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9 open-ended toys to inspire creativity in your child this summer

Summer offers the perfect opportunity to break from a hectic schedule and enjoy the simple pleasures (and scientific benefits!) of doing nothing with your kiddos. But summer days can be long, and toddlers can be demanding, and sometimes...mama just needs a break.

Luckily, there are so many benefits of unstructured play for little ones. Open-ended toys—toys that foster imagination and can be used in a variety of different ways—are the perfect solution for keeping your kids busy this summer while also encouraging creative play. These are the toys your children will play with for hours and come back to again and again.

Here are nine toys worth stocking up on for the summer!

1. For endless creations: Handcrafted wooden blocks

One of the oldest + most basic of toys truly remain one of the best. Wooden blocks are perfect for any age and just about any type of play, from building to pretending. We love the natural simplicity of these, the all natural materials, and the handcrafted beauty.

Wooden Story Natural Blocks with Tray (54 pieces)
$50.00, The Tot

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2. For pretend play: Wooden grocery store

There's just something about a cash register that kids can't get enough of! One of the most played with toys we've ever owned, this freestanding wooden grocery store will quickly become a playroom staple. From stocking (and restocking) the shelves to pretending to be a cashier and so much more, you'll get years of fun out of this creative toy.

Melissa & Doug Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store
$189.93, Walmart

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3. For budding artists: Paint sticks

Do you want all the fun of painting without all the mess? (Um, yes please 🙋🏽) These chunky paint sticks are colorful, go on smoothly, won't smudge, and are, most importantly, really fun! Young toddlers will find them easy to grip while older kiddos will love all of the endless opportunities for artistic expression.

OOLY Chunkies Paint Sticks (set of 12)
$13.00, Nordstrom

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4. For sparking imagination: Pirate ship fort

These creative kits take the playhouse to the next level. The colorful (and durable, not to worry!) poles can be snapped together in endless combinations, or can be used with the fabric covers to make everything from tents to pirate ships. We found them perfect for indoor play (just make sure you have a large enough space) or even for outdoor use on sunny days.

Antsy Pants Large Build & Play Playhouse Kit, $79.99, Target
Antsy Pants Pirate Ship Cover, $29.99, Target

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5. For playing house: Wooden doll house

Ummm when can we move in? This gorgeous wooden dollhouse will inspire hours of pretend play and is perfect for sparking your littles' imaginations on rainy summer days. (Or any day, for that matter.) We love watching how younger kiddos play and interact with the dollhouse differently than older ones do—there's truly something for everyone here.

Rulke Wooden Doll House with Balcony
$99.99, Target

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6. For open-ended fun: Bilibo

Is it a seat? A balancing toy? A bowl? A turtle? Or is it all of those things? There are countless ways your toddler will interact with this toy, and that's why we love it. It's simple, beautiful, and full of endless possibility for imaginative play. It's also weather-proof, so you can take the fun outdoors this summer.

bilibo
$26.95, Fatbrain Toys

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7. For the kiddo on the move: Play tape

If your little one loves things that go, this is a must-have for hours of fun this summer. This tape is easy to use even for little hands, and won't leave marks behind on your walls, floors, or carpet. We loved watching our kiddos lose themselves in designing their very own world for all of their cars, trucks and trains. You may have a road running straight across your kitchen, but hey—there's really nothing we won't put up with in exchange for 30 minutes of uninterrupted play time, right? 🤣

InRoad Toys PlayTape
$7.70 and up, Amazon

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8. For sensory play: Kinetic sand

Sensory play is a fun, easy way for your little one to explore the world around her—but we won't lie, it can be messy. But not with this magical sand! Kinetic sand sticks to itself, not to you. (Genius.) We love setting it up in a big plastic tub either inside or out and watching our littles go to town.

Kinetic Sand
$11.69, Amazon

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9. For fine motor skills: Wooden puzzle + figurines

Toys with multiple uses are some of our favorites, and this wooden puzzle + play set is just right for all different kinds of play and for varying levels of development. The eco-friendly wooden animals can be stacked, fitted together as a puzzle, or used on their own as figurines for pretend play. They are also super cute, which doesn't hurt matters, either!

Petit Collage Wooden Puzzle Plus Play, Safari Jumble
$30.00, Amazon

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Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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