Three examples of open-ended toys

Open-Ended Toys: 23 Options for a Minimalist Toy Collection

While some parents might be tempted to continually shower kids with the newest and latest toys to keep them happy and entertained, minimalists take a different approach.

The principle behind minimalism is to selectively surround yourself with a small number of valuable physical possessions. This leads to freedom from the physical and psychological clutter that comes along with owning too many “things.”

The idea of minimalism can easily be applied to children’s toys when you carefully choose only a few toys to keep in your home. After all, children do not need as many toys as we might believe they do.

The Benefits of Toy Minimalism

Tracy from Raised Good does a wonderful job summarizing the many science-based benefits for children of having fewer toys. These benefits include allowing space for more creative and imaginative play, eliminating distraction and overstimulation, and encouraging children to take better care of the toys they do own.

There are also benefits for the parents. As a mom, I seem to spend so much of my time putting away toys or encouraging my children to do so. Having fewer toys reduces clutter and decreases cleanup time, leading to a more organized and peaceful home.

Moreover, there are environmental benefits to owning fewer toys. According to Paige Smith, when you embrace minimalism, you will consume less, waste less, and lean toward more sustainable products, thereby reducing your carbon footprint.

What to Look for in Minimalist Toys

This may lead you to wonder, “If I can only have a few toys at home, which toys should I keep?” I recently spoke with Alex Kozak, Professional Organizer and founder of Living Simply PGH. She highlighted several characteristics to look for when deciding which toys to keep in your home.

  • Open-Ended Toys: Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways, rather than serving only one specific purpose. These open-ended toys engage children and encourage imaginative play, rather than dictating how they should be used. Also, toys that serve more than one purpose stretch the value of your small toy collection.
  • Sustainable: If you own fewer toys, it is important to choose ones that will not quickly break and land in the trash. Alex suggests avoiding plastic and opting for high-quality wooden toys. You might also choose toys that are made from sturdy recycled plastic.
  • Simple: Minimalist toys do not have a lot of bells and whistles. Choose toys that are not flashy or noisy, which can lead to overstimulation and diminish creativity. A good rule of thumb might be to avoid toys that require batteries.
  • Educational: Think about choosing toys that help your child learn or practice a skill. This could mean helping young children develop fine motor skills or practice sorting, or helping older children learn about cause-and-effect or engineering.

Prime Examples of Open-Ended Toys

Below, I have listed 23 examples of open-ended toys. Of these, many also satisfy at least one of the other recommendations listed above.

If you are decluttering toys, this list will help you narrow down what to keep or how to replace what you eliminate from your home. On the other hand, if you are searching for a gift for someone else, I hope you will find a new open-ended toy that will lead to many hours of creative fun.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases.

Wooden Building Blocks – Wooden blocks are classic open-ended toys that provide endless ways for kids to build, sort, pretend, and learn about cause and effect. These natural wood blocks from Melissa & Doug are a solid choice for kids of all ages.

Dollhouse  Dollhouses promote creativity, open-ended imaginative play, and cooperation between kids. Opt for a durable wooden dollhouse to be sure it lasts for many years. This bright dollhouse from Pidoko comes with twenty pieces of furniture along with a family of dolls that includes a pet dog.

KEVA Planks –  Rectangular KEVA Planks provide older kids the opportunity for creative building and designing. Use the Structures set to construct vehicles and buildings, while the Contraptions set is just right for designing marble runs and Rube Goldberg machines.

Magnetic Tiles – Magnetic tiles are open-ended toys that encourage educational play. Kids use the brightly colored pieces in this extremely popular PicassoTiles set to build planes, buildings, and rocket ships, or even set them up like dominoes and watch them tumble down. Meanwhile, they can also learn about magnetism or sort the various colors and shapes.

Modeling Clay – Although it can admittedly create quite a mess, modeling clay provides infinite opportunities for creativity. I would suggest staying away from very specific sets (for example, that make a certain type of “food”) and opt instead for a basic set with simple tools.

Wooden Train Set – A train set can inspire your child’s creativity when it comes to track design while also encouraging imaginative play. This 100-piece wooden train set by On Track USA has received high praise on Amazon and even comes with its own case for easy storage.

Pattern Blocks – Children can use pattern blocks to create designs out of colorful shapes. We have this set of magnetic pattern blocks by Melissa & Doug. This set comes with several design sheets to which the kids can match the blocks like a puzzle, creating animals, vehicles, and scenes. Alternatively, they can use their imaginations to create their own designs. I like that this set comes in its own travel case so that it is very easy to put away, and the magnetic board keeps the pieces from moving around while the kids are playing.

Play Kitchen  Think of all the fun pretend dinner parties, family meals, and restaurants that can come to life with a play kitchen. This stylish wood kitchen set by KidKraft is fully equipped with a refrigerator, oven, cooktop, sink, microwave, phone, shelving, and even a washing machine! You may want some dishes and cookware to go along with it.

Play Food – Whether or not you have a pretend kitchen, I think that preparing imaginary meals might be a universal favorite pastime for kids. Visit my list of top play food sets.

Pretend Play Costumes – My kids love putting on dress-up clothes, and when we have other kids over to play, they often gravitate to our costume rack. You do not need a bunch of elaborate costumes for kids to have fun! You could simply grab some hats, capes, or tutus. Alternatively, try some simple community worker costumes, such as this role play set that includes a railroad engineer, construction worker, and firefighter.

Dolls – My kids love acting out scenes and engaging in pretend-play with dolls and figurines. When it comes to dolls, keep it simple. There is no need for them to walk, talk, or realistically eat. I gave my oldest daughter a Manhattan Baby Stella doll for her first birthday, and at eight years old, she still plays with her doll regularly. Stella dolls are soft and plush, and they come in a variety of skin tones. There is also a boy version if you prefer.

LEGO DUPLO Blocks – LEGO DUPLO blocks are awesome open-ended toys for little ones to build with. My kids are between the ages of 1 and 8, and they all enjoy building with DUPLOs. This DUPLO starter set contains everything your kids need to build to their hearts’ content, including many different colored bricks, figurines, a car, flowers, and more. They may not be wooden, but in my experience, they are extremely durable.

Tent – Provide your kids an open-ended space to play with a tent such as this cotton canvas teepee. What will their tent become – a rocketship, house, secret lair, or library?

Play Vehicles – Whether trucks, cars, or school busses, children love pushing around play vehicles. These open-ended toys make fabulous props for imaginative play. This wooden car set from Melissa & Doug includes a variety of vehicles, including race cars, a police car, a taxi cab, and a minivan. Their Community Vehicles Playset contains a school bus, garbage truck, mail truck, and tow truck, and it comes with wooden figure drivers.

Wooden Town Blocks – Kids can use these wooden blocks to create their own imaginary town. So many stories can emerge from these open-ended blocks! Melissa & Doug sell a lovely town block set that contains buildings, signs, trees, and decorations. The set does not come with vehicles, so you may want to grab some to augment the play experience.

Tools – Your little one will be able to pretend to build or fix anything with a quality set of pretend tools. This sturdy wooden toolset from Melissa & Doug comes with its own toolbox. Aside from pretend-play, kids develop fine motor skills by screwing and hammering.

Super Sorting Pie – We have had this Super Sorting Pie for years, and I still think it’s one of the best educational toys out there. Kids can sort the little fruits according to the various cards included – for example, by color, number, or type of fruit – or just play with them however they see fit. This toy is often used in our house as a pie that gets baked in a pretend oven. The set contains oversized tweezers, which support fine motor development. The sturdy fruit pieces are made out of durable material. (I do caution you that if you are not careful, they may end up all over your house, and they are a choking hazard for little ones under the age of 3.)

Stacking and Nesting Cups – Stacking and nesting cups are wonderfully versatile open-ended toys, which are also included in my list of engaging STEM toys for toddlers. They can be used for water play, sand play, or pretend cooking. Kids can use them to build a tower or to puzzle out how to fit them together. Toddlers also seem to enjoy “putting things in things,” and stacking cups make a fine receptacle. These Green Toys stacking cups are made from recycled plastic, making them a sustainable choice.

Ball – Just a simple rubber ball provides us so much fun in our backyard. Kids can practice soccer, try to catch the ball when I kick it into the sky, play catch or kickball or Monkey-In-The-Middle. This simple kickball is made just for kids, ages 2 and up.

Play Scarves – One of the ultimate open-ended toys, play scarves can become dresses, capes, tents, blankets, or whatever else your children can imagine. They are fun simply to dance and twirl with, as well. Parents and kids love these bright, affordable, and durable Simply Sweet Fabric Play Scarves.

Foam Building Blocks – Oversized foam building blocks can be configure into lots of different climbing structures and used for open-ended play. This Children’s Factory set includes blocks, a tunnel, and other shapes to provide lots of fun for babies and older kids.

Outdoor Toys – I daresay some of my children’s best open-ended play happens outdoors. A good playhouse, playset, or climber can serve as a home base for pretend-play. Visit my post on outdoor toys for specific recommendations.

Art Supplies – Art supplies such as painting sets, craft kits, and stampers open the door to a world of possibilities for open-ended art. Visit my post on art toys for specific recommendations.

There are two additional factors to consider when choosing what toys to buy or keep, and these will be highly personal.

First, Alex Kozak suggests asking yourself what amount your home can hold without stressing you out. You are in control of setting a boundary with yourself about how many toys is the right number for your home to help it remain a peaceful environment for you and your kids.

Finally, “If it’s getting used, that’s good. Keep it,” Alex recommends. The ultimate reason to keep a toy in your home is that your child regularly has fun with it.

If you are interested in pursuing minimalism at home, be sure to read Life-Changing Tips from 3 Minimalist Moms.

I have put together a two-page cheat sheet based on my conversation with Professional Organizer Alex Kozak. If you’d like to learn more about organizing toys and taming kid clutter, enter your info below to have this sent to your email address!

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