With the short, dark days of winter upon us, kids spend more time indoors and parents contend with a constant chorus of “I’m bored!” It’s time to seek out toys that spark a bright burst of creativity in young minds.
How to choose? The best creativity boosters are open-ended playthings that engage children in the process of play rather than directing them to a specific outcome, according to experts. Toys that aren’t tied to a specific theme or television character let kids dream up unique, evolving play scenarios — one of the best ways to while away a gray winter day.
These toys make brilliant holiday gifts that keep creative fires burning during winter break and beyond.
TINY KIDS: 0–2
$15 • Sarah’s Silks
Playsilks — 35-inch squares of floaty fabric — are as open-ended as toys come. Tots find endless uses for these durable pieces: A silk can become a gown, a cape, a headband, a doll blanket, a fort . . . or, for the littlest ones, the perfect medium for a game of peek-a-boo.
$10 • Rhino Toys
This tactile sphere gives young babies something colorful to grip, squish, chew and explore. Toddlers can experiment with space and dimension by inserting smaller balls or soft toys inside. As kids grow, it’s ideal for first games of catch and light enough that parents don’t need to worry about indoor play. Bonus: It’s dishwasher-safe and latex- and phthalate-free. (Suggested ages: from birth.)
$22 • Djeco
This bright set engages babies and tots with dimensional, experiential play and nests away neatly when playtime is over. Even the littlest ones can build stable towers, while toddlers can use the blocks to scoop and carry other toys or create miniature homes for pretend critters. (Suggested ages: 12 months and older.)
LITTLE KIDS: 3–7
$44 • ALEX Toys
Blustery winter day? Break out this box of color-drenched art supplies for hours of creative play at the kitchen table. Includes modeling dough, tissue paper, plastic frames, animal punchouts and other supplies for 16 art projects — enough for a bunch of
siblings or for one lucky child. (Suggested ages: 3–5.)
$25 • Smart Games
This 3D puzzle looks deceptively simple, but it
harbors 60 math and reasoning challenges for preschoolers. “This isn’t your standard
puzzle,” says Mikaela Wingard-Phillips of Math ‘n’ Stuff toy store in Seattle. “It’s open-ended and can be single player or collaborative.” Made out of durable wood, it’s an attractive gift built to last.
(Suggested ages: 2 and older)
SuperHero Cape and Mask
$32 • World of Whimm
Every superhero needs a cape, and this handmade, durable set fits the bill and then some. Seattle mom Kayce Quevedo creates capes, crowns, mermaid tails and other props for creative and dramatic play with high-quality materials. “If you have five kids, I want these things to last through all five,” she says. Quevedo intentionally avoids selling complete costumes in order to inspire mix-and-match play. (Suggested ages: 2 and older)
$75 • Manzanita Kids
Creative possibilities abound with this set of modular building walls, created in natural birch by Manzanita’s David Minnery. Budding architects can create castles with near-endless variations, with a finished creation ideally sized for small doll figures. A favorite of teachers, Manzanita’s modular sets are designed to withstand years of creativity. (Suggested ages: 4 and older.)
$40 • MindWare
These interlocking transparent cubes create marble mazes full of surprises — instead of following a prescribed path, the marble can go any which way. Kids can create mazes from the enclosed instruction booklet or dream up their own. “It’s great for 3D spatial play and can be very creative and open-ended, but kids can also be very intentional about what they want to build,” says Wingard-Phillips of Seattle’s Math ‘n’ Stuff toy store. (Suggested ages: 5 and older.)
BIGGER KIDS: 8+
$99 • littleBits
Classic building blocks meet electronic circuitry. That’s the whiz-bang idea behind littleBits Exploration Kits, called “LEGO for the iPad generation” by Bloomberg TV. Each kit contains color-coded electronic modules, or bits, that snap together with magnets and bring simple electronic projects to life, from flashlights to roving robots and anything else kids can dream up. The Base Kit includes 10 modules, enough to fuel easy, intermediate and advanced projects, which kids can post and share online in the littleBits community. (Suggested ages: 8 and older.)
$17 • Blue Orange
Kids can hone multiplication skills with creative aplomb during a game of Sumoku, an addictive crossword-style number game. Five game variations include solo sumoku, team sumoku and spot sumoku for a brain-building game night.
(Suggested ages: 8 and older.)
BIGGER KIDS: 8+
$15 • Funnybone Toys
This award-winner puts a colorful spin on classic card games. Up to six players can strategically mix and match colors to win. The youngest
color lovers can get in on the fun with color-matching games and color flash cards.
(Suggested ages: 8 and older.)
$25 • Gamewright
From the creator of the super-hit game Pandemic, this is another cooperative game — meaning players band together and play against the game, not each other. Collaboration and creative problem-solving abound as players work together to excavate the ruins of an ancient city and rebuild their wrecked helicopter. (Suggested ages: 10–15.)
$17 • OWI
You wouldn’t want a real scorpion around, but this one earns its keep with bendable aluminum pieces that entertain budding artists and architects alike. With this easy-to-use kit, tweens and teens can build a movable aluminum scorpion, no soldering iron or batteries required.
(Suggested ages: 10–14.)
$17 • Wiggles 3D
Named a 2010 Mensa Favorite Brainy Games Winner, this 1-to-4 player game has an interchangeable game board for near-endless configurations. Players attempt to rid themselves of magnetic game pieces to win, but first, they have to outsmart the magnet’s natural forces.
(Suggested age: 14 and older.)
KITS FOR CREATIVE KIDS
Arts and crafts are another great creativity-boosting strategy for winter play. Here are some fun kits to help your future bookmakers, tailors and beaders get started.
$8 • American Girl Crafts
Stitch a protective case for a smartphone or iPod with this colorful kit.
$25 • Jacquard
Pre-measured Procion dyes make it easy to master the art of tie dye.
$18 • Elenco
Soldering is a must for engineers-to-be; this kit includes everything needed for a simple soldering project.
$20 • WoolPets
Kids as young as 3 can learn to create a simple animal figure with soft wool roving and adult supervision.
$15 • Melissa & Doug
Over 220 handcrafted wooden beads and nine color-coordinated cords enable endless jewelry designs.
$12 • Faber-Castell
Includes three 12-page hardcover books, markers and stickers perfect for little authors and illustrators.
$5 • ALEX Toys
Ahoy! Kids can create adorable pirates with pre-cut forms and adhesive dots.