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6 Simple Toys that Foster Creative Play

There is no doubt in my mind that some toys are superior to others.

I’ve known this like, forever. We all know, right? Toys are not created equal.

But we’re busy and we get sidetracked. Who can blame us? We’re forever bombarded with advertisements and irresistible displays at the toy store. Sometimes, it takes awhile for these things to register.

It took my mind a few years plus three kids, but, hey, I get it! Thanks to Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne I now understand the value of simple toys. 

Here’s the guideline I currently use for our family’s toy collection:

Simple Rules that Yield BIG Results

  1. Limit toy purchases to special occasions like birthdays and holidays. You are more likely to pay better attention to the kinds of toys you buy.
  2. Quality toys tend to be pricier. Follow rule #1 and you’re more likely to be able to choose and afford better quality toys.
  3. Toys should encourage imaginary play or creativity in some way. Follow this rule and you’ll have a great tool to sift through the mountains of toys that are available on the market.
  4. Don’t buy toys that require batteries. The batteries usually produce flashing lights or loud obnoxious noises. Before long you’ll be scheming ways to run over the toy on your driveway. Besides, these toys usually don’t comply with rule #3 above. And if you’re wondering, yes, it’s okay if your child (like mine) makes use of his strong vocal cords to make loud CHOOO CHOOOOOO sounds while he play with his trains!
  5. The toys should be made from quality materials that feel good to handle; that means no cheap plastic toys.

When I first read about simple living, the first thing I did was purge our toy collection. I lucked out with the timing as it was right before we moved homes. We ended up moving three times in 2 years and I took the opportunity to clear out more and more toys with each move. When confronted with questions about missing toys, I blamed it on our multiple moves ;)

Simplifying your toy collection can seem like a daunting task and it probably will take up an entire afternoon or more. But it is SO worth it. You can read about how simplifying our toy collection changed the way my kids play here.

If you feel inspired, I will be posting a How-to guide for purging your toy collection. I hope to have it posted by the end of next week. It is after all, the perfect time of year to instigate change, and to make room for the new!

In the meantime, if you are looking to grow your toy collection with quality toys (or need some solid gift-giving ideas) here are some of the things we play with – toys that have withstood the test of time:

1. Magformers


My 4 and 7 year old have been playing with these clever magnets for over three years. They come in many different colours and sets. We initially bought a basic 30 Piece Rainbow Set, but have since added the Carnival Set and the Cruisers Car Set. My daughter loves to build tall structures with these and pretty much any 3D creation.

My 4 year old likes to make cars and trains that he can roll on the wheels that comes with the cruiser set. I love that these can easily travel with us on vacation and to grandma’s house. 

2. Thomas or any other wooden train set and tracks


I bought my son a second hand KidKraft Mountain Train Set and Table from Kijiji when he was two years old. He plays with it everyday. It comes with trains, tracks, tunnels and bridges as well as accessories like stop signs and little wooden trees. This particular set includes some tracks that make sounds as the train passes over them. However, I never replaced the batteries and my son is quite content to play without the sound effects. His three sisters pooled their money together for his birthday and bought him the Deluxe Over – The – Track Signal which he LOVES. Yes, it requires a couple of batteries and makes signal sounds (but it’s not very loud and it’s totally worth the exception to the “no batteries” rule!).

3. Rainbow Loom


Oh my Gosh! Have you experienced this latest craze? My seven year old is in love with her Rainbow Loom. It only comes with instructions for the basic bracelet but YouTube has tons of tutorials on all sorts of cool stuff (not just bracelets) so there is something for all ages and skill levels. My seven year old searched and found a tutorial for a bracelet (see below) that she was able to complete all by herself. She was SO proud of herself ;)


Now I know you’re all thinking that the Rainbow Loom is a girl toy but let me tell  – you’re wrong. I was at my mother-in-law’s a couple of weeks ago and my nephews walked in with – guess what? – yup, the rainbow loom. According to my two nephews (aged 6 and 10) even boys have embraced this latest craze. They just ignore the pink and purple elastics and use all the other colours. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

4. Hama or Perla Beads

I originally discovered these several years ago in London, England and had bought them for my older girls (now 12 and 14). They used to play with them all the time as did their friends when they came over to play. Now my seven year old spends hours working on her designs. You can find Hama beads in Canada now, but they tend to be available in smaller packages. The only place I have seen these available in bulk (a bucket full) is in Ikea. Next time you’re in there check it out! Michaels, the arts and craft store sells a book with loads of cute designs. These are reusable and well worth the price. You can also find various packages on Amazon.
Hama and Perler beads have a similar concept and are both equally good, but the two are not interchangeable since the pegs on the boards are spaced different.

5. Melissa & Doug wooden vehicles

Up until the age of three (and a bit), my son adored the Melissa and Doug brand of wooden vehicles. His two favourites were the Car Carrier and the Stacking Train.

He still plays with these occasionally, but lately he favours vehicles that look more like the real thing. He loves to drive these around on the furniture and along the window sills! Of course, he manages to produce lots of loud sound effects – no batteries required here!

6. Craft Supplies

You can never go wrong with these.

Crayons, coloured pencils, construction paper, scissors, glue, etc. My daughter loves tracing paper as it allows her to draw things she wouldn’t be able to otherwise! She also spends a lot of time in front of a big white board that she recently inherited from her big sister.

This toy collection is by no means a definitive guide but rather a sample of the kinds of toys that can withstand the test of time.

Use judgement when you purchase toys for your kids. No-one knows your children better than you. As an example, most people will tell you that dress-up clothes qualify as a classic “simple toy”. And I would have to agree. My older girls used to play dress-up all the time when they were younger. But these two? Not interested.

You know your kids. So use your judgement.

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