Wooden blocks in a rolling tub – there are tons of different sets out there. This intro set with rolling storage chest was a big investment, but absolutely worth it. I wanted high quality blocks (solid maple), a big set (so the kids could get really creative) and a rolling cart (because they are really heavy, and this way we can store them under a coffee table or in a closet). Blocks are totally open-ended and they’ve given my kids years of play.
Popular Mechanics for Kids videos – until my second child was born the TV was never on. How I managed I am not entirely sure? It’s on now, but at least they’ve gravitated towards things like these Popular Mechanics videos, which they both love. The videos are nararrated by a tween boy and girl who take viewers on adventures from lightening to space, sewage to water systems. The three we have are Lightening, Radical Rockets and Slither & Slime and I think my kids would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.
Legos – our little one has an easier time working with the Duplo-size Legos, but now that is big brother has this enormous tub of real Legos, the Duplos are largely untouched. It bums me out that the current sets are all oriented around specific things (Star Wars, etc), but if you’re trying to amass your own collection of bricks for open-ended play I’d recommend visiting local tags sales to pick up bricks. Or, if you go to the Lego site, click on products, then Bricks and More, it will bring you to a section where you can get simple sets of plain bricks.
Art Station – My kids (and their friends when they come over to play) love that I set aside a couple of kitchen shelves for art supplies they can access whenever they want. I use stacking tubs I picked up at Target (the ones with the locking lids and a handle so they can carry them), and I know The Container Store has plenty of other storage ideas for things like: construction paper, glue sticks, pom poms, pipe cleaners, tubes of paint, stickers, small scissors, zig-zag scissors, pens, crayons, colored pencils, beads, yarn, rubber stamps and ink pads, colored tissue paper, tape, a stapler, and miscellaneous recycled things like wine corks, Styrofoam peanuts, paper towel tubes, TP rolls, etc. Often times my kitchen table is taken over by the latest projects, but seeing their creativity in action makes it worthwhile to have to eat at the kid’s table. If you’re short on space, Oompa has a neat carry-all. (P.S. That’s not my kitchen above…that’s a Container Store display. You thought I was really organized didn’t you?)
Musical Instruments - along the same lines as the art supplies, we have a big LL Bean deal bag full of musical instruments that go from quiet tinkering to very loud marching bands through our house. Some of the favorites: recorders, xylophone/glockenspiel, cymbals, drums, shakers, a zither, jingle bells. Most local toy stores sell a selection of inexpensive musical instruments, or you can visit a site like Mary Ann Hall’s Orchestore and select some favorites.
Tool Set – my in-laws created their own one several Christmases ago using a small (real) tool box from Home Depot that they filled it with child-size plastic tools. I like it because ours closes with a latch and can be toted all over the house, but this one on Oompa is eco-friendly, and looks neat too. Some of the recent additions to the toolbox that have been popular: a flashlight, a hadlamp, a real measuring tape and a level…in addition to the hammer, saw, screwdriver, wrench, etc. We have a coffee table in the family room that I do not mind if the kids “work” on. But if your furniture is all precious, then I’d recommend picking up an old end table or something like that that can be theirs to hammer away on.
A Community Playthings red trike – We picked up trikes at tag sales, but before my children could pedal on their own this pedal-free trike was a fun way to scoot around the patio. It’s exceptionally high quality and can be passed from child to child, neighbor to neighbor.
Dress-up costumes – we’ve waned a bit on dressing up, but for several years, this was my son’s favorite thing to do. I stocked a big cupboard with all sort of costumes for them to run around in. With two boys, knights, pirates and dragons were favorites, but the bumblebee, frog, princess, firefighter, wizard, cowboy, lion, and spider saw a lot of action too. Now is the time to stock up, as Halloween costumes are all on sale!