Open-Ended Toys For Parents On a Budget : Rediscovered Families

Open-Ended Toys For Parents On a Budget

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Spark your kid’s imagination and creativity with these open-ended toys that will last them right through their childhood! These simple toys for kids will encourage hours of imaginative play. And the best part? There is  nothing on this list that costs over $30. Who says you have to spend a fortune to have the best toys?

open-ended toys

Have you ever bought your kid a trendy toy ?

You know the kind I mean? A few years ago it was Hatchimals. Remember them? Expensive and so darn cute!

But let me ask you a question. Do your kids still play with that toy today?

The problem with these “must have” toys

As a general rule many of these novelty toys don’t give a lot of play value. Not because your kids didn’t like thing. They did. For a short time.

The problem is that these kinds of toys tend to have limited play value. Once they’ve done their thing the novelty’s over. There isn’t a whole lot else you can do with them. Then they loose their appeal and become boring.

What the toy makers want to keep quiet

Buying more expensive trendy toys WON’T keep your children playing for hours. Finding SIMPLE open-ended toys that encourage imaginative play will. And the best part? There are LOADS of toys under $30 that provide this kind of play value.

Sounds good right?

Our number one picks

✅ It was a tie! These Playmobile and Lego sets are our number one choice. Both will give hours of play for under $30.

The Best Open Ended Toys Ideas (all under $30)

Is it possible to buy good toys at a reasonable price? You bet it is! These open-ended toys are all under $30 at the time of writing. I’ll tell you what though- the toys may be cheap, but the play value they provide is priceless. ALL of these toys allow children to express themselves freely and creatively. ALL of them will provide endless hours of play. So let’s dive in.

open-ended toys

Open ended toys for imaginative play

First of all, imaginative play gives children the chance to explore and make sense of the world. It allows them to explore their emotional responses and practice different scenarios. Studies have shown that imaginative play help develop important qualities like empathy, cooperation, and compassion.

Here’s the thing. Children do NOT NEED expensive toys to engage in imaginative play. All they really need is the time, space and a few props. So, turn off the screens and watch your kid’s imaginations soar. Here’s a few ideas

Cardboard boxes

a cardboard box is the a great open ended toy

Have you noticed how kids love cardboard boxes? Think about it! A box really is the perfect open-ended toy. They can become a fort, a train, or a space shuttle. Boxes can be fashioned into houses, masks and even puppets. There is no end to the possibilities. For a novel Christmas gift try combining a large cardboard box with a flashlight and a box of markers. Stand back and see what happens.

You may also want to add a couple of books to help provide inspiration


The flashlight is the only toy on this list with batteries, but it’s an awesome toy.  It can be used for reading in a fort, going on night scavenger hunt, or making a shadow show. It’s a really great plaything for kids of all ages! This one is sturdy and inexpensive.

Play Silks

Play silks are a wonderfully simple toys and children know intuitively how to play with them.

  • Drape them over chairs and they make magical hideaways, play houses or book nooks.
  • Use them in dress up play and they become capes, fairy skirts, veils, belts, wings and baby blankets, and more.

This video showcases some of the fun things you can do this truly open ended toy.

The good news is that there are all kinds of play silks at a variety of prices. The larger ones made from 100% silk tend to be more expensive. Check out the different options here.

money saving tip: Shop your house to see if you have any silky scarves you can re-purpose. Alternatively check your thrifts store for inexpensive scarves. You can also make your own play silks.

Costumes and props for dress up

I would encourage you not to buy expensive character costumes as they provide limited play value. Collect items that can be used multiple ways. These can include

  • sticks
  • old purses,
  • ties,
  • hats,
  • aprons,
  • shirts
  • jewelry.

Thrift stores are often gold mine and can supply all manner of treasures. We found wigs, jewelry and even an old fur! When purchasing dress up clothes look for things that are multi use. For example a plain kid’s cape can be used by a superhero, a knight in amour, or royalty. A doctor’s kit can also be used by a “veterinarian” or a “zoo keeper.”

open-ended toy
A very old picture of my son having a tea party with his teddies

One of the best props for pretend play is a tea set. We have one at the library and it gets hours of use every week. I particularly like this one as it is made from recycled plastic and sturdy enough to provide hours of play. Here are some our favorite toys for pretend play.

Related: 29 Awesome DIY Dress Ups That Kids Can Make

Baby Dolls

Dolls have been a part of human imagination since the beginning of civilization. Doll play encourages imaginative make-believe and helps develop life skills as children dress their dolls and interact with them.

This doll is very reasonably priced and is offered in 3 different ethnic choices.

If you prefer anatomically correct baby dolls you can find both boys and girls.

Open ended toys that encourage creativity

Art and crafts provide the opportunity for kids to express themselves in their own unique way. This kind of activity engages all the senses and helps builds all kinds of neural connections. Art also develops fine motors skills.

More importantly, open ended process-oriented art and encourages children to experiment and solve problems.  Children make decisions, see what happens, and evaluates the results. They learn to be flexible and comfortable taking risks. These skills will serve them well as they move into adulthood.

Here are our favorite open ended art toys.

Toys that create little worlds

Small world play encourages children to create a miniature world with figures and props. It stimulates imaginative, creative and language development. Even very young children can start exploring the world and telling their own stories.


Small cars were a staple in our house. Use them  for driving around, sorting, stacking and small world play. Here are some of our favorites. They include the classic hot wheels and some chunkier ones for toddles. We included a wooden set as well as some traffic signs and road tape. All of these items are priced under $30. They all got good ratings.


My boys got hours of serious play with these little figures and accessories. They loved all the little accessories and the way the figures can hold things. Some Playmobile sets are very expensive, but there are some reasonably priced sets to be had. All of these sets are under $30 and some of them are under $20.

Wooden Figures

If you prefer more natural materials try these posable wooden doll house figures. They are made for a more expensive dollhouse, but can easily be used with blocks, or a house made from a cardboard box. I love the different ethnicities and the family pets

Plastic animal sets

Animal figures can also be used in all kinds of small world play. Kids combine them with all sorts of other toys for great pretend play. Your kids can safely take them outside to play with in sandboxes or dirt. There is a wide range of animal figures to choose from

open-ended toys

Simple toys for stacking and building

Building blocks are a staple in many homes. They are such an effective yet simple toy. They can be fashioned into all kinds of structures and fun things. My boys used their building toys to make tunnels and bridges for trains, houses for their playmobile, and weird landscapes for action figures.

Blocks help children with all kinds of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. They teach us about balance, structure and gravity. They also stimulate creative thinking.

Read this post about the educational benefits of playing with this simple toy

Building toys can be quite expensive, but it is still possible to find some good ones under $30. I must confess that this was the most challenging category to keep under budget. Here are my top picks!

What is an open-ended toy?

So, let’s take a closer look. An openended toy is one that can be played with in multitude of ways, so your kids can follow wherever their creativity takes them. I love this quote.

A Good Toy is 90% Child, 10% Toy
Joan Almon

Most importantly, they provide great play value and your kids will never grow tired of playing with them. They don’t use screens and are powered by your kid’s imagination.

What are open ended activities?

Similarly, open ended play activities are those without a set outcome. They allows children a chance to explore their creativity and imagination freely. There are no rules, step by step guides, or specific end product. Studies show that engaging in this kind of play has enormous benefits that your children will carry into adulthood.

Related: Learn how free play gives your child will give your child an academic advantage and sets them up for productive life

10 Cheap Open-Ended Toys For Endless Hours of Play

Your turn

Do you have any open ended toys to add to the list? They need to be under $30 to qualify! Write your suggestions in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Open-Ended Toys For Parents On a Budget”

  1. Sharon!! You have totally nailed this post!! It is such a great read and so so so true that children don’t need endless amounts of toys but toys that offer endless play opportunities instead!! I love the simplicity of your toy choices!!

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