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8 Simple Toys to Inspire Imaginative Play

When we have friends over, I sometimes get nervous because we don’t have a lot of toys compared to many people we know. To me, I look at our toy closet and feel like we still have a lot we could do without, but we only have a small closet with a few drawers of toys and many people have whole rooms filled with toys.

I was a toy minimalist since before having children, but I still let our toys get out of hand and had to declutter them during our KonMari journey last year. Since we’ve downsized and moved into our new home, I’ve had to be very purposeful when it comes to what toys we choose to have in our home. I know that simple, open ended toys are what experts recommend, and I can definitely see why. When my kids are presented with simple toys, their imaginations soar. Some of the crazy play scenes they come up with are so creative I just watch in awe while they play.


Last week we had a friend over and instead of feeling embarrassed by our lack of toys, I was reminded about why we make a conscious effort to streamline toys in favor of boosting creative play. In a matter of two hours our three kids traveled the world, opened a restaurant serving the finest soup and hot dogs, built skyscrapers and demolished a whole town. That’s what play is all about!

While we definitely have more toys than the ones I am going to share today, these 8 simple toys to inspire imaginative play are staples in our house and are picked up by my kids and visitors over and over again.


1. Blocks

Blocks are a staple of open-ended play and there’s no question why. Blocks are great for building and causing great destruction. They can be manipulated in so many ways to create whatever little minds can imagine. I purchased a set of standard unit blocks during a Black Friday sale last year and while they are an investment, I was impressed by the size and quality of the blocks. We’ve had many sets of blocks over the years, but I would tell a new mom to go straight to this set that will last from babyhood to the pre-teen years.


2. Stacking & Nesting Cups

We’ve had these IKEA Mula Stack and Nest Cups since my oldest was about six months old and they have been a favorite toy ever since. Creative opportunities abound with this open ended toy that can be stacked, sorted, nested, lined up by size, filled with treasures, used for sand or water play and so much more. Even at almost five years old, my daughter still plays with these on a regular basis.


3. Hula Hoop

A basic dollar store hula hoop has provided hours and hours of entertainment for my little ones. They pretty much use it for everything except for its intended purpose! It’s a great tool for rounding up babies or trucks, a perfect target for throwing balls or pillows and a great tool for homemade obstacle courses.


4. Lacing Strings

Besides the obvious purpose of using lacing strings for lacing cards and to string beads and buttons, lacing strings are a fun way to play with colors and textures. My kids turn the strings into leashes for their animals, clothes for their dolls, worms to eat and all sorts of things!


5. Bilibo

My daughter got this fun toy for Christmas last year, and it has been a favorite toy from the start. It’s unique and slightly odd appearance are magically inviting to children, and the imaginative play options are limitless. My kids love to rock in it, hide under it, stand on it, peek through it, drag it, bang on it, fill it up and play with it in endless imaginative ways.


6. Play Silks

We have a set of very basic play silks that my children adore. After I read Simplicity Parenting and started researching open ended toys, I kept coming across play silks, but had no idea what they were. They are basically colored pieces of fabric or scarves for kids to dance with, dress up with, sit on, tie together, wrap their babies with and much more. My kids are giddy when I bring out the play silks!


7. Rhythm Sticks & Shakers

We have a great set of percussion instruments from IKEA that includes rhythm sticks and a shaker. We like to dance to songs that use rhythm sticks including our most requested favorite, “Tap Your Sticks” by Hap Palmer. The different textures of the sticks allows children to explore a range of sounds and use music and sounds to express themselves. At least in my house, rhythm sticks provide a great opportunity to practice boundaries and following directions so that nobody gets whacked in the head with a stick.


8. Cape & Mask

Dress up clothes are iconic to childhood. With so many options out there, it can be a challenge to find a balance between provided dress up items for imaginative play, but not providing too much direction so that the imagination is stifled. We have a construction worker dress up outfit that my son loves, but when he wears it, he is always the same thing- a construction worker. A simple cape and mask (without a character or logo) can provide just enough suggestion to get the fun started, but is open ended enough to allow for whatever possibilities the child can dream of.


Did I miss one of your favorite open ended toys? Share your favorite with me in a comment or on our Facebook page!