurge, but if they’re within your gift giving budget, I highly recommend magnetic tiles. Among other things, they’re fantastic for building structures, creating patterns, exploring symmetry, and learning about colour theory and they’re just one of those toys that kids never seem to tire of.
LEGO – Another true classic! You just can’t go wrong when it comes to giving LEGO, in my opinion. It’s fun, creative, open-ended, and the possibilities definitely grow as your collection does. One of my favourite combinations is a LEGO Classic Creative Brick Box {which comes with ALL of the colours!} paired with a LEGO building ideas book like Awesome LEGO Creations with Bricks You Already Have.
Games – Last, but definitely not least, games of all kinds make fantastic gifts! Not only do they encourage turn taking, sportsmanship, and family time, but many also give kiddos a workout when it comes to math skills, critical thinking, and deductive reasoning. A few of my favourites include UNO, Guess Who?, Suspend, Camelot Jr., and Rush Hour.

about jen

Jen is a teacher, blogger, and mama to a spirited little lady and a preemie baby boy. She’s passionate about play, loves a good DIY project, adores travelling, and can often be found in the kitchen creating recipes that meet her crunchy mama criteria. You can follow Jen on her blog, Mama.Papa.Bubba, and on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.