Are you fielding requests for a hard-to-get-hatchimal? That’s all well and good, but it’s important to add toys under the tree or next to the menorah that can provide some lasting creative impact in your child’s life.  These six toys are springboards into dramatic play.  They also support language development and dialogue surrounding feelings.  Because of the importance that imaginative play has on your kid’s development, they are real brain-boosters!  (By the way – none of this is sponsored content, just tools my teachers use in the Child’s Play NY classroom and that I play with in my own home!).  They are all under $25 and great for kids ages 3 and up.  Happy playing!  Happy gifting!

1. About Face – eeBoo – ages 3+

This brilliant toy from eeBoo (voted Best Toy by the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio) allows kids to create an endless array of faces, mixing up hair, eyes, noses and mouths.  The photographs are all of found objects from forests to cities and are appealing on an aesthetic level (as well as being highly inventive!).  A ginko leaf is a nose, a string of pearls is a mouth.  

Make it into a Game: Come up with names for the characters that you create and give them voices that match their look.  Extend this game by creating a back-and-forth dialogue (a la Story Clap)  between two of the characters! )

2. Magnetibook – Janod – ages 3+

The Magnetibook series from Janod is really beautifully designed – by this classy French toy company.  It is a portable (great for the car or trips to grandparent’s house) and contained box of magnets and matching cards.  You can find the box that suits your little player – they have themes based on dress-up, food, dinosaurs, vehicles and more.  They are giggle-inducing since they are whimsically illustrated and the possibility for mixing and matching within the game leads to creative play motored by your own child!  Kids can tell a story about the scene or character they create.  You can help lead them through beginning, middle and end and enjoy the ever-changing permutations.

3. Feelings Flashcards – Planet Color – ages 2 +

I love these 20 cards since they spur language-learning around tricky to articulate feelings.  They playfully illustrate 40 feelings (two per card). Kids learn about opposites and acquire new words. The colors are vivid and the drawings (of both animals and humans) are really relatable on an emotional level! Even the most hard to express emotions (left-out, disappointed, over-joyed) are thoughtfully inked.   Kids will have a chance to boost empathy and understanding simply by having words for hard-to-express emotions.

Make it into a Game: Make the face and the body that connects to that feeling.

4. Funny Fill-ins – National Geographic – ages 4+

With themes like Ocean, Spy, Parks, Space and Dinosaurs, kids get to create hilarious stories based on their “natural” passion.  National Geographic does an awesome job of making the “fill-ins” open-ended.  In addition to the expected, “noun” and “verb” you get options for “body part” or “holiday song” which make this fun for the youngest players.  

Make it into a Game:  Create the story and then read it back.  Turn it into a memory game where players try to say again their original creative word choice!  This boosts the executive functioning skill of working memory crucial to cognitive development.

  1. Rhyming Words by Eeboo – ages 3+ 

This delightful two-puzzle piece game connects words through rhyme and then literally connects them through shape!  They are great for helping boost early literacy skills since rhyming is a natural part of learning how to read. Kids can look at the ending of the words to match the sounds.  Words like “cub” and “tub” or “cake” and “rake” are sweetly illustrated in a nostalgic way that eeBoo does best!  

Make it into a Game: Create a song using the rhymes.  Use a melody like “Down by the Bay” to connect the words or make up your own song!

  1. Story Cards by Eeboo – ages 3+

This was the first toy/tool I ever used in my classroom with Child’s Play NY and it is one that I still arm all our teachers with before they start their Acting classes for the Pre-K and K kids.  With these 52 imaginative cards, children can create their own story, learn narrative sequencing, “hooks” and even talk about sophisticated things like “dramatic tension”, “conflict” and “resolution”.  

Make it into a Game: Give kids 3 cards face-down and then ask them to look at their cards (this creates great suspense.  Ask if they want to trade out 1, 2 or all 3 (they only get one opportunity to trade) and then when they have the three cards that they love, they have to order them into a story that they then tell!  Young children may just end up repeating back the illustrations that they see, challenge older children to really tie the pictures together.  Use connective words like, “Suddenly”, “But then”, “Unfortunately” to bridge the cards together.  If they are feeling wonderfully adventurous, act the story out!