Toys that allow children to CREATE

Time to look a little more closely at the “C” in my “CAP” acronym for best toy categories.  If you missed the first part of my “best toy” series, here is the full TOY LIST.  When thinking about creating things, let’s remember that we’re mostly talking about children under 3 years of age so their “creations” aren’t perfect, don’t follow rules, may be messy, and usually require interpretation for outside observers!

NOTE: For many items in this list, I’ve already written a full play post (links provided) which gives more detail about how to play and sounds/words to practice.  Clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon  (Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.)

The toys in this category include (but are definitely not limited to):

Crayons (or markers or paint or other things to make dots/marks with) 

Playing with art activities is meant to be playful, not necessarily artistic.  This is also a great way to put sounds with simple motions.  Say “dot dot” or go in circles and make siren sounds “oooeeeoooeee”.  Make horizontal lines and say “choo choo” as the “train” goes across the paper. Make vertical lines and “uuuuup” and “doooowwwwn”.


Paper (or coloring books or magazines) and cardboard boxes or the box the gift came in

If baby isn’t putting paper in her mouth, or if you’re watching very closely, it can be fun to wad up a piece of paper and throw the “ball” in a basket or box “tada!”.  Rip up the paper and throw the confetti in the air “hip hip hooray!”  Use a cardboard box as a blank canvas for crayons, paint or stickers.  It could be a bed for dolls/stuffed animals or a mailbox or a hat or a peek-a-boo hiding spot or a dump truck or a race car… empty cardboard boxes have endless uses!

Stacking or nesting cups (plastic or wooden, solid colors or patterns)  

Stack them up, knock them down, fill them with smaller toys, dump it all out…These can also make great echo boxes and hats!  Check out Playing with stacking/nesting cups  for more ideas.

Playdough (with or without accessories)

Make your own or buy it.  Just make sure they don’t eat it – ha!  Pair your words with the actions: “squeeze” or “poke” or “roll”.  Make a long noodle shape – now it’s a snake “ssss” or a train “choo choo”.  Make a ball and roll it “whee” or pretend it’s a bubble and “pop” it/”poke” it with your finger.  When you have lots of little pieces and need to clean up, “push” or “dot” the pieces back together.  For more playdough ideas: Playing with… PLAYDOUGH!


Puzzles or shape sorters (knobs, chunky, textured, soft, wooden, etc.)

Playing with puzzles is one of my favorite activities!  Store the pieces in clear ziploc bags or plastic containers with lids so that your toddler has an opportunity to request “open” or “help” then you get to say “bye bye” to all of the pieces when it’s time to clean up.  During play, not only can you name each piece but also practice “yes” and “no” when YOU can’t figure out where it should go.  “Does it go here? NO.  Here? NO.  Here?  YYYEEEESSSSS!”  Toddlers are often amused that adults can’t figure these things out and are more than willing to help you.


Musical instruments  

Drums, rattles, horns, tambourines, bells… Creating music (or just lots of noise) is a great way to interact and practice turn-taking/imitation.  Check out Playing with sounds for more ideas. Stickers

Even if your little one can’t get the stickers off the paper yet, YOU can!  Then just let her do the “tap, tap, tap” or “bang, bang, bang” to stick it to the paper.  Put a sticker on your “nose” to practice body parts then let your baby take it off.  Wall decals that stick for their bedroom or play area walls or window stickers are usually bigger and sometimes better for little fingers.  Let them help “peeeell” or “puuulll” after you get it started.  For bonus points get animal or vehicle stickers and make the appropriate sounds as you decorate!

Blocks (wooden, soft, Megablocks, etc.)

Stacking simply for the purpose of knocking it down is fun!  Try “up, up, up” or “more” when stacking then choose your favorite anticipatory phrase “ready, set, GO” or “1, 2, 3” or “we all fall DOWN” (from Ring Around the Rosey”) before crashing it down.  Line up some blocks and then push them like a train “all aboard!”  Grab some toy people for passengers and take a ride “choo choo!”  Oh wait, that’s pretend play and that’s the whole focus of “best toys” for PRETEND play…  Guess I’ll have to leave it at that for now.

Ball or marble tower

Building the tower will require some adult assistance which is perfect since interaction is the key to early communication development!  For a simple ball tower with no assembly required, check out Playing with…pound-a-ball.  Plenty of opportunities here to have your toddler request help, name colors, follow directions, and make choices.  Once built, there is the obvious “ready, set, GO” then watch the ball go “whee”, “round and round”, “down down”, “bonk.”  Make two towers and race!

Potato Head

This toy is obvious practice for body parts.  Use single words or short phrases for your toddler to practice “nose in” or “red nose”.  Let them put the eyes under the mouth or the hat in the ear hole.  Then you have a super silly face you can try to imitate!  The more we imitate our toddlers, the more value we place on their ideas and the more interested they may be in imitating YOU.

Magnetic Doodle Board

Here’s a no mess way to doodle.  Good for on-the-go doodling and saying “hi” and “bye” to stick people drawings.  For more ideas go to Playing with… magnetic doodle boards

I could add lots more to this list, but these ideas should get you started.  Other great “creation” toys that may not necessarily be giftable… paper towel rolls, plastic food containers/water bottles, diaper boxes, spray bottles, baby wipe containers, pudding (instead of paint), and shaving cream.

In the next “best toy” post, I’ll delve deeper into the “A” of “CAP” which stands for be ACTIVE!

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