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The Best Open-Ended Toys for Gift Giving

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One thing about having young children: you always need a gift. And when you bring an open-ended toy, you’re bound to be the best gift-giver at the party!

In this season of life filled with baby showers, birthdays, brit milahs, doljanchis, and more—having a go-to list of top-tier gifting options is a must. Even better: an amazingly curated, expertly vetted list of open-ended toys for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that will make gifting a breeze!

This gift guide is focused on open-ended toys; toys that encourage a child’s independence, creativity, and STEAM skills.

What is an Open-Ended Toy?

Open-ended toys are toys that have more than one purpose. A babydoll is usually just a babydoll, but a set of blocks can be anything: a castle, a pin for tiny animals, a parking garage for matchbox cars. 

“As early childhood educators, we know that the best gifts for children are open-ended play tools that inspire imagination, independence, and creativity,” Ajia Hunter Mueller, Vivvi’s Learning and Curriculum Manager, explained. “Even a muffin tin can be a wonderful gift for a toddler or preschooler who will spend endless hours sorting, collecting, banging, crafting, painting, and more.”

Benefits of Open-Ended Toys

When you gift an open-ended toy, you’re showing your host that you care about their child’s learning and development! Open-ended toys are a favorite of early childhood educators and savvy caregivers alike because they know the many developmental benefits a child can hone in on during this playtime.

When a toy is open-ended, your child learns to make decisions for themself, starting with what their pretend play will be. Blocks to knock together, blocks to build a castle, blocks to make a long line across the floor.

Decision-making like this in very young children helps instill a sense of independence—”I can make up a game by myself!”— and so much more.

Open-ended toys help your child develop:

  • Problem-solving
  • Motor skills
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Social and language skills
  • Independence
  • Concentration

Vivvi’s Favorite Open-Ended Toys

  1. Silk Scarves

    Colorful scarves transform into capes, veils, or magical wings in the hands of imaginative youngsters. Scarves are versatile props for storytelling and creative expression that really encourage pretend play.

    Sarah’s Silks, $22
  2. Mandala Toys

    With mandala toys, little ones embark on a journey of self-discovery, creating intricate designs and exploring the world of colors and shapes. Half the fun of the mandala set is sorting, so don’t be afraid of mixing everything up because sometimes clean up can be the main show!

    PlanToys Mandala, $50
  3. Wooden Blocks

    From infancy through preschool and beyond—there is no more versatile learning tool than a set of blocks. This childhood staple of a toy helps your little one build fine motor skills, numeracy, creativity, independence, language, and more.

    bella luna Toys Rainbow Wooden Blocks, $54
  4. Flashlights

    Flashlights illuminate learning adventures as children explore the science behind light and shadow. A flashlight can be used at a distance for shadow play, to explore the dark in a closet or under the bed, or as an experiment to see which fabrics the light will shine through. Flashlight games help with vocabulary and language skills, too, meaning there’s more than just fun going on!

    Child Size Toy Bug Flashlight, $22
  5. Stepping Stones

    Engage gross motor skill development and creativity with stepping stones, which can be used for crawling on as a baby and playing The Floor is Lava well into their 40s. Stepping stones encourage your child to move their bodies as they build courses and move from stone to stone.

    Gonge River Stones, $63
  6. Balance Board

    A wooden balance board is a gift that will outlast them all. Have you seen ads for indoor surfboard balancing on Instagram? This is the kid version, but so, so much more. A balance board can be a bridge, a cave, or a teeter-totter. They can use it right side-up or upside-down. In our independent study, this toy works for babies who can crawl, all the way to grown-ups.

    Piccalio Surfer Balance Board, $105
  7. Kinetic Sand

    Creative textures like kinetic sand and playdough engage children’s hands in the activity, which helps strengthen their concentration which you’ll see in the amount of time they’re able to sit and squish. These tactile canvases are perfect for sculpting and molding young imaginations.

    11lb. Bag of Kinetic Sand, $32
  8. Magnetic Tiles

    Building, sorting, shining light through—there are so many things a child (and a parent) can do with magnetic tiles. Once gifted, you know these tiles will be in the play rotation for at least 10 years. Magnetic tiles encourage spatial awareness, balance, creativity, and independence, meaning your child can work on these skills on their own.

    100 Piece Maganatile Set, $119 

Consider This:

If you’re looking for a toy you didn’t find in our gift guide or just want to explore your favorite shop from an “open-ended toy” point of view, Ajia suggests considering these three things:

  1. Imagine a few different ways a child could play with this toy. If you can’t think of at least three different activities with the toy in question, move on.
  2. Consider a toy’s longevity. Think about what a child will do with it now, in 6 months, or in a year. Can this toy grow with a child?
  3. Will this toy help the child forge independence? If your toy requires an adult each time, it doesn’t work for this type of open-ended play.

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