You’ve seen the look — zombified little faces lit up by the blue glow the an iPad, television, or other screen. And heaven forbid you ever ask them to turn it off. Experts recommend no more than two hours per day of screen time for kids—even less for preschoolers—and having unstructured down-time to explore is vitally important for growth and development.
To help you facilitate independent play time, we’ve rounded up a list of the latest toys for preschoolers that don’t have screens but will still hold your child’s attention long enough for you to form a single coherent thought. Win-win: we chose toys that let your kiddos be creative with minimal clean-up.
Click any photo or link to purchase via our Amazon affiliate. We’ve separated toys by age—toys for ages 3+ may be choking hazards for younger children.
For classic building fun, CitiBlocs offer fun colors and tons of ideas for different structures to build. Younger kids might need a little help on the front end learning different ways to stack, but once they get rolling, they’ll love how their completed structures look.
We’re not all deft builders, and if traditional blocks are frustrating for your kid, check out the many styles from Magna-Tiles. These multi-colored tiles are magnetic, so they’re easier to use. After structures are made, kids can use action figures and dolls to act out stories around them. If you have a “Frozen” fan in the family (don’t we all?), check out the Magna Tiles ICE set–perfect for Queen Elsa’s castle!
For sensory play, Kinetic Sand is delightfully squishy and feels like a sand/Play-doh hybrid, bringing the best of both mediums. It has a satisfying, grainy texture but is moldable like dough. A major advantage over Play-doh—this stuff actually works better if left out in the open! You can use it to build, make shapes using molds, and engage in pretend play (sand burger, anyone?). Clean up is pretty easy – similar to Play-doh. Get it in white or pick a bright color like green, blue, pink, or purple!
Kinetic sand also provides a great sensory experience for a kids with sensory issues or for any child who needs a calm-down activity. You’ll feel good about your purchase, too—a portion of Kinetic Sand sales goes directly towards funding the Autism Speaks organization.
Ages 2 & under
For building fun for Littles, Duplo is the way to go! These large plastic pieces are safe for ages 18 months and up, and are easy for toddlers to fit together. Duplo offers a wide array of playset options to inspire your child’s budding creativity: build a construction site, open an ice cream café, or put together cuddly animals. Many of these sets also come with figures to encourage pretend play.
Another fun option for building is a Nesting Block set like this one from World of Eric Carle, which tells the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as well as teaches letters, shapes, numbers, and colors.
We also love this style from Melissa and Doug. Blocks can nest inside each other or be stacked to create a tower. Nesting blocks help your child learn size differences and encourage problem solving and coordination.
Another creative play option is the Earlyears Lil’ Shopper Play Set made up of soft pieces with fun crinkly and bumpy textures and rattling or jingling sounds. Your baby or toddler will love “shopping” by putting products in the included bag and taking them back out. And putting them in. and taking them back out…
Articles You May Also Enjoy
- For Fall Fun, Read an “Apple” a Day
- Apps for Littles: Bring Preschool Home on Your iPad
- Top 10 Toys for Preschoolers
Kristen Berthiaume is a clinical psychologist whose other day job is as mom to three willing product testers. Find her articles on all things child-wrangling at “Parenting with a Ph.D.” over on birminghammommy.com.