Choosing Toys to Promote Creativity and Pretend Play

We *try* to be selective with the toys that we bring into our home. The key word here is try. Especially this winter because man was it rough entertaining a toddler in an apartment for the winter that never ends and mama got desperate!

Writing here helps me pause and set intentions for our family. It also holds me accountable. Everly’s second birthday is a few days away and I’ve had to revisit my own post about her first birthday to keep my party planning monster in check. It’s helpful to have my own words to refer to when I’m tempted to spend money on things that don’t add much value to the day other than a higher total cost… I’m looking at you adorable but unnecessary party favors that every parent wants to throw right in the trash.

We shared previously that we use bins to limit Everly’s toys. For the most part, we’ve stayed true to that system and it helps us stay organized and keep the toys from taking over. The bins now have picture labels to help Everly clean up. The teacher in me needs labels on all the things. I slapped these on when she was about 19 months old and I was surprised with how easily she caught on. I’m not gonna say she’s an expert at cleaning now, but shes better at putting toys away now then she was without the labels. Anything is better than nothing…

So how do we choose what toys we bring into our house? Here is what we typically say yes to:

Choosing Toys for Creative Play


1. Art: Anything having to do with art is welcome in our house. In addition to our toy bins, we have a closet filled with art supplies. Googly eyes, Pom poms, paint, glitter, stickers, crayons, markers— bring it on. Sometimes the mess gets to me but ultimately I want to encourage Everly to be creative so I suck it up.

2. Pretend play: I seek out toys that encourage pretend play. Some of my favorites that she has are her animals and barn, kitchen with food and her dolls and doctor set.

“Everly, what are you?” “I’m a costume!”

3. Problem-solving: I like activities where she has to think critically (for her age) or try different approaches to make things work. She’s really into blocks, puzzles, games, and sorting.

4. Outdoor play: Everly is her very best self outside. We try to get outside as much as possible so I don’t mind toys that encourage time in nature but really she doesn’t need much. She likes to collect rocks, move sticks from one spot to another and pick flowers. Give the girl a bucket and she’s good to go.

5. Sensory play: I bought one bin that fits under our bed and a couple toys from the dollar store that can be used in any sensory bin: measuring cups, funnel, sifter, ice cream scoop, tongs. I put a plastic tablecloth out and she can go to town. So far she’s played with colorful rice, corn, Pom poms, and ice. We still haven’t mastered sensory play and usually ends with a mess but at least it’s all on the tablecloth.


While shopping for toys in those categories I select a variety of colors (just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean we can only buy pink), disregard if a toy is marketed to boys or girls and opt for a diverse representation of people whenever possible.

Here are the things we do our best to avoid:

  • Gadgety toys: I try not to buy toys that have one function and involve pushing a button. They’re annoying and don’t hold her attention long anyways. There are exceptions like her cash register but I think that falls into the pretend play category.
  • Branded toys: for now, we’re shying away from buying TV or movie character items. If Everly was really into Frozen, I’d try to buy her a generic princess costume that way she can pretend to be any character she wants and we don’t have to buy a new costume every time she changes her interest. I may eat my words on this in a few years, but a mom can dream.
  • Junk: Anything that is just generally crap doesn’t come into our house. It’s really easy to trick yourself into thinking that one more toy will keep your kid occupied longer but I’ve found that generally doesn’t ring true. Little trinkets don’t hold her attention; end up getting lost or played with just once. It adds to the pile of stuff that she passes over when she dumps out a bin and is one more item to clean up.

I regularly go through her toy bins and pull out toys to donate. It’s easy to do because most of her toys are hand me downs, thrifted or from consignment sales. There’s no guilt in letting toys go because I never feel tied to an item because I didn’t spend much money on them in the first place.

How do you choose toys for your family? Any tips to share? I’d love to hear them!

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