Maybe you’ve taken the time to read my previous post about why your kids won’t play with their toys, and now you’ve got a better grasp of what makes a great toy. Hopefully you’re working on minimizing and organizing your kids’ current stash. If your toy collection could use some improvement, here are some ideas of toys that make kids smarter and healthier. These favorites get played with at least weekly in our household. 

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Our five year old daughter is absolutely obsessed with these Brainflakes. Our 2.5 year old doesn’t quite have the fine motor skills for them yet. This toy that has probably been played with for 30 hours at this point.

Brainflakes meet my two criteria of a great toy: they provide no feedback and endless options to create and re-create. Our only hassle with them is getting her to agree to disassemble her creations. She will make a tree, and then a castle, and then a blob of nonsense she might call a fish tank.

Sometimes I’m a bit tempted to be like, “On what planet could that possibly resemble a fish tank?” But then I stop myself from raining on this girl’s parade. I’m just grateful her little brain is working so hard.

Even after playing with them for almost two years, she still hasn’t thought to sort them first by color before building. I’m waiting on a second wave of Brainflakes obsession once that thought occurs to her.

Office supplies and a paper organizer make kids more imaginative.

My child has spent a mind-blowing amount of time crafting this summer with only construction paper and office supplies. She found me crying in the kitchen one day after our sweet dog passed away at an old age from cancer. She zipped off to her room, shut the door for fifteen minutes, and emerged with a “Paper Grover” to make me smile. She has also made paper eye masks for her dolls to sleep. I’m amazed by what she thinks up with such minimal supplies!

This happened by accident. I was cleaning out my classroom after deciding to sit the 2020-2021 school year out as a stay-at-home mom. I gifted her my set of the following: a rainbow cart organizer, construction paper pre-sorted into the cart, a tape dispenser, stapler, 3 hole punch, handheld single hole punch, a roll of string, and markers.

Her creations have been so all-consuming that we purchased a desk for her 6th birthday. I put a trash can next to her desk and just made a rule that all paper scraps must be cleaned up every day by the end of Read and Rest. Her obsession with independent crafting has SAVED my maternity leave. 

Picasso Tiles make kids smarter (and you less broke).

Have you already dumped a crap ton of money on Magnatiles? Well, the good news is that your kid probably plays with them non-stop. The bad news is that these Picasso Tiles are literally the exact same thing for half the price.

We have the set linked here, which comes with 100 pieces. We are likely getting a second set for Christmas. That’s how much we love this toy! Our daughter is the one who absolutely loves these tiles, while our son cannot resist the temptation to knock down her creations. He loves to hear the glorious noise of them all crashing to the ground.

I can imagine this being a fantastic toy for anyone over the age of 3, or perhaps a really calm, mature 2 year old. We don’t currently have one of those. 

Dress up clothes are the shizz because they ignite a child’s imagination. I remember being so disappointed when my daughter basically ignored a wonderful starter collection of dress up clothes she got from my parents at her second birthday party. Periodically, I would try to get her interested, but nothing would become of it.

Then, a few months before she turned 3, something happened inside her little brain. Suddenly, she couldn’t get enough of that dress-up stash. Before we knew it, she was wearing out every costume, and literally spending her entire evening assembling bizarre outfits..

In the years since, we’ve been introduced by their other grandma to the Little Dress Up Shop. Holy cow are these clothes amazing! You know when you buy one of those dress-up princess outfits at Target because your kid really wants it? But you put it between your hands and it’s scratchy as all get-out? Then you notice the trunk of your car is literally covered in cheap glitter. Ugh. We have several of them, and they get worn regularly. But the Little Dress Up Shop is next level. These clothes are not like that. They are soft, well made, and last forever. The accessories are fabulous.

The best part is that my son is now getting excited about dress up, too. Lately, the two of them have been even putting on plays in the living room for us at night, and it’s hysterically funny. Also, it gets boring pretty fast. But there are some adorable moments! Chicken Patty currently has his very own knight, dragon, and firefighter costumes, whereas Turkey Burger is still mostly committed to princess attire.

dress up makes kids more imaginative

Science says music is fabulous for a kid’s brain. At first, Turkey Burger played with this ukulele constantly. The downside was having to sit through her nightly serenades, but it was worth it to see her enjoy it so much.

The ukulele hasn’t seen as much action lately. However, this is a toy that grows with a kid, meaning they can interact with it as a preschooler before actually being capable of creating a melody. Then, when they’re older, they can really discover the beauty of playing an instrument. Toys that work on multiple developmental levels are the BEST, especially for families with two or more littles.

The problem with most instruments is the price. A ukulele is a great choice because it’s affordable, small, gives kids exposure to real instruments.

If I only had $70 to spend on a birthday or Christmas for my kids, I would buy this toy. Our kids cannot put them down. Both the super physical 2 year old and highly stationary, focused 5 year old love them.

I thought about trying to find a classy way to store them out of sight, since scooters aren’t exactly cute as home decor. It just never seemed worth it! The kids would just be constantly getting them out, so it doesn’t even make sense to put them in the garage. They received these scooters about a year ago, and they race each other around the house. They ride them to the park while I push the stroller, and they play in the driveway with them almost daily.

The scooters have two positions, so smaller kids with less coordination can sit. The light up wheels are a big hit, too. It’s not uncommon for my husband to hop on one and ride it to visit them in their rooms. LaScoota scooters are just crazy fun, and they help keep kids active and moving.

During the Covid19 quarantine, their dad would use chalk on the driveway to map out obstacle courses for them to scoot around, and that added a fresh layer of fun.

The Glow in the Dark Marble Run is another great STEAM toy.

Marble runs are another fabulous toy that allow for endless configurations and no feedback, except the joy of watching your marble travel from the top to the bottom. When the fun of that wears off, kids just tear it down and build something different.

Even as an adult, I think it’s pretty entertaining to join them, and we’re planning to add new pieces at the next birthday. This marble run has an extra special glow-in-the-dark feature. The kids have had fun building in the closet and then turning off the lights to watch the marbles slide down the track. Another great thing about this toy is that my 2.5 year old son can just repeatedly roll the marbles down and find joy, while my 5 year old daughter loves actually building the tracks. 

A Melissa and Doug Floor Puzzle builds self-esteem.

Disclaimer: The limitation of a puzzle is not having endless configurations. Once a child masters any puzzle, they will lose interest because it won’t be challenging enough anymore. 

However, these puzzles really are fabulous, and for pretty cheap, you give your kid a toy that allows them to problem solve and develop spatial reasoning, the latter of which is truly challenging for my five year old. Even though we’ve had these puzzles for several years, she still wants me to help her because puzzles are just hard for her. I tell her “no” and “get to work.” Haha. We have the dinosaurs, planets, ocean, and US map.

These puzzles are awesome because the 48 pieces are made of heavy duty cardboard with a nice shiny finish on them, making them wipeable if your kid gets a bunch of goldfish or popsicle debris on them. The finished product is 2’ X 3’ and in my experience,  kids feel pretty proud of themselves when they finish a great big puzzle. 

A really great puzzle is a good gift for an oldest child. Once they master it, it can be passed down to younger siblings to extend the life of the toy. 

A Kinetic Sand Play Set is a sensory experience.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why in the name of all that is holy would you include this abomination of a toy on this list?” I get it. We all hate trying to control the mess. But I say you’re probably approaching this all wrong. 

Get your kids disposable roasting pans, choose a kinetic sand kit that comes with those molds they love to use, and store all of it in a gallon or larger Ziploc bag. Make them play with it in a roasting pan, but go ahead and just expect them to make a mess. Let it go! If you will just quit micromanaging the mess, they will play with this stuff forever. And that’s what you need. While they play, you can check about 14 things off your list. 

Then, make them clean up whatever amount is reasonable to teach them some household responsibility. Sweep whatever lands on the floor into the trash instead of trying to filter out gross stuff and adding it back to the bag. Replacement 2 pound bags are only $10, so even if you’re tossing ½ a cup into the trash each time they play, you’ve still got a crazy affordable toy and hours of fun over time.

A wooden train set makes kids smarter by developing problem solving skills. 

Oh, how I love these wooden train sets. I’ll be playing with my toddler son and say something like, “Ya know what we really need? We need a piece that’s got two female ends.” Lo and behold, you can go onto Amazon and purchase exactly that piece and VOILA! A whole new realm of possibilities opens up. 

This is another toy that works great at multiple ability levels and personality types. So basically, when the three of us sit down to play, there’s me working on these elaborate (hah) train tracks, and bouncing ideas off of Turkey Burger. Chicken Patty is running the trains along the tracks and occasionally working on fine motor skills. Turkey Burger also insists on telling stories about the trains and the “village” we’ve created. Chicken Nugget, who is 5 months, is no help at all. 

The great thing about these train tracks is they are compatible with other brands. So you can put together Melissa and Doug trains and also the Brio brand of train tracks without any hiccups. 

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