The 30+ Most Fun Toys (That My Kids Actually Play With)
Are you looking for great gift ideas for toys kids actually play with? I’ve got you covered in this gift guide that offers the best toy suggestions for ages 3-9!
Raise your hand if you’re sick of buying birthday or Christmas gifts that are a huge hit for about 2 days and then get relegated to a corner under the stairs, never to be looked at again.
It has frustrated me to no end in the past when we’ve carefully chosen (read: spent money on) the “perfect gift” for our kiddos only to have them opt to play with cardboard boxes and plastic bowls before boxing day comes to and end.
(And this doesn’t seem to get better as they get older – my 6 year old is just as likely to play with garbage as any toddler LOL.)
This year I really dedicated some brain space to coming up with toys my kids will actually play with – for the long term – because I am NOT making the same mistakes I’ve made in the past.
For example, the huge Tomas the Train track we bought last year, which my son can’t set up by himself – and therefore requires 1.5 hours of my involvement to put it together – and he loses interest in it after about an hour post set-up.
This is exactly what I want to avoid this year, because I know there are a lot of toys out there that my kids will ACTUALLY play with!
The problem with train track was absolutely beyond me – but I brought it up with a friend the other day and she explained it so clearly in just a matter of minutes:
The can’t DO anything with the train track. He CAN NOT “play” with it – by the very definition of “play” – which is “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”.
ENGAGE being the key word.
All he can do is hold a button and watch the train go around and around.
How long does that stay fun for?
Once you’ve done it, you’ve done it.
She shared that her boys have the same struggle with hot wheels tracks – they think they’re awesome, they’ll play with them when friends who don’t have hot wheels are over, but on their own at home… the tracks don’t hold their interest, and imaginative play wins out most of the time.
On the flip side, open-ended toys that allow a child’s imagination to run wild will become their favorite toys for years. Likewise, toys that ENGAGE a child, like games, kinetic sand, or building toys also tend to get a lot of use.
I started paying attention to the few things my kids have that they go back to again and again, and I’ve been able to come up with great gift ideas for my kids this year!
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
Board Games / Card Games
My kids LOVE board games.
We’ve been playing games together since our littlest was old enough to take part without much help (for about 2 years) and we’ve tested SO many!
I would caution that board games aren’t possibly THE BEST gift for an only child, unless you plan to play a lot of games, because they do require at least two people to play. (But then you’re also giving them the gift of time with you, which is truly awesome!)
Board games for littles / kids who can’t read:
These are the games we love and play ourselves all the time –
- Sleeping Queens (this one is a BIG HIT with the whole family!)
- Sequence for Kids
I have a list of all the best board games for kids 3-5 here.
Board games for kids 6-10
I am super excited because our oldest little is finally in this age group and board games are one of the things we’ve chosen for him as a gift this year.
- Trash Pandas (he’s getting this one)
- Clue Jr (and he’s getting this one too)
- Slamwich (my niece is getting this one)
- Catan Jr
- Ticket to Ride Jr
- Checkers / Chess (my 6 year old is playing chess now and loving it!)
I’ve only purchased a few games for my kids that were total flops, but if I’m honest, most of the flops flopped because I personally hated playing them and didn’t want to take part ever. A couple flops that come to mind are the classic game Snakes and Ladders (kids loved it, I hated it LOL), Kerplunk (the kids can’t set it up themselves and the game lasts all of 3.2 minutes), and Sharky-Shark (just… chaos).
Pretend Play Toys
Being able to engage in imaginative play is a direct contrast to the Thomas the Train example – where there is nothing to DO. My kids have a number of pretend play toys that they use all the time.
The biggest hits for them are:
A Play Kitchen + Pots / Pans / Food
I got a second-hand play kitchen a few years ago on marketplace, and grabbed a set of tiny pots and pans and play food for it (just like this), and that thing has been a hit.
They’re constantly making some kind of soup and serving tea. lol.
Dolls + Doll Accessories
My kids pretend play “babies” ALL THE TIME. (Generally at my daughter’s insistence, but once my son is into it, he enjoys it too.)
Depending on the child, they might replace a baby doll with a stuffy (both my kids do this), but the doll accessories work for the stuffies just as well as they work for the dolls.
My daughter will spend hours pushing her stuffed penguin around in her doll stroller, putting him to bed in a doll crib, and feeding him a bottle. This year her specific heart’s desire is for a baby bathtub.
(Since I’ve seen the success of the doll stroller, a baby bathtub is exactly what she’s getting.)
Dump Trucks / Tractors / Tow- Trucks
Dump trucks can be fun because unlike cars that don’t have a function, you can transport and drop off whatever needs to be transported and dropped.
Bigger trucks, rather than small ones that can’t actually carry anything, are the way to go when it comes to finding a truck that will be PLAYED WITH. We have a winch truck / tow truck that I got at a garage sale years ago, and it remains a favorite as it can physically hooked to other things, and tow them around.
Calico Critters (or like) / Doll Houses
Doll houses are a classic pretend play toy for little girls, but in recent years these types of toys have really become “unisex” in a fun new way – by incorporating little animals instead of dolls.
Our kids have tons of Calico Critters (by tons I mean… easily $2500 worth. I sourced them all second hand through ebay or marketplace, and I paid $300 for the lot, including 3 houses).
My son plays with them along with my daughter – he is especially taken with the car and this camper van set, and he drives it around the kitchen, stopping and setting up camp with their picnic lunch here and there.
Open-ended building toys are great for both boys and girls, but be careful to select toys that are not TOO complicated for younger children, as these lose a child’s attention and they feel frustrated. Building toys are great for fine and gross motor skills and problem-solving skills, so they make awesome learning activities as well as fun toys.
Building toys for kids 3-5:
Building toys for kids 5-9:
- Marble runs
- Lego sets
- Fort building kit
IF you’re just starting out with introducing something like Lego to your kiddo, go with a smaller, specific set like a Lego Creators Dinosaur (as opposed to a 100 piece set that will be wildly overwhelming.)
My son got one of these for his birthday, LOVED IT, was VERY able to follow the directions for putting it together with minimal help, and that let us know he was ready for larger sets.
Scooters or Bikes
Toys that let our kids be active are a great choice. Both my kids got a scooter for their 3rd birthdays, and a bike for their 5th.
- Scooter (great for ages 3-5)
- Strider Bike (pre-“real” bike)
- Bike (ages 6+)
Other fun toys my kids actually play with
These few gifts that my kids have used and used and used didn’t fit into any of the categories I listed above, but I’d be remiss not to mention them as they are fast favorites:
- Kinetic Sand
- Scribble Scrubbies
- Backpacks (seriously – so much use)
- Nerf guns + Target
- Children’s play camera
- Crazy Aaron’s Thinking putty (makes great stocking stuffers)
- Goo Jit Zu action figures
- Boogie drawing board
I feel like I should also add Leadpad to the list of toys my kids get a lot of use out of. (I was hesitant about this, but it’s so much better than video games and fills their desire for their own smart device.) If you travel a lot, a leappad is just SO FANTASTIC as a kid’s travel activity and honestly, my kids learn a lot from it!
This year I feel confident that we’ve been able to select a few good toys our kids will really get use out of.
Originally this year, I had been so frustrated with the piles of toys on the living room that don’t get played with that I considered NOT buying ANY toys, and just doing entirely non-toy gifts, (things like art supplies and attraction tickets) but I remember how much fun it was to open a new toy on Christmas and honestly it made me a little sad to think about not giving the kids ANY toys, since we are blessed to be able to do so.
I thought about how SO SOON my little kids will be big kids, and I won’t be ABLE to give them these kinds of gifts… and that made me a little sadder. lol.
So I decided to go ahead and choose the best toys I could, ones that won’t spend so much time in their box, ones that will inspire creative play and get younger siblings involved with older siblings. I hope this list helps you do that too!
(I still do think it’s a good idea to bring fewer toys into the house in general, and we will start a toy rotation to keep the toys they do have fresh and engaging, but having a few toys that they’ll actually play with vs a pile of plastic junk is really exciting to me.)
Before you purchase a toy this year, ask yourself these questions:
- What can my child DO with this? (How many ways can it be used? If the answer is 1 way… leave it on the shelf!)
- How involved do I have to be in this? (It’s wonderful to buy them things that you will help them with… but it’s not realistic to think that you will play with them 100% of the time, so If the answer is 100%, LEAVE IT ON THE SHELF)
- Has my child ever shown an interest in the imaginative games that this could be a part of? (For example, are you buying dump trucks for your boy, just because he’s a boy? They might a great pretend play toy, but if he’s more into fort building kids, the dump truck will remain unused.)
- Has my child had personal experience with the game that could be played with this? (For example, my son loves the Calico Critters camper, but he has been camping in a camper. If he hadn’t, and wasn’t able to relate his own experience to the game, I’m not sure he would love it as much.)
Regardless of if you’re shopping for toys for your own kids this holiday season or for their friend’s birthday parties during the year, the options on this list make good choices that’ll have kids choosing play over screen time!