Thursday, November 29, 2018

Play to Learn Toy Inspiration List - 6-10 Years

***Updated November 2020***

I've always kind of considered myself a toy snob, although not at all based on cost (one of my son's favorite toys is a piece of PVC pipe).  Clutter stresses me out and I don't like waste, so I've always been kind of picky about what I buy my kids.  So many toys are played with for a week or so and then left to collect dust.  I always look for things that have high replay value and will last for years. So much learning happens through play, I want to make sure the things I buy provide ample opportunities.

Recently several people have told me that we always have great toys and have asked for help shopping for their little ones. Since I love shopping for kids and helping out other mamas, I thought I'd create and share list of toy ideas.  It ended up being GIANT to try to accommodate different genders and interests and provide lots of inspiration.  I'm sure I'll add to it as I find new things.

General Tips:

  • I usually look for something open ended.  If it can be used in flexible ways, it is likely to be used more often.
  • I try to avoid things with lots of lights and sounds.  Now there are definitely exceptions to this rule, but if a toy does all the "work," then kids will lose interest quickly. Once they have pressed every button, they have kind of exhausted the toy.  Also, my husband is an audiologist and says a lot of baby toys are loud enough to cause hearing damage.  He recommends putting tape over speakers of loud baby toys.  
  • Materials that will last through a beating are always a plus.  For babies and toddlers I try to avoid too much plastic, since it all feels the same.  Instead, I try to find a variety of textures.
  • Collectibles and stuffed animals really depend on the kid.  While some kids love them and will get a lot of use out of them, that has not been the experience in our house.  Action figures, stuffed animals and other collectibles just end up in a toy bin forgotten (Lego Minifigs being the exception).  Same goes for toys based on characters.  Some kids use them all the time, others outgrow them really quickly and then won't play with the toys because they're "too little kiddie."
  • Not a tip for buying toys, but for extending their use is that any toys with lots of parts and pieces need an easy to use container with a lid.  Toys are no fun if you have to hunt down all their pieces.  I keep all the boxes (mostly cheap plastic shoe boxes) of toys in the basement and then rotate them upstairs.  I don't even mind if multiple boxes of toys being used at the same time, as long as everything finds its way home when it is done.
  • When giving a gift, a book that goes with the theme of the toy is a great addition!  I didn't include books on this list because it is already long enough!


  • Candy Construction- Like Tinker Toys only way cuter!
  • Zoobs* - I like that the STEM set has challenges for kids to accomplish, in addition to the free building.  There are also sets with motors or glow in the dark pieces.  
  • Magnet Building Sticks - Just little rods and spheres, but we've had these out a lot over the years.
  • Pyramid Building Blocks - (Knock off Wedgits)
  • Marble Run - Younger kids love watching the balls go through, but might need help constructing.  Some, like this Hape Marble Run, are wooden and involve more stacking.  Others, like this Meland one are plastic tubes that connect together, which is the kind I got since Xander was pretty young when I purchased it. The Techno Gears version combines gears and marble runs. These combine a puzzle with the marble run. I have also heard great things about Gravitrax
  • Legos - Once again, this is one of the few toys I don't mind having character sets for, since they still get used. There are sets for every age and interest level.  We actually started collecting some of the Christmas Legos to use instead of a traditional Christmas Village.  I figure it provides a good activity for us to do together every year.
  • Mario Lego - a newer line of interactive Legos where the Mario character responds to what he does.


Magnetic Tiles
These end up getting their own category because they have been used pretty much constantly since Xander was 2.  We've slowly added move sets over the years.  Friends always enjoy using them also (as do adults). We've built on the ground, fridge and light table.  There have been geometric designs, skyscrapers, ramps for toy cars, zoos with Toob animals and much more.
  • MagnaTiles - Now these are a bit of an investment, but they're great quality and have good magnets (which allows for better building).  Two years in a row his only real birthday present was a big set of these.  We also have the Glow in the Dark version. 
  • Stardust - these have glitter and mirrors.
  • Big Base Plates - provide a wide base on which to build.
  • Fences and Doors - Allow for different kinds of buildings and pens for animals.
  • Tunnels and Domes - more fun shapes to extend the play
  • Dome
  • Geometry Shapes - has pentagons and hexagons
  • Polygons - more shapes from the MagnaTile brand.
  • Magnet Men - These were used to fill our Easter Eggs one year.  They are so much fun and can hook together in lots of ways.
  • Magna-Qubix - These are not tiles, but three dimensional shapes. They are much smaller than the tiles and don't really work with them, so I hesitated to put them here, but Archer LOVES them. He particularly likes the cubes, which actually makes the cheapest set the most cost effective, per piece.

Active Play
  • Ultra Dash - This is a fun relay type toy that we often combine with Hilltops, rings and domes to create big obstacle courses. 
  • Hilltops
  • Stepping Domes
  • Activity Rings*  - These can be used for obstacle courses, relays and ring toss.  In our house, the baby loves to chew on them!
  • Colored Cones
  • Balance Pods
  • Balance Board - The Spooner Board is cheaper and more curved for spinning and doing "tricks." This Kinderfeets Wobble Board is wooden and has a high weight limit, so can be used for "slides" bridges and ramps. We have both now, but would probably stick with the Kinderfeets if we had to choose.
  • AirFort - a tent that "inflates" with a box fan.
  • Catapult Wars - Create your own catapults and then play with them.
    • Nerf Guns* - I never thought I'd be one to have toy weapons in my house, but Nerf Guns and other foam/inflatable weapons get used SO much! I love watching at gatherings when all the male family members have an epic battle.  Also, to make it interesting, I used to write things on a dry erase board and then have him shoot certain words/answers with the suction cup darts.
    • Nerf Target
    • Laser Tag Guns - These guns let you use different types of ammo and be on up to four teams.  We have a set and two other cousins do too.  Even though they're all different brands, they all work together so there was a massive laser gun fight at Thanksgiving with toddlers to adults running around playing.  
    • Indoor Snowballs*
    • Magnetic Modular Houses, Dolls and Vehicles - This line has several sets with let kids change up the configuration of their buildings. I am so happy they included ones aimed at boys also! There's a houseschoolfarmpet rescuefire station and more. There are also a couple that are dry erase, letting little ones color them however they'd like! I'm toying with the idea of getting Archer some, but not giving him all of the little accessories until he is older.

    Technology and Coding

    Logic Games
    Solo puzzle games.  These have been a big hit in our house.  I actually started keeping a container out on the counter so I can rotate which puzzle we have out.  Xander, my husband and my dad all tend to get them out while I'm working in the kitchen.

    Board Games
    We have always been more likely to get a new family game than go to movie theater, so we have a lot of games we enjoy. I've tried to pick games that play differently from each other and are relatively easy for non-gaming families to learn.

    Pretend Play


    Creative and Experimental
    • UV Pens - Write secret messages that can only be seen with the UV flashlight
    • Coloring Plates - Meliss and Doug make both a "girl" and a "boy" version that have their own carry case.  Kahootz makes Action Plates and Fashion Plates, which seem to have more pieces.  I got Xander the Action Plates on a whim and he ended up really enjoying them.   
    • Rainbow Scratch Paper
    • Stamp Sets - Stamps that can then be filled in with colored pencil.  There are all kinds of sets from animals to  Disney Princessdinosaurs and vehicles.

    Light Table and Tools
    There are lots of light table options.  We built our own using wood, plexiglass and LED strips, but you can also buy them.  There are big table versions that are definitely more of an investment and thinner panel versions like this one and this one.

    Check Out My Other Lists

    * - Items with an asterisk appear on multiple lists due to being able to fit a wider range of kids, depending on ability and interest.  I also see this as a good thing, because ideally, toys will last for years.

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