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Our Family’s Top 10 Favorite Open-Ended Play Toys

My kids love open-ended play! I don’t know if they were just born this way or if we did something to facilitate it. Nature vs. nurture right? Some things we really try to instill in our kids and some things just come naturally to them. 

I would like to think that “pretend play” for my kids came from a little bit of both. 

And even though it is something innate in them that loves to pretend, I do believe that there is something we do as parents to help guide them to love open-ended play. 

One of those being providing them with toys that they can use in their pretend play. 

One of my favorite things to do is hide behind the kitchen wall and watch my girls be “bella” and “ella” while they safely guide their baby tigers on the train away from the volcano. 

Or sneaking a video of them as they pretend to be “moms” who have to take their kids on a plane to disneyland. When one of their kids gets sick they have to go to the doctor. 

I’m always impressed by how quickly kids can switch rolls from being a mom, to the doctor, to the pilot, to the grocer. It’s pretty remarkable! And… so fun to watch! 

I think toys that help encourage this open-ended play can be so beneficial for kids. PLUS you can actually get something done while they are imagining in their own little world! 

Below is a list of our family’s top 10 favorite toys to use in open-ended play! I hope you find them as helpful and fun as we do at our house. 


Doctor Kit 

This is one of our all time favorite things to do! We purchased a toy doctor kit when our oldest daughter was 3. This is about the age we could tell that she was ready to start dabbling in the art of pretend play. 

At first she didn’t really grasp the concept, but as soon as she saw the pretend “shot” she knew exactly what to do! For the next few hours, she was so excited to be the doctor and go around giving everyone shots. 

Now, 3 years later, our girls will still get out the doctor kit to use when their friends come over. They will use it on each other, their baby dolls and even their stuffed animals. 


This one has so many uses! My kids will use their toy kitchen for anything. They can be a bit pricey, but we found our classy wooden one from a friend whose kids were getting too old for it. 

I feel like each of our daughters has played with it the most at around age 3-4. Making cookies, dinner, smoothies, you name it! 

One of their favorites is playing restaurant where they are the waiter and cook and I am the customer. I come in and take a seat at their kids table. They tell me what’s on the menu, I order my food, and they cook it for me. 

We all have a blast and usually end up laughing about the silly “broccoli watermelon smoothie” that they created so carefully for me. 

They also use the kitchen when they are playing family. Sometimes they “fill up” their baby doll’s bottles in the sink, then heat them in the microwave. Or if one of them is the mom, they will cook dinner for the family. 

It’s such a great universal toy that is used on a daily basis at our house! 

Baby Dolls 

This one sounds like it should just be for girls, but I think it’s good for boys too! My 8 month old son is learning from his sisters how to carefully care for a baby smaller than him by giving gentle kisses, feeding a bottle and patting the baby’s tummy. 

It’s so sweet to watch my kids take care of things that are smaller than them! It is such an innate thing that seems to come so naturally to kids. 

My girls will play baby dolls for hours on end! Dressing them, changing their diapers (we gave them a few real Newborn size diapers and their own little baggie of wipes), feeding them, taking them to the park, etc. 

They even have a toy pack n’ play and each have their own double stroller to push their multiple children in. I love encouraging “family play” to show the importance of the family in a world that is moving away from it. 

Marble Run

Back story: we bought these for a Christmas present for my husband who was sick of playing baby dolls with our two little girls. 

He wanted something a little more hands on and constructive. I was a little hesitant because I didn’t think they would play with them very much without him at home. 

But, wow! Who knew that a few small balls, tunnels, and magnet tiles could last my kids for HOURS?! After a recent “toy rotation”, I thought for sure my kiddos would be bored of the marble run. 

I was definitely wrong! 

They pull this basket out at least 3 times a day to build. Not only do they use it for the intended use of sending marbles down, but they also get creative with them. 

They will build pretend houses, train tracks, roads, and pools! It’s so neat to watch what their minds can come up with. 


I was also wrong about trains. We bought these for our oldest daughter because we had heard good things about kids building and playing with trains. 

Our kids love how they can build a different track everytime that leads to a new place each time they move a piece. 

Sometimes the track will be built in a circle, other times it leads to a forest. Then it will have railroad tracks that split and lead to each train’s house so they can “sleep at night”. 

One of their favorite things to do is pretend to BE the train. They come up with names for themselves and each of them gets to act like that train. 

They really get into character as they even add a special voice for each train! It’s quite entertaining to watch. 

Stuffed Animals 

Our “stuffies” get played with for everything! If our baby dolls aren’t one of the toys that is set out in the toy rotation, then the stuffed animals become the babies. 

They take them to the vet or pretend to go camping with them! I’ve noticed that stuffed animals have helped them to have a lot of compassion for animals. 

My girls are pretty timid around animals. However, as they have played with their stuffed animals and given them personalities and feelings, they have come to realize that real animals have feelings too. 


I thought a trampoline was just for jumping and to get some energy out. Which it totally fulfills that roll and purpose! 

My kids are exhausted after jumping outside for an hour. 

But, did you know that it also encourages open-ended play?! 

The trampoline has become a rocket ship when my girls need to get away from “big jet” who is going to steal the princess’ necklace from them. 

It is Elsa’s castle when Anna knocks on the door but Elsa is too scared about her powers to open it. 

Sometimes the trampoline is a pool that they dive into and “swim” on their tummies. 

They love to sweep leaves off of it and pretend they are cleaning their “house”. 

So many great ways to imagine and be creative with a trampoline in your backyard! 

Ice Cream Shop 

Our 3 year old daughter LOVES ice cream! In fact, we wrote her a song to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star about how much she loves it. 

For her birthday we bought her the Melissa and Doug Ice Cream Shoppe. She and our oldest daughter will each sit on one side and order and scoop ice cream for the longest time. 

They switch off rolls– being the customer and being the “ice cream lady”. It’s so fun for them to have a menu and pretend money so that they can “pay”. 

They are learning how to order food kindly and ask for things in a polite way. 

Dress Up Clothes

The pretend play with this one is never ending at our house! Somedays we have fire fighters putting out all the fires around the house. 

Other times we have Elsa and Anna putting on a “Let it Go” performance. 

And then we have ballerinas who would like to perform on the “stage” their own version of the Nutcraker. 

Superheroes with masks will come pay a visit when one of their stuffies needs to get saved. (Or when dad comes home and they have to fight off bad guys). 

Lincoln Logs 

Oma and Opa gave this gift to our kids for a Christmas present and BOY to we love it! 

We build houses, farms, zoos, and everything else in between. I love that my girls can work on placing pieces precisely where they need to go in order to be “stable”. 

The kids will get the little people to sit around the fire and then ride their horse around the field. 

It’s crazy to think that Lincoln Logs have been around for such a long time and are still providing a great way for kids to participate in open-ended play. 

We love each of these toys and have found so much joy as a family as we pretend and use our creativity. 

I love watching my kids and their ingenuity. It’s a great way for their minds to grow and develop and I hope you found some ideas here to implement in your home too! 

Happy playtime! 


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