The Best Toy Investments that Keep Kids Happy, Learning, and Busy


Not all toys are created equal. There are toys that are unwrapped at Christmas, played with a passion for a few weeks, and forgotten by Easter. There are toys that stick around for a few years or a few children and then find their way into the giveaway pile. And then there are toys that stick around so long they’re often passed to the next generation. Toys that every family member loves. Toys that keep a child occupied for hours. Toys that you have to create special family rules about such as “may not bring to the dinner table” or “cannot sleep with every night” because they are so loved.

Those are the toys I love in my home. They are the ones that keep my children occupied, learning, and happy. As we enter a phase of more home time for most of us this spring, I wanted to share with you my family’s top ten toys and activities that my children come back to again and again on a daily basis and are never ever bored with.

[Note: Dirt, sticks, grass, rocks, pebbles, cardboard boxes, and Legos are not on this list because they are just a given – I’m going to assume nothing beats dirt and cardboard as timeless endless play at your house, too.]

1. Good Art Supplies 

While perhaps not technically a toy, art supplies are THE most played with item in my home. Allllll day, every day. All four of my big kids love art, so I’ve tried to create an atmosphere and stock supplies so that art is always present at their fingertips. I have an IKEA Raskog cart in my kitchen full of supplies so that my children can grab paper, sketchbooks and everything they need very easily. I invest in pricier, high-quality art supplies because I’ve found over the years it’s actually less expensive to buy quality that lasts a long time and offers brilliant color for a budding artist’s paper, rather than having to buy set after set of cheap art supplies at the store all year long.

We use Prismacolor pencils and they are the BEST. I highly recommend their quality over cheap colored pencils – it makes such a difference. We keep tons of Crayola Washable Markers, Stockmar Beeswax crayons, reams of Construction Paper and plain white copy paper, and these watercolor palettes, one for each child with their name marked on it. Each child also has an artists’ paint/sketch notebook for their watercolor masterpieces.

2. Perplexus Mazes 

I have never, ever in my life met a toy that was the opposite of boring to kids the way Perplexus is for my kids. All of them love these maze toys so much. My kids play Perplexus so often throughout the day that I actually don’t require them to be picked up during family cleaning time. We usually just leave them sitting on the couches in our family room, or in a basket close by, because they are literally picked up all day long. We’ve had to establish a “no Perplexus at the table” rule – that’s how much these things are loved. We own Revolution Runner and Beast, and for Easter my boys as asking for Rebel and Epic. I’m tempted to purchase the other two because the concentration, discipline and skill development of learning to do these mazes is really great for their little brains.

3. Zoobs


Zoobs are dear to my heart and I’ll continue to build our collection because they bring all ages of children together for hours and hours of creative play in a way that other construction toys like Legos cannot. Sometimes with Legos the pieces are too small for little ones to get involved with their older siblings in joint play. But Zoobs level the playing field, and the creativity of design that kids can come up with is truly amazing. Last week my boys created a DNA strain out of Zoobs that was several feet long. Then they added a head and tongue to it and made it into an Anaconda later in the day. It was so fun to watch them create!

So far we own this Starter Set and the STEM Challenge add-on set.

4. Hot Wheels, Car Mat and Blue Track 

My boys started collecting Hot Wheels when my oldest was two and they are still one of the best loved and most played toys in our home. Two complimentary toys that have made Hot Wheels such a big deal for my kids are first, the play mat we have in our playroom. It’s a very large car mat that takes up most of the floor space in the room, with plenty of space for multiple kids to play at the same time without crowding each other out. It’s another toy that gets daily use at our house. Our car mat is Melissa and Doug brand purchased during Christmas season at Costco many years ago, but it’s similar to this one.

If you have Hot Wheels obsessed children, you must must consider adding Blue Track to your collection. I love Blue Track because it allows the child full freedom of creativity, much more than a wooden track or plastic track – the sky (or should I say the ceiling? the roof?) is truly the limit of creativity with Blue Track. We started with this option and added these ramps and I definitely plan to invest in more.

5. Kinetic Sand

My parents gifted Kinetic Sand and lots of play tools for using it to my kids over five years ago, and still today if I pull out the Kinetic sand, I know I’ll have occupied kids for the next several hours. They all LOVE this stuff! Kinetic Sand is not as messy as regular sand because it clings to itself. I still have to sweep or vacuum when they’re doing playing because it does spill and it is still messy, but for the amount of fun and creativity (and the time it gives me to do other things while they play) this sand is so worth the investment. I always buy name brand for this sand – knock offs haven’t worked nearly as well for us. Our sand kits are similar to this set but a bit older, and I only stock the regular color sand. (I like to have at least one pound of sand per child on hand so they all have enough to play together).

6. Keva Planks 

Keva Planks are a new favorite in our home and especially my older boys, ages 8 and almost 10, are obsessed. Again this is a toy that allows the child full rain of creativity and imagination. They can follow designs in the manual if they want, but the real fun is when they come up with their own original creations. Hours of fun, and I plan to build our collection in addition to this starter set.

7. Regular Building Blocks 

Regular plain building blocks are a classic must-have toy at our house. They too create hours of creative playtime for all my kids. Sometimes they add hot wheels or peg dolls or another toy into their block creation play, and sometimes it’s just the blocks themselves. We have two complete sets of these blocks. One I purchased from Amazon, and the other I found on Craigslist. Keep your eyes out for these!

8. Activity Books

There are some amazing activity book options out there for children of every age. The one that tops the list at our home is Paint by Sticker. I feel like when I give my kids a new Paint by Sticker book I need to be ready to say goodbye to them for the next several days – they just disappear with the book and pop out to show me their newest design before running back in to create another masterpiece. There are many options out there for Paint by Sticker. We own and love pretty much all of them, our favorites being Masterpieces, Cats, Birds, Travel, and the Original.

Brain Games for Clever Kids is also a favorite around here. My oldest absolutely LOVES this series!

National Geographic Kids Master-Mind is another great one. It’s full of puzzles, brain teasers, fun facts, and short articles about all kinds of crazy and cool science and animal topics.

9. Games 

We are big game people over here, but the games that top all the others in popularity here are Qwirkle, Spot It, Battleship and Mancala get played most of all around here. Qwirkle is especially wonderful. Sometimes my husband and I put aside our Scrabble addiction and play a round or two of Qwirkle after the kids are in bed. It’s truly fun for all ages.

10. Books

We are a family of bibliophiles – we have books everywhere, in every room. Everyone here loves to read so much. These titles are some of my kids favorite reference books and learning books that they pick up over and over and over and OVER again and are never board flipping through. I leave most of these out in book baskets in our family room.


The Way Things Work, Maps, The Thing Explainer, Picturepedia, The Dangerous Book for Boys, The Travel Book, and The Lego Catechism.

If you were to invest in one of the titles above, start with Picturepedia. It’s the best.

I’ll do a separate post soon with our favorite age-appropriate books, but for now I want to share YOUR recommendations for your kids’ favorite games and activities. Last week I asked for your recommendations on social media so that all of us mamas can help each other prepare for the unexpected weeks of kids at home, and you shared so many great ideas! This list was submitted from moms literally around the world with children of all ages. Listed in no particular order:

  • Legos
  • Battleship
  • Hide and Seek
  • MagnaTiles
  • Puzzles
  • Chiviricuarta
  • Play Kitchen (we love this one)
  • Bath toys and extended bath time
  • Backyard swing
  • Tree swing
  • Rotating toys
  • Coloring
  • Piano Lessons
  • Paint by Sticker
  • Pattern Blocks
  • Parachute
  • Bean Bag Toss
  • Ticket to Ride Game
  • Playmobile
  • Suspend Gameby Melissa and Doug
  • Card Games
  • Reusable Stickers
  • Shrink a Dinks
  • Chalk
  • Where’s Waldo
  • Sensory Bins
  • I Spy
  • Painting
  • Sand Art
  • Water Table
  • Basketball
  • Bubble Machine
  • Scratch and Sketch paper
  • playdough
  • Cardboard Boxes
  • Bounce House
  • Watercolors
  • Painting rocks
  • Sprinkler and water hose
  • Cornhole
  • Uno
  • Dominos
  • Farkle
  • Bike Rides
  • Bachee Ball
  • Exploding Kitten game
  • Moldable Beeswax
  • EZ Rollers
  • Dress Up Clothes
  • First Orchard
  • Making forts out of boxes
  • Painting carboard boxes
  • Bubbles
  • Hopscotch
  • Usborne Sticker Books
  • Anything @busytoddler suggests
  • Kumon activity books
  • Large roll of drawing paper
  • Tarp, hose and dish soap
  • Bird watching
  • Bingo
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Vinegar, baking soda, and food coloring
  • Foam play weapons
  • Game Risk
  • Osmo
  • Vooks
  • Quadrilla Marble run
  • Dirt
  • Stuffed Animals
  • Digging giant hole in the yard
  • Rescue Vehicles and transformers
  • Audio books on Audible and Hoopla
  • Bongo Boards (we love this one)
  • Buckets of water
  • Blanket forts
  • First Journey 
  • Catan
  • K’Nex (this is a great starter set)
  • GoNoodle
  • Monopoly
  • BeyBlades
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Shovels and rakes
  • Water beads
  • Climbing Dome (we have this one and it’s fantastic)
  • Hammer and scrap wood
  • Sand box and sand toys
  • Chess

What are your family’s favorite toys and activities? Please share in the comments – what a gift that we can help each other with great ideas for keeping our kids, happy, learning, and engaged during this difficult season at home.

Love, Steph

4 thoughts on “The Best Toy Investments that Keep Kids Happy, Learning, and Busy

  1. Never even heard of some of these toys, like Zoobs, for instance. They look cool. Great idea for a blog post just now. Since my kids are homeschooled, M-F they know no different. We went to the library yesterday, like normal, then heard it was going to close on Monday, so we went a second time and stocked up. Without books my kids would truly lose it! 🙂
    Take care out there!


  2. I want my kids to have a happy home life & having imaginative toys that inspire creation is really important for me to have around. I have magna tiles and brain flakes, but the kids don’t care for them. I tried Zoobs out because of your list and my 3 year old is obsessed with snapping them into place, and my 5 year old think they’re cooler than legos right now (and he lovesssss his legos). Thank you so much! Great recommendations.


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