If you follow our home life on Instagram, you know that our days are full of imaginative play, creative projects, and crafts! My 2, 6, & 7-year-olds spend hours every day in open-ended play and creating which is the culture I desire for our home.
If you want to encourage imaginative play and creativity in your home, this list is for you.
Open-Ended Imaginative Gifts
Open-ended play is play that allows children to express themselves freely and creatively. It is the type of play that there are no rules to follow and no pressure to produce a specific finished product. My reasoning for this is that I would rather my children be the ones making the firetruck siren or the moo of the cow as they are playing.
There is certainly value in some “close-ended” activities such as puzzles and board games. For the majority though, I find that because open-ended toys have multiple uses, they encourage much more imagination, spur on creativity, and engage children longer.
Here are my must-haves for open-ended play:
Blocks: In our house, blocks have been used time and time again as towers, barns, dog houses, and many more things. My son has had these wooden blocks since he was barely crawling and still plays with them regularly. We recently got these big interlocking blocks and love them as well! If your child has developed enough fine motor skills, smaller blocks like these are also great.
Playdough and clay: We enjoy making our own playdough, but this natural dye clay is also a really quality set if you prefer to buy yours. You can find my DIY playdough recipe here. Our favorite playdough tools include this ALEX toys wooden tool set and this Melissa and Doug dough and tool set.
Baby dolls and accessories: My daughter plays with babies every single day. We had a “Baby Doll Brunch” for her second birthday and she got all stocked up on every baby doll accessory she needs to take great care of all of her babies. Some of her favorites are this stroller, this baby carrier, baby bottles, a rocking chair, a baby bed, blankets, pacifiers, and a high chair.
Stuffed animals and puppets: We have a huge box of random stuffed animals that we have collected over the years and a similar puppet set. My kids give them voices and names and stories. They often play puppet show, tea party, or picnic with a bunch of their animal friends.
Play kitchen and accessories: We have the IKEA play kitchen in my daughter’s room and it gets a lot of use! We love this dish set, these pots and pans, and any play food by Melissa & Doug. I have also picked up wooden kitchen bowls and utensils from garage sales and thrift stores to add to her kitchen as well.
Dress-up clothes: This can be anything from Daddy’s shoes or a blanket cape, to a doctor set. We have a princess dress, a dinosaur costume, sunglasses, pearls, purses, a firefighter helmet, and more little dress-up accessories that are always being used.
Toy animals and mini replicas: Miniature real-life toy replicas are probably the most used item on this list in both schooling and playtime. We use them to act out stories, for letter-sound matching, categorization, in playdough, and many other ways. I am slowly collecting different animal groups, but so far we have these dinosaurs and these sea creatures. I also love these jumbo forest animals from Learning Resources.
Marble Run: My kids absolutely love this marble run. We’ve had it for years and they haven’t stopped creating pathways for the marbles. It has been neat watching them learn what works and doesn’t work as they build, and having to work as a team to create.
Artistic & Crafty Gifts
Paper Crafting Books and Kits: Try giving the gift of creating, following directions, and fine motor skills by giving a book or kit that instructs children how to use paper to create! The books and kits above will help your child create origami, paper airplanes, model animals and robots!
Drawing Books: These books are so great to keep in your craft area along with paper and pencils for your child to pick up and try their hand at drawing anytime they’re inspired. I recommend: How to Draw All the Things, The Drawing Book for Kids, How to Draw People, and The Big Book of Faces.
Beginner Weaving and Sewing Tools and Kits: These gifts will invite your children to learn the skills needed for weaving and sewing! Save them for a special time with you to learn together, or hand them off to your older child to self-teach. We love this weaving loom, this Learn to Sew Kit, Sewing School, and Finger Knitting Fun!
Craft Books & Supplies: More than anything, my kids just love opening craft idea books and their fully stocked craft cabinet and creating with their own imaginations! Stock up a cabinet, basket, or rolling cart for your crafty kids as a gift this year and don’t forget the books to give them inspiration. Here are a few idea books (1, 2, 3) and materials kits (1, 2) to get you started.
Sensory Creating: These gifts will give your children a chance to get creative while engaging in sensory play. We especially love using modeling clay and wax craft sticks together. Kinetic sand and this non-toxic dough are also sensory must-haves.
I hope this guide is helpful to you while shopping for holidays or birthdays to encourage more open-ended, imaginative, and creative play with your little ones. To see more of how we use these in day-to-day play and schooling, follow along @treehouse_schoolhouse.