Rose & Rex is on a mission to support children’s development with open-ended play and intentionally chosen toys. As a teacher-founded brand, they know play-time is often misunderstood as an experience that’s separate from learning. In fact, play and learning are valuably connected. Through play experiences, young children learn how to make sense of the world and develop essential cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills that they’ll take into adulthood. Built on a social mission, Rose & Rex offers the most comprehensive selection of open-ended toys that actively engage a child rather than entertain. Ready to be personalized, explored in multiple ways, open-ended toys are thoughtfully designed to do less, so a child does more. Below are our top 10 screen-free, non-plastic, no-batteries-needed toy picks to encourage purposeful, imaginative play.
Made from all-natural plant-based rubber and colored with natural food dyes, this Oli & Carol bath boat is safe for bath time, teething, and creative play. Plus, it’s designed without a hole, which means it floats without collecting mold or grime. Perfect for helping little ones ease into bath time, this toy is more than a fun distraction while you shampoo—it helps teach coordination, communication, and encourages sensory development, all while kiddo pretends to be a shark.
Instantly create a developmental play space with this soft, handmade felt play mat. A play staple in many Waldorf classrooms, it effortlessly engages children’s imaginations as they scaffold a pretend world, from stories to character development. Farms are a familiar, fascinating concept for young minds, from how veggies grow to the noise a cow makes. This toy is also a terrific way to engage children’s gross motor system and get them moving. As toddlers grow into big kids, this play mat grows with them. Babies and tots engage in play that helps support sensory and language development. At age three, it’s all about pretend play. Five- and six-year old kids will combine multiple interests for well-rounded learning, like using blocks to build a stable or pursuing extension activities like learning about animals and natures.
Made from organic fleece, this cuddly cub encourages social and emotional development. As children play with pretend friends, they practice being caretakers by feeding, dressing, “bathing”, and tucking in their plush pal. Through these play experiences, young children develop empathy, reinforce language skills, and polish up their emotional intelligence. Bonus: this bear gives back! For every bear sold, 25% of sales is donated to Second Chance Toys.
Play silks are one of the ultimate open-ended materials. Ready to be transformed and re-imagined hundreds of ways, they bring a sensorial experience to play, foster creativity, encourage movement, and promote role-playing. Children may imagine their play silk as water on which to sail a boat, a campfire for roasting marshmallows, a super-hero cape, a canopy for a special fort, and so much more. Finely crafted and durable, grab a play silk and see where their imagination takes them.
One of the best sensory materials for young learners, eco dough is a must-have for promoting fine motor skills and language exploration, from oral speech to letter recognition. Because eco dough engages children’s senses, they are primed to speak about their play experience. Reach for this rainbow of all-natural play dough to help kiddo master the ABC’s, make a pretend cake, build a castle, or sculpt a character for their latest story. Eco Dough is made from all-natural ingredients, including plant, fruit, and vegetable extracts, and is lightly scented with essential oils that keep the dough soft and pliable (and keep little hands soft and smelling great!).
Hop to it! With the winter months upon us, this is a top-pick for indoor play when kids are in need of a physical outlet. The play mat encourages whole-body movement, coordination, and, in addition to playing the game of hopscotch, children will use the grid to imagine make-believe worlds they can create, from planning and building their own town to zooming race cars down a pretend track. Every mat is handmade by an artisan in Nepal, which makes each a one of a kind present.
Encourage well-rounded learning with this richly colored set of handcrafted blocks. Ready to support a child’s development at every age, the variety of shapes in this set promote building and learning STEAM skills, imaginative play, spatial awareness, language skills, and more. Try this play tip to connect with kiddo: describe each block’s attributes, such as shape, size, color, texture, placement or location in relation to other blocks, and simply state what you notice, such as, “I notice you placed the blue cube next to the green cylinder.” This helps develop a child’s spatial awareness and vocabulary. Blocks engage children’s natural desire to plan, execute, create, try and understand. In return, that process builds a sturdy foundation of complex skills, from problem-solving to cooperation. The Provence Block Set is lovingly handcrafted from sustainably forested wood and dyed with color-safe paint.
Meet one of our favorite alternatives to screen-time. Coloring placemats make meal-time, travel, and play dates an engaging, fun play experience that helps enhance, focus, fine motor skills, coordination, and collaboration. Full of smile-making illustrations that engage young imaginations, these are a terrific catalyst for conversation, storytelling, and pre-writing practice. Plus, all that coloring helps support fine motor muscles and dexterity.
We like to think of these as magic beans. This beautiful wooden set is called a “manipulative,” which are toys that help make abstract concepts concrete and support cognitive skills including math and spatial awareness. Children can stack, pile, and categorize their beans. They can build with them, line them up, or design them into a pattern. They can be sorted and grouped to help teach counting, one-to-one correspondence, and basic math. This set comes with multi-colored beans, a small wooden bowl, and chopsticks — a great tool for teaching dexterity and the all-important tripod grip.
A great pick for ages six and older, these modern paper dolls encourage storytelling, literacy, creativity, and innovation. They offer a tactile, sensory-driven alternative to digital art that engages children’s fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and problem-solving abilities. Beautifully handcrafted and illustrated, these dolls from Of Unusual Kind celebrate the cherished tradition of paper dolls with a contemporary spin.
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How do you incorporate learning and creativity into your child’s play-time?