Do you have a hard time selecting the perfect gift for your children? Over time, I have become much more choosey with the toys I buy for my children. I look for quality and durability wherever possible and I also consider how active or passive a toy is. Magda Gerber used to teach that an active toy makes for a passive child (the toy does the work for the child at the push of a button) and a passive toy (battery-free toy) encourages the child to create the play for themselves.
So now I look for toys that my children are required to put some thought into to create their play. I want to harness that innate creativity every child is born with and allow them to believe that what they do with the toy is perfect. It doesn’t need to have functions and buttons to push. They have those buttons inside their minds, if only we will trust them to use them.
Here is a list of battery-free toys that I believe encourage and foster creativity and imagination in children and will allow children to play independently for hours at a time (Affiliate links).
Magna-Tiles® (Comes in 32 piece or 100 piece)
A brilliant toy that is suitable for all ages. My children LOVE their magnatiles. They are easily our most used toy.
Standard Unit Blocks
Unit blocks are fantastic for all manner of play and construction. My children use their blocks to create borders, pathways and towers or they get packed in small bags as their lunch. The options are endless for creative kids.
Rainbow blocks create a beautiful coloured shadow when played with in the sunshine. This allows children to explore the properties of light and reflection as they create and construct.
Wooden Train Track
We have a small basket of train tracks and a few extra accessories such as bridges and tunnels that the girls love to make tracks from. Add a few trains and some small cardboard boxes and the children can design and construct their own small world play scene from scratch.
Classic lego is a must have for older children. Without a prescribed end-goal, children are free to use their imaginations to create until their heart’s content.
Rainbow Stacker (Natural)
Rainbow stackers are extremely versatile in their uses as this post illustrates. There are just so many things a child can do with these. It is also possible to get larger rainbows with more pieces.
Wooden Rocking Boat
The steps are perfect for a newly crawling baby to start to explore his movement potential and once flipped over, the rocker is fantastic as a rocking boat for up to 4 older children. Years of fun and exploration to be had.
Geometric Dome Climber
If you have a young child who loves to climb then the climbing dome may well be the perfect structure for them. It enables them to develop their climbing skills safely, whilst still managing to bring a little risk and excitement to little adventurers.
This is such a versatile play object for children of all ages. Our’s gets used equally by our 13 month old and our 5 and 6 year old children. It’s great for children to test out their balance but works just as well as a seesaw, a slide, a step stool, a boat, a resting place, a doll bed, a puppet stage, a tunnel and whatever else their imaginations allow it to be.
Baby Doll with Bottle
Not just for girls, baby dolls are perfect gifts for children as they explore the role of parenthood and play out many of their daily activities. it can help young children to consolidate routines and practices and sometimes give parents an insight into what they are thinking about their role as the child in the house.
Dollhouse and Furniture Set
Extending on from a baby doll is the idea of a little family in a furnished doll house. My children adore playing with their dollhouse with many hours of imaginative play witnessed in that corner of their bedroom.
Wooden Doll Pram
Children love to push things around the house and a pram to push their dolls, teddies, figurines pets (lol) etc. around in is a perfect idea for this very thing.
A play kitchen is a must have in every home. We built one out of a cardboard box but if you are looking for something more permanent you can’t go past a little child sized wooden version.
Play food will be used over and over in most houses. There are some really beautiful ones out there ranging from plastic to felt and wooden versions. We have some of all of them. the plastic ones are not very durable, often getting misshapen once trodden on. The wooden and felt ones get used regularly in our house for picnics, cooking in the play kitchen, packing lunch boxes, tea parties etc.
There would not be a day go by when my 3 and 4 year old children do not raid the dress up box. They love to transform themselves into different characters ready for role playing. This is a complete set but starting with one or two costumes might be a good way to go.
If you are not quite ready for the dress up phase, these play silks can inspire imagination in children as they use them as head wear, scarves, capes, skirts, picnic rugs, blankets. They are extremely versatile and my children love the soft textures and bright colours.
Match Box Cars
My girls are car mad. They each have about 20 of these little cars and a little car mat in their bedrooms. They get played with all the time and the girls love parking them in traffic jam formation, waiting for traffic lights or for ducks to cross the road too. (Warning: One or two is not enough. You will need at least 10 per child – lol)
To add to the car fun, a parking garage is the perfect accessory for car mad kids like mine. The girls love pushing their cars up the ramps and parking each of their cars one by one.
We have a variety of different animal figurines but honestly, the children repeatedly go for the schleich ones. The quality is outstanding and the animals are so lifelike that the children can really get into their play and bring their animals to life.
Barn / Farm Yard
A barn yard is the perfect home for animal figurines. We bought some fence pieces to add to our barn as well as some little squares of fake turf to really allow the children to stretch their play further.
I know these are not really role-playing toys as such but the girls love making music with their percussive instruments. They can often be seen marching around the house as a two-piece band. They also bring them out when they want to put on a concert for us.
Arts and Craft
All children love coloured pencils but I have found my girls get frustrated with how easily the standard pencils break under their not-so-fine motor control. These Lyra pencils eliminate that frustration as they’re are a little bigger and a lot sturdier, making them harder to break. The colours are also MUCH brighter than regular pencils and are therefore more appealing to use.
Every child should have their own little sketch book. Somewhere to doodle and pen their ‘thoughts’. For basic pencil drawings this type is perfect but if the children are looking to paint in their book, look to get a specific watercolour proof sketch book.
If you’re not a fan of a huge mess then watercolour paints are perfect. Spending a little extra to get good quality watercolours is worth it as my girls have always been disappointed in the lack of vibrancy in some of the cheaper brands. Paints like poster pain
ts are also good for young children learning to explore the world of painting.
Air Dry Clay
Clay is such a wonderful medium for children to work. It is so sensory and mouldable for them and it also helps to strengthen their fingers, hands and arms.
Clay Tool Set
A set of these tools will help children explore their clay fully and allow them to cut, and shape their clay as desired.
This section is sparse but I will add to it over the coming days. Babies do not need much in the way of toys as the whole world is a toy to them. They get just as much joy exploring their hands as they do a toy.
These little eco-friendly stacking cups are great for little minds exploring the properties of objects and the relationships between them. We have these ones and the quality and pastel colours are beautiful.
These pinch bowls are without a doubt my infant’s most explored play object. There must be something about the ease with which she can grasp these little bowls and the satisfying feeling she gets from squeezing the sides together and chewing on the edges that keeps her going back for more.
I know these don’t really look like baby toys but trust me, these are the perfect play objects for curious infants. Throw away the comb and the clips (or keep them for you) and give baby a set of these to explore. They have been keeping my infant interested for well over 6 months now.
Short Cotton Scarves
A piece of natural fibre material would also work. Gerber suggested arranging the scarf on the floor with a peak pulled up in the middle to invite a curious baby to explore and investigate. Ensuring the material is quite thick and strong with no loose threads will ensure baby stays safe. Light, nylon or flimsy material can become a choking hazard.
I just love this list of battery-free toys and I hope you do too.