Open-ended toys for kids can help toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged children learn to think creatively, and so much more!
If kids learn about the world through movement and play, open-ended toys, and imaginative pretend play materials can provide a solid foundation for their education. Play is the most important work of early childhood. As parents and educators, we must provide imaginative play environments that allow children to discover the world in their own way and time.
This list of open-ended natural toys for kids makes it easy to give toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged kids the tools that they need to learn to think creatively and develop their intelligence. You may also enjoy this list of Natural Preschool Toys.
What is Pretend Play in Child Development?
Pretend, dramatic, or imaginative play is when children act out the roles and activities that they see going on around them in play. For example, a child may pretend that they are a cat or imagine that they are riding a horse. This can help kids learn about and begin to understand the mechanics of the world around them.
Children can also use open-ended dramatic play toys as a vehicle for social-emotional development. When a child pretends to be a mommy, a doctor, a teacher, or a cook, they can assimilate the world as they experience it. In other words, children can play through each new developmental step over and over again to help them learn and grow into whole human beings.
At What Age Does Pretend Play Begin?
Most children reach the first stages of dramatic play by the time they are three or four years old. However, early forms of pretend play, most often in the form of role-playing, can be spotted in toddlers as young as 18-months-old.
The Best Pretend Play Toys for Children That Encourage Imaginative Dramatic Play
Children need open-ended toys that can meet their creative needs as they continue to grow and learn. The open-ended imaginative play toys listed here can help children learn through play from the toddler years into late childhood!
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15 Open-Ended Pretend Play Toys for Kids
The 15 open-ended toys for imaginative, pretend or dramatic play listed below make excellent choices for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged kids.
Building blocks are one of the best open-ended toys in the world for pretend play. A child’s imagination can run wild, creating unique masterpieces with a variety of shapes. This standard unit block collection provides just that.
Wooden building blocks never get old and have the amazing ability to grow with your children as their intelligence develops. They are foundational for children’s play and promote motor, language, and social skills.
Blocks are also ideal for introducing early math concepts, including shapes, parts-to-whole, and sorting. As mentioned above, building blocks can also inspire hands-on, creative play.
Wooden blocks can be used in conjunction with many other toys and will inspire your child’s creativity for years to come. If you would enjoy the challenge of making building blocks for your children, have a look at our list of DIY Blocks for Kids.
This set of colored wooden building blocks includes a total of 30 blocks in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors using certified non-toxic, water-based stains.
These blocks can be combined with other building blocks sets, such as the one listed above, for larger construction projects. Or, make your own DIY rainbow-colored wooden building blocks.
Little hands will be itching to start building when they see these amazing oversized blocks. These giant wooden blocks can inspire hours of pretend play and fit together in a nearly infinite number of configurations.
If your toddler or preschooler is not ready to handle oversized hollow wooden blocks quite this big yet, try the Lightweight Jumbo Wooden Blocks instead!
Create a world of tunnels and arches with this 10-piece wooden set. Curved, hardwood blocks in three different widths and diameters for use as a fun, building manipulative or as “tunnels” for use with other small toys. This set of wooden blocks can be used at home or in the classroom.
5. Playstands and Silkscapes
Play stands are absolutely perfect for pretend play. Young children can spend hours playing underneath them. They also make a magical hideaway or book nook and can be used both indoors and outdoors.
We have provided affiliate links to a few different styles, and the necessary accessories, below. An alternative option to play stands with shelves is a teepee tent with hardwood poles and a cotton canvas. We received one as a gift from A Mustard Seed Toys and have quickly fallen in love with it.
- Play stand with shelf
- Arch for play stand
- Play clips
- Camden Rose Waldorf Cherry Playstand Playroom Set w/Vibrant Rainbow Silk Canopy
There are a lot of fun ways to play with Play silks and silk scapes. They are wonderful for pretend play especially when used in combination with oversized wooden blocks and play stands. Play silks can also be used for dress-up dramatic play or, to play peek-a-boo with your baby!
This dollhouse is perfect for all kinds of accessories and endless imaginative play. It’s plain yet beautiful design opens for easy access and allows children to use their imaginations while playing.
This cute little portable wooden dollhouse for pretend play features working doors, two flexible wooden play figures, eleven wooden furniture pieces, and sturdy carrying handles.
This doll family set includes a mother and father doll, grandmother and grandfather doll, and two child dolls (one boy and one girl), and a baby. It is perfect for use with dollhouses and playsets or playing with a family in any imaginative setting. Children can spend hours creating fun scenarios for these poseable wooden dollhouse figures.
They can be used along with dollhouses, building blocks, play stands, or any other way your child imagines. The poseable people have flexible arms and legs, so children can bend their bodies and change their positions, as they enjoy limitless pretend-play possibilities.
Dramatic doll play is the perfect way for young boys and girls to work out whatever they are dealing with in their lives via pretend play. Children can use dolls to try on each of the activities and roles that children see going on around them. This is why dolls are an open-ended toy that is very helpful for children dealing with stress, trauma and/or loss.
In addition to imaginative pretend play, this set also promotes sorting, matching, patterning, and fine motor skills.
These simple rainbow-colored dolls are a great addition to the toys in your children’s toy box. Boys and girls of all ages find creative ways to use these natural wooden dolls at playtime.
Designed for creative use in any way children see fit, they can be used with building blocks, for counting, as “people” in any pretend world your children create… this list goes on! If your feeling crafty, try our DIY rainbow peg doll toy tutorial.
9. Wooden Cars
Wooden cars are the perfect vehicles for pretend play–pun intended! Made in the USA by a well-respected and established toy company, these cars are reminiscent of many a parents’ childhood toys. They are the perfect size for little hands, easy to roll, and have a design that requires the use of a child’s imagination.
10. Family Pets and Toy Animals
Although anything can be anything in a child’s play, toy animals make an excellent prop for imaginative play. Encourage children to use them with other open-ended toys for an endless amount of creative play possibilities.
- Sunnyfarm animal set
- Family pets
- Wooden animal toys
- Farm friends
- Bucket of farm animals
- Jungle animals
- Woodland animals
- Under the sea life creatures
- Plush farmhouse with horses, farm boy, and farmhouse barn house carry-along case
A portable wooden barn that opens wide for easy play access and closes up to take with you. It features a handle for easy transport and includes seven realistic plastic farm animals, a wooden ladder and a folding corral.
An open-ended toy that promotes imaginative play. Children can role-play various characters such as farmer or gardener and tell stories as per their imagination. While playing, parents can ask children questions helping to develop language skills and creativity.
12. Wooden Nesting House
Nesting toys are excellent open-ended, multi-use toys that children discover endless uses for. This wooden nesting house toy can inspire creative imaginative play. The block pieces of the nesting house can be used as a puzzle, a pretend play toy house for dolls and figures, or building blocks combined with any other set listed in this post.
13. Nesting Boxes and Bowls
Wooden nesting boxes and nesting bowls are a must-have for every child’s toy box. They can be nested, stacked in a variety of ways, filled with little objects, or used imaginatively as play dishes and cups… the uses are as varied as a child’s imagination!
These open-eneded toys also make it possible for children to explore concepts of size, comparison and sequencing, as well as exercise their fine motor skills, reasoning/problem solving, and hand-eye coordination while playing with nesting bowls.
This 13 piece porcelain set includes 4 cups, 4 saucers, a teapot with a lid, a sugar bowl with a lid, and a creamer. One of the lessons of this open-ended toy is that it must be cared for, otherwise, it will break.
Each cup in this cute little tea set for kids is a different color, as well as the cream and sugar and the teapot, it can be used with real liquids!
Turning knobs, a see-through oven door, and bright colors can encourage hours of creative play!
The stove comes equipped with accessories, and it has a cabinet, oven, and microwave that open for easy storage and pretend play.
Best Imaginative Play Toys
Children need materials and toys that are open-ended enough to meet their many types of imaginative play needs. They also need toys and imaginative play materials that allow them to recreate the world around them in order to learn and grow the way that they learn best.
Open-ended toys for imaginative play allow children to imagine and learn about the world at their own pace. The 15 imaginative play toys listed above are excellent choices for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged kids. A few more open-ended toys for imaginative dramatic play can be found in natural preschool toys for kids.
More Natural Educational Toys for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
- Eco-Friendly Baby Toys that Boost Development Naturally
- The Best Natural Educational Toddler Toys
- Best Natural Preschool Toys and How They Benefit Development
- Natural Materials for Pretend Play