5 Simple Toys that Spark Innovation

Five Simple Toys to Spark Innovation


I am so excited to welcome Denaye Barahona of Simple Families to guest post today about simple toys that spark innovation. Denaye is also joining me for a Facebook Live to answer all of your questions. Keep reading for details!

The mission of Simple Families is to inspire a “less is more” approach when it comes to raising children. Denaye not only has a Ph.D. in Child Development, but she has on-the-job training as a mother of two children. Here’s Denaye…

When it comes to toys, they aren’t all created equal. In our house, we choose toys with great care. That’s because our family has a toy philosophy: we like to have a small number of toys that will encourage children to innovate. That means these toys can be used in many different ways for many years to come.

We choose toys that will grow with our children, rather than toys that our children will grow out of quickly. 

My kids were “blessed” with a mother who has a doctorate in Child Development. So needless to say, I put a great deal of thought and intention into the way that the play space is designed in our home–which includes the toys that are in it. I intentionally include toys that will provide opportunities for my children to create, enhance language abilities, and refine their motor skills.

This means we skip most of the character toys–or anything that will go by the wayside when the next hit movie comes out. We also choose toys that are made out of durable, sustainable materials whenever possible. Most importantly, we recognize that sometimes the most fun toys aren’t really toys at all–but things that kids find around the home to occupy themselves (i.e. think bubble wrap and big boxes).

These five toys will spark innovation and enrich your child’s environment for many years to come.

Gonge Hilltops

This looks like a large toy, but it actually all stacks within itself making it easy to put aside when not in use. But it’s probably going to be in use a lot. These hilltops are largely designed to be a gross motor activity that helps refine balance, coordination, and expend all that excess energy. But when you flip them over they make excellent beds for babies, basketball hoops, and my favorite: Bozo’s Grand Prize game. If any of you 80’s children remember this? Gonge also makes a toy called riverstones which is similar. But if you can splurge for the hilltops you will find they grow better with children over the years.

Oversized Wood Blocks

These large wood blocks can also be used as a gross motor activity. Think balance beams and obstacle courses. But they can also create an excellent ramp system for cars and trucks. They can also be transformed into a castle to house an entire family of princesses. Young children have incredible imaginations and you will be amazed at the things they can create beyond just a standard block tower.


I didn’t understand the hype of Magnatiles until I got my hands on them. There is an addictive quality to these durable, little plastic shapes. They provide hours of entertainment for kids ages 3 to 103. We started with 75 pieces and loved them so much that we added 75 more to our collection. But now I feel like we have too many and here’s why. When you have fewer pieces it forces children to work more with the shapes that are difficult to utilize. The squares are very easy to fit together and create with, however the isosceles triangles are not as easy to use. When you have fewer pieces, you are forced to innovate with all of them. This is where we really start to see the STEM skills and lessons kicking in with the toy–when it gets challenging. That’s why I recommend 75 to 100 pieces total for most kids.

Wood House

Sure, you could buy a doll house, a farm, a parking garage, and a firehouse. Or you could just buy one neutral wood structure that can be used in many different ways by children of different genders and interests. I love a simple wood house that can be transformed into an infinite number of possibilities. Two other options for houses like this are at Ikea and on Etsy.

Play Silks

Who knew that a few pieces of high quality fabric could create so many opportunities for play over the years? I have memories of using fabric to create dresses, veils, aprons, capes, etc. We have invested in six play silks at our house and we use them in new ways all the time. Butterfly wings? Check. Bandanas? Check. This is one of my favorite toys for open-ended play.

What are you favorite toys for that have grown with your children? You can see more of my favorite ideas on the Simple Families Holiday Toy Guide.

Facebook Live Announcement! Denaye will be joining me on a Facebook Live session today, Tuesday, December 5th at 10 am CT. Be sure you are on DoSayGive’s email list so you receive the reminder! Please ask any questions you have for the Denaye in the comments section below or message me on Facebook and I will be sure to ask her during our Facebook Live.

Thanks so much, Denaye, for this informative guest post! I’ve added all these toys to various categories on DoSayGive’s Holiday Gift Guide.


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