What makes a toy a really good toy? You know what I mean.
Do you pick up your child a gift that you think will be awesome and then two days later you find it stuck behind the couch long forgotten already?
What if I tell you I’ve figured it out…and what if I tell you that these really good toys are the ones your child will play with over and over, are worth every dollar spent – and they will even help your child learn new skills and even become more creative?
If I’ve sold you…then you’re going to love my list of gifts for creative kids!
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So what is the secret to toy longevity and happy gift-receivers? Here it is:
ONLY BUY OPEN-ENDED TOYS!
So what do I mean by open-ended?
I mean that although there will be some exceptions to this rule, kids will engage more and for longer – as well as more creatively – with toys that have no set way of playing with them.
Well that sounds kind of vague, doesn’t it? Lol!
Think of it this way, when we give kids toys that have a prescribed or inflexible way of playing with them (ie. a craft to assemble following set instructions or rules, colouring books, or many boardgames), the child doesn’t need to use their creativity or their imagination, and they have fewer chances to flex those developing problem-solving skills.
Instead, when a toy is really high quality – it allows countless alternate ways to play with it.
Kids that are engaging their creative sides, their imaginations, and their problem-solving skills are learning and engaged! I’ve seen this time and time again in my library program at school when we have maker time and activity centers stocked with open-ended materials.
Once you know this “rule” – you’ll never buy a bum present for a child again!
Here is my list of favourites – all tested by my son, my students, my friends’ kids, or by my wonderful nieces and nephews over the last 20 years!
To help you find something in your price range, I’ve sorted the gift ideas by those that are under $50, those between $50 and $100, and those over $100. Hopefully, you’ll find something here that you’ll love!
Top Gifts for Creative Kids
Creative Gifts at Great Prices (Under $50)
Spirograph Deluxe Design Set: I bought this kit recently for my 7 year old niece as a birthday present after fondly remembering many hours playing with it myself as a child.
After seeing her countless creations over a 3 day family vacation – I was convinced it’s a wonderfully creative toy which also works fine-motor and design skills.
I enjoyed giving it a try too. Perfect for 6 years and up.
Hape Chain Reaction Dominoes Toy: Ever since we made a homemade version of a Rube Goldberg machine last year, my son has wanted to keep making them! This is a perfect gift for kids interested in investigating cause and effect, forces, and energy transformations.
I’ve already bought this for my son – but frankly, I can’t wait to get setting up those dominoes to ring the bell! See – fun for the whole family!
Recommended for ages 3+.
Straws and Connectors: Straws and Connectors is another one of the favourite building toys in my home and library. They are super easy to use and kids of all ages enjoy making structures with these. I’ve seen two-storey towers appear in my library and a living room sized car in my home!
Recommended for ages 4+.
Boogie Board Play & Trace LCD eWriter: A smaller, portable and modern version of a drawing pad. The Boogie Board is an LCD eWriter which means kids can draw on it with the attached plastic stylus or even their fingernail.
The cool part? With the press of a button – the screen/pad is cleared instantly! Also – this particular version (and there are many colours and a few styles available) is see-through which allows kids to trace anything that they place the board over – letters/words/pictures etc.!
Recommended for ages 3+.
Generous Creative Gifts ($50 – $100)
Gears! Gears! Gears! Super Set: The Gears, Gears, Gears sets help kids learn about gears and forces, while letting them build their own creations both on the horizontal plane as well as vertically.
Many years ago I had a science demonstration in my grade 4 class and the speaker brought this set for the students to investigate. It was a HUGE hit and I thought it was a fantastic toy too.
There are many different sets of this product – targeted at different interests, ages, and budgets. They’re all geared (hee hee) towards open-ended and educational fun!
Tinkertoy Super Building Set: Kids as young as 3 can create moving machines and an endless variety of structures easily with these simple connecting parts.
A huge favourite of mine as a child, I recently dug out and dusted off my set for my son to try out and they’ve become a favourite of his as well now. The newer Tinkertoys are plastic and come with many more connector options than in the past (unless you want the Original Set for close to $200!).
Recommended for ages 3+.
Magneatos Better Builders Set: These magnetic builders were a favourite free-time activity in my grade 3, 4, 5 classroom for years – and I was often impressed with the innovative ways the kids used them.
I’ve got a basic set with only straight pieces – but this kit has bendable pieces which would allow even more flexibility with this toy! (literally and figuratively!)
Recommended for ages 2 – 8.
LEGO Classic Large Creative Brick Box: They’ve been around for a long-time and probably don’t need any recommendation from me.
My favourite set is this Classics kit though because often the smaller kits that are sold today do not include enough of the basic building blocks for kids to really create and build in an open-ended way.
Recommended for ages 4+.
Young Artist Easel, Wooden Whiteboard, Chalkboard & Drawing Paper Combo: Another classic toy for kids who like to draw and its simplicity is not to be under-appreciated! My son’s white-board/blackboard stands in our kitchen and is in constant use – either for drawing, or designing. This is as open-ended as it gets!
Be sure to read my post on How to Talk to Kids When They’re Creating Art to find out tips for encouraging future artists and designers.
Snap Circuits Motion Electronics Discovery Kit: Although the Snap Circuits sets include manuals with directions for projects, once your child starts to understand the basic rules of circuits and how to use them safely, they can begin to experiment creatively to see what they can make happen.
We have a few of the Snap Circuits sets at home – and although my son is only 4, we use them regularly together. The pieces are very easy to put together and we’ve enjoyed creating flying helicopters, motion detectors, doorbells and buzzers and all kinds of crazy light shows!
Highly recommended for kids interested in machines and electrical gadgets, ages 3+ (with supervision)/age 8+ independently.
Big Spender Creative Gifts (Over $100)
KEVA Blocks Toy: The classic toy that you can find in practically every Kindergarten classroom in the country – wooden blocks are the ultimate in open-ended, creative play.
I especially like the KEVA blocks product because they are smooth, easy to grasp and balance – and have a booklet full of fun, inspirational ideas to try.
Magna-Tiles® Clear Colors 100 Piece Set: Last year, I asked my readers on FB to recommend a gift for my son who was turning 3. Magnatiles were by far the most recommended and we sucked it up with the big price tag and bought him the 100 piece set (I wouldn’t advise buying any less than that if you want the child to have enough pieces to really create).
It was more than worth it and I have not regretted the price once. My son uses his Magnatiles almost daily to create colourful 2D and 3D buildings, machines, and artworks. Even I enjoy using them!
Highly recommended for kids aged 3+.
Fort Magic Fort Building and Construction Toy Kit: If you’re tiring of your kids dismantling your couches and stealing the laundry drying rack to create forts (like I am!) – check out this amazing fort-building toy.
It has fantastic reviews on Amazon, has won oodles of toy awards, and although its price tag is a bit steep (over $100), it has enough pieces for kids to create many different structures – something that many other sets I’ve seen on the market do not have unless you buy multiple sets. The ultimate in large-scale building toys.
Recommended for ages 6+.
Almost every Christmas I try to include a book as part of presents to my son and my nieces and nephews. With this post’s focus on open-ended toys – I decided to do a roundup of books geared towards future architects and engineers.
Books can be a great addition to a building toy gift – or a relatively inexpensive standalone gift to inspire a child. Just remember to inscribe a special message inside!
That’s it for my favourite open-ended gifts for creative kids. I hope you found something in your price range for that lucky kiddo of yours!
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And if you’re looking for other Christmas gift ideas, be sure to check out these other amazing gift guides created by fellow kid bloggers. Click on the picture below to find links to 75+other guides.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas surrounded with happy and engaged children!