Open-ended toys for kids can help toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school-aged children learn to think creatively, and so much more!
If children learn about the world through movement and play, open-ended toys and imaginative pretend play materials can help parents and educators provide a solid foundation for a child’s education. In addition, many educators and child development specialists claim that play is the most important work of early childhood. This is why it is best to provide toddlers and preschoolers with open-ended toys and imaginative play environments that allow them 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 they need to think creatively and provide a solid foundation for the development of an intelligent mind. 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 via the art of dramatic play. For example, a child may pretend to be a cat, or imagine that they are riding a horse. This type of imaginative play can help toddlers and preschoolers learn about, and begin to understand the mechanics of the world around them.
Related: Best Fairy Tales for Children and How They Benefit Development
Children can also use open-ended dramatic play toys as a vehicle for social-emotional development. For example, 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 repeatedly to help them learn and grow into whole human beings.
Related: Ultimate Family Gift Guide: DIY and Readymade Ideas!
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 role-playing, can be spotted in toddlers as young as 18-months-old.
Related: Best Natural Educational Toddler Toys
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 well into late childhood!
Click on the title of each open-ended imaginative play toy listed below to learn more about it. If you click to purchase, “Rhythms of Play” will earn a small commission at no cost to you. Please read our policies for more information.
Don’t forget that recycled and natural materials provide an excellent free resource for open-ended imaginative play. But, of course, nothing beats a recycled box or a good old-fashioned stick!
Related: The Ultimate Eco-Friendly Gift Guide for Kids
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.
1. Standard Unit Building Blocks
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 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.
2. Wood Rainbow Stacker Building Blocks Set for Kids
Colorful learning and educational toys such as these rainbow stacking blocks are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. They promote color recognition, matching, stacking, and sorting skills. This set of wooden rainbow stacking blocks includes 24 blocks in various shapes, sizes, and rainbow colors.
Use this collection of blocks with other building blocks sets for larger construction projects, such as those listed above. Large quantities of wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes provide an opportunity for a child to pass the hours constructing towers, animals, castles, towns, and more! Or, make your own DIY rainbow-colored wooden building blocks.
3. Over-Sized Hollow Wooden Block Set
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!
4. Rainbow Wooden Tunnels and Arches
Create a world of tunnels and arches with this natural 12-piece wooden rainbow set. Curved, hardwood blocks in different widths and diameters are wonderful toys for imaginative play. Use them as a building manipulative or as “tunnels” for use with other small toys. Use this set of rainbow wooden stacking blocks 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 quickly fell in love.
- 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!
6. Fold and Go Dollhouse
This dollhouse is perfect for all kinds of accessories and endless imaginative play. Its 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.
7. Poseable Wooden Doll Family for Dollhouse
This doll family set includes a mother and father doll, grandmother and grandfather doll, 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.
Invite children to use the figures 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 activity and role 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.
8. Rainbow Friends Peg Dolls
These simple rainbow-colored dolls with various skin tones 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, invite children to use them with building blocks, for counting, as “people” in any pretend world your children create–the list goes on! Or, if you feel crafty, make your own with 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 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 Horse Toys for Toddlers with Stable Carrier and 4 Cuddly Interactive Talking and Neighing Plush Toy Horses.
11. Fold and Go Wooden Barn
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 farmers or gardeners 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, and a pretend play toy house for dolls and figures or building blocks combined with any other set listed in this post.
13. Nesting Toys for Children
Wooden nesting toys such as 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-ended toys also allow children to explore concepts of size, comparison, and sequencing and exercise their fine motor skills, reasoning/problem solving, and hand-eye coordination while playing with nesting bowls.
14. Children’s Tea Set
This real porcelain tea set for children includes a basket, a porcelain teapot with lid, creamer, a sugar bowl, 4 cups, 4 saucers, 4 napkins, and a tablecloth. 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. You can even fill this real porcelain tea set with real liquids!
15. Wooden Pretend Play Kitchen with Accessories
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 opens 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 to recreate the world around them to learn and grow the way 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. In addition, there are a few more open-ended toys listed in natural preschool toys for kids.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
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
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