When shopping for toys, you want something your little one will play with for more than two minutes and ideally, something that won’t make you (or other adults in the room) want to chuck it out the window. If you struggle to know what goodies to keep on hand, are shopping for someone else’s child or just want to fill your home with engaging things that don’t include tablets or television, you’re likely looking for some timeless, non-offensive, genderless games and activities.
To help you on your shopping mission, we spoke with Cassie Watt of Mud Puddle Toys in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh, owner of Tildie’s Toy Box in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Haddonfield, New Jersey, about the most popular and engaging gender-neutral toys for kiddos.
Watt recommends buying less prescriptive toys, or those that “can be applied to and used in multiple play situations where the play experience is open-ended and determined by the child,” she said. “I always am reminded of as a toy store owner and as a parent, is that children naturally want to play, explore and to be creative.”
Gillen-Doobrajh echoed the importance of open-ended and child-led play, encouraging parents and caregivers to let their little ones explore their own interests, and not pressure them into activities they may not enjoy, though she added that re-introducing toys can be fun, too.
“If you find it’s something your child wasn’t interested in at first, that’s OK! Give it some time and then bring it back out again in a week or two,” Gillen-Doobrajh suggested. “Sometimes timing can be helpful in reinvigorating a forgotten toy as well.”
To bring some screenless exploration into your home, Watt and Gillen-Doobrajh shared some of the most popular toys for kids.
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A color-changing slime kit
Another crowd-pleasing slime kit is this highly-rated option from KiwiCo, which has earned 4.8 stars from reviewers. It comes with a stylus that you can dip in ice water to create a color-changing effect on the slime.
A set of magnetic foam blocks you can use in the tub
There's nothing worse than a kiddo ruining a new toy because they took it into the shower or bath only to learn it's not H2O-friendly. That won't be a problem with this set of magnetic foam builders from Blockaroo recommended by Cassie Watt
, owner of Mud Puddle Toys
in Marblehead, Massachusetts. They can be played with in or out of the tub and built into endless different shapes and figures.
A make-your-own slime kit with all the colors and mix-ins you can imagine
of Tildie’s Toy Box
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Haddonfield, New Jersey, said slime continues to be a fan favorite, "especially slime with mix-ins, scents, and different textures."
We found this jumbo slime kit for kids age 5 and up. It lets your little chemist choose their own colors, mix-ins, glitters and more.
Jellycat stuffies that adults will love as much as kids
In the simplest words, Gillen-Doobrajh loves "anything Jellycat." It's a British brand that makes whimsical stuffed and fabric toys and figures ranging from animals to food to house plants, like this adorable potted cactus that we picked out (though we're also pretty obsessed with this block of blue cheese
A flexible piano for little Ray Charleses
Get your little one into the groove with this MukikiM roll-out piano, which Watt says she can't keep in stock. Little ones love to make music, and parents don't hate the noises it makes.
A Micro Kickboard scooter designed to teach kids 5-12 how to ride
Gillen-Doobrajh says little ones on the go will enjoy this 3-wheeled Micro Kickboard scooter. Per Micro Kickboard, it has a "learn-to-steer" design including a stable base that lets little ones learn how to direct and turn safely. It is designed for kids aged 5 to 12 and holds up to 110 pounds.
A soaring Stomp Rocket that makes science fun
Another big seller? Stomp Rockets. Watt said this high-flying toy is a huge hit for kids during warmer months when they can play outside. Stomp, pound or jump on the launcher to see the rocket shoot up to 200 feet in the air.
A colorful InnyBin teaching babies colors and textures
For curious babies six months and older, Gillen-Doobrajh loves this engaging InnyBin, which lets your little one engage their fine motor skills and explore tactile sensations by playing with the six colorful, differently-shaped blocks and pushing them through the elastic slides.
A box of colorful Magna-Tiles for little artists and engineers alike
Easy clean-up, fun colors and hours of creative play and exploration: What could be better than a set of Magna-Tiles? Gillen-Doobrajh recommends this toy for kids over three, for longtime fun building castles, animals, houses and anything else they can imagine.
A National Geographic glow-in-the-dark marble set you can build and rebuild forever
Another STEM-inspired toy that will keep kiddos occupied for hours is this glow-in-the-dark Marble Run set from National Geographic, recommended by Watt. Big and little kids alike can build their own ramps in all sorts of shapes and colors and watch their marbles run through the track.
A set of timeless Pokémon cards that every generation loves
Watt says she is constantly re-ordering Pokémon cards for her shop, Mud Puddle Toys. Though you may think the younger generation is only about Pokémon Go, you may be surprised at how engaging and sentimental a stack of real paper cards can be.