6.) Dress-up box. Assembling a dress-up box is a long-term endeavor. Start with discount stores, thrift shops, and your own closet. You can buy doctor’s scrubs, a firefighter hat, and other accessories. Give your child a lot of choices to avoid gender stereotypes. Place the box near a mirror and have a camera handy.
7.) Puppets. Hand puppets, sock puppets, finger puppets -- kids love to make puppets and play with them. You can make a puppet theater out of a cardboard box or create a makeshift theater by having your child crouch behind the couch.
8.) Puzzles. Yes, you spend a lot of time taking apart the couch and looking for missing pieces. But puzzles are a cornerstone toy for encouraging creative thinking in a roundabout way. Even though there is a right way to put a puzzle together, doing so teaches children how things in life fit together. Most puzzles are flat, but you can also get three-dimensional puzzles and puzzles that can fit together more than one way.
9.) Books. Well, obviously! What can I say to do justice to books and their impact on young children? Classics are a must, but don’t turn your nose up at silly books or seemingly ho-hum books -- kids have their own ideas of ho-hum.
10.) Balls. This is a toy box staple I underestimated until my kid came along. Now, I’m amazed how long she can play with a ball, how many things she can think of to do with a ball, and how sad she can get when a ball rolls too far under the couch for her to retrieve it.
I once planned to allow my child one lone well-stocked toy box. Having just a few toys would encourage her to be more creative, I thought. Now that I’m in the trenches, I see how easy it is for toys to pile up. We get a lot as gifts, and I buy her things on impulse, especially when she’s going through an everything-frog phase and I see a stuffed frog in the window of a toy store.
Despite all the toys she’s accumulated, I see how these basic, tried-and-true toys are selected over and over again. Toys that inspire creativity are far more useful to a child than a toy that only does one thing. The toy with the single, shrill chirping noise is quickly -- and mercifully -- forgotten. And if it isn’t, at least the battery will eventually die.