Treasures from Nature: Never underestimate the fun it is for children to find and collect things from nature! Our children love to head to the beach and bring home rocks and shells to wash and play with at home. Sugar Plum also loves to collect acorns, leaves, and other nuts and seeds to use as food for the little kitchen or for our wooden animal friends. Our little ones also play with shells and rocks in the bathtub (test to be sure that they don't scratch the tub before you try this!).
Dollhouse and Farm: We love our farm yard play set! It is so much fun to re-arrange furniture, set up animals, and make up stories about the things that live on our farm! We add an animal or two to our collection on special days like namesdays, birthdays, and certain feasts (Christmas, Pascha (Easter), etc.). It is a lot of fun to see what our children come up with when they play with their farm set. There are also other play sets that you can start collecting for your children if you want something different than a farm. I love the idea of a castle set or a Noah's ark/ship set. There are also tree houses that you can choose. The possibilities are endless!
Play Kitchen: The play kitchen was the first large toy we bought for our children. It has gotten a lot of use (especially from our son!). We love this small one, but there are a lot of different sizes, shapes, and configurations to choose from! We have a small collection of pots and a set of play food. Add in an apron and pot holder and your little ones will be all set to cook you a lovely meal!
Blocks: There are so many different kinds of blocks to choose from today! You can get ones that are classic wooden shapes and ones that are meant to build certain things. We have two sets: Tree Blocks and Church Blocks. I'd like to add a basic set ( since our children are becoming more interested in building) and interlocking blocks.
Dress-Up Clothes: Now is the perfect time of year to stock up on inexpensive dress-up clothes! There will be many sales following Halloween... our family has the tradition of going out the day after Halloween to buy a costume on clearance for each child. It is a great way to stock your dress-up trunk with great outfits like fairies, ballerinas, cowboys, frontier men, etc. If you have boys, you may think that it will be difficult to gather enough to fill a trunk, but there is plenty to choose from! Amazon carries a set of Community Hats and Career Hats. Add a few bandannas, vests, some knight armor, and a few of dad's old accessories (briefcase, wallet, hat, etc.), and you have a wonderful start to your little guy's dress-up collection. You can set up a lovely area in a closet or corner for your children's dress-ups. A trunk is a great way to store all the bits and pieces you have. Our family really likes the child-sized coat stand we have or you could use a series of hooks. Don't forget to add a mirror!
Puppets: We discovered Folkmanis Puppets at our local children's bookshop a few months ago. They were a wonderful addition to our family's toy collection! Melissa and Doug makes a variety of different puppets and I am sure that you can find other companies that do as well online. We like using them to tell stories both by mama and the little ones. They are also excellent props for the nature table! Monica has instructions on her blog for making a puppet theater to hang on a clothesline (I can't link directly to the post, so scroll 3/4 of the way down to see it posted on October 9th).
Trains and Train Tracks: Our Little Man loves playing with his train set! We have the Melissa and Doug Classic Wooden Figure Eight Train Set and our train is a toy version of The Little Engine that Could. Obviously, this is a toy that can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. You can have a train table with lots of tracks and accessories, a conductors hat, a train whistle, etc. One of the things that I like best about these tracks is that you can set them up in any configuration that you want. Little Man likes to keep things simple, while Sugar Plum can get more elaborate with her track designs. Our children also like to use their farm and dollhouse accessories with the train set or even build castles, churches, and cities with their blocks around it.
Doll Play: One of the toys that gets a lot of use in our home is the dolls and their accessories. We have four or five dolls that get nursed, put in slings, pushed around in strollers, rocked in the rocker, put to bed in the cradle or a child's bed, fed, etc. We have a cradle and a doll sized rocker for our babies and two of our dolls can be dressed in different clothing. We have not discouraged our son from playing with dolls. We know that he is learning how to be gentle and caring with babies through his play, which is good preparation for him if he ever becomes a big brother or a father.
Vehicles: One of the best toys our son has ever gotten was a wooden firetruck. It has removable men and two removable ladders. He loves to push is around, have his little men climb up the dollhouse or barn on the ladders, and make siren noises. We also have a variety of smaller cars, buses, tow trucks, and airplanes.
Cash Register: We received a cash register and conveyor belt (no longer available) as a gift earlier this year and it has been a big hit! I added a metal basket from Home Depot and some play money from the dollar store. Our little ones love to play store and pile all of their play food into the basket to play store. The hardest part of them is sharing - they both like to be in charge of the register!
**While may of the toys featured are made from wood, you can be just as imaginative with toys made from other materials. Also, I have found it helpful to compile a list of things that I'd like to add to our collection of toys for times when people ask what to get our little ones for a gift, for when there is a big sale, or for when I head to garage sales/thrift stores.**
Special thanks to New Mom for suggesting this topic! 9 Ways to Spark Your Child's Imagination will be posted tomorrow!