All kids want toys, but many of the toys on the market these days are quite expensive.  In addition, cost does not necessarily mean that the toy is well made or that it will keep your children’s attention after the newness wears off.  The toys that my kids never really outgrow are also some of the most simple and least expensive toys to buy.  I think that part of the reason my kids like them so much is because they use them in so many different ways.  These toys foster creativity and imagination and appeal to both my 6-year-old daughter and my 8-year-old son equally which make them my favorite toys as well.

Wooden Building Blocks

Wooden blocks for kidsWooden building blocks are probably the most durable toy for a range of ages.  They are hard to swallow, impossible to break, and need very little coordination.  As my kids get older, the buildings they create get more complex.  Instead of just a fence around some play animals, they now build castles, mazes, and roads.  Their imagination is the only limitation to what they do with them.  Plus, unlike Barbie's or soldiers, wooden blocks appeal to both boys and girls.  You can find 75 to 100 piece wooden block sets by manufacturers such as Melissa and Doug and Imaginarium for around $20.  That’s a small price for years of use.

Pots, Pans, and Play Food

My kids never seem to tire of playing with fake plastic food and pots and pans.  Both my son and daughter love to pretend that they are running a restaurant.  They will take my order, “cook” the plastic food in the pots and pans, and then serve me meal after meal.  You can also buy toy plates and utensils or use paper plates, and your own utensils for kids who are old enough not to hurt themselves.  Either way, they have everything they need to stay busy for hours.  Step2 makes a play food set of 101 pieces for around $25, and Alex Toys makes a pot and pan set for about $20 that won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award and Parents Magazine Best Toys of the Year Award. 


Crayons are wonderful.  They come in different sizes, bigger crayons for toddlers and smaller Crayonsones for older kids who have developed a stronger grip.  They come in every color imaginable and you can buy a pack of 16 or 64 or more.  Crayons aren’t as messy as paint which requires more parent supervision and cleanup since most of the paint ends up on my kids.  Markers dry out and need replacing more often while crayons last a long time and don’t require putting on a cap correctly.  Lastly, crayons are very cheap.  For a couple of dollars, you can unlock the artistic abilities in your kids, and you’ll be amazed at what they create.


Tents are just plain fun and easy to make.  A simple and fast tent that almost everyone can make uses a couple of chairs and a big sheet to drape over them.  You can also buy one of the many tents made especially for kids that pop open.  Who doesn’t love a secret hideout, and a tent is perfect for playing spy, hiding toys, and using a flashlight.  Kids ultimately want a space that they can make their own.  Plus, a tent is great for just one child or groups of kids as long as they all fit.  Many of the play tents sold for kids range from $20 to $30 and are easily collapsible or fold up so that when they aren’t in use they don’t take up very much space.

Costume jewelry and Old Clothes

This was a personal favorite of mine when I was a child.  My mom had a bunch of old costume jewelry that she really didn't wear anymore.  She also had a closet full of skirts and belts from the seventies that I would use to play dress up.  I would put on as many rings, pins, necklaces, and bracelets as I could manage and then pretend that I was a really important adult.  Old shoes are fun too.  I would try on my mom’s high heels and that really made the outfit.  What's even better is that there's no cost involved since these are items you already own. 

So the next time you go to the toy store, remember that simple toys often are the most fun because they engage your child’s creativity and imagination.