My daughter loves her screen time, that’s for sure, but lately I have been keenly aware of the other creative toys that she, as an 8 year old, really gravitates to, without any prompting from me. Or really, the toys that I realize I’m always telling her to put away, 16 times in a row before she listens. So maybe I’ll stop asking her to clean them up. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who secretly — or not-so-secretly — loves that quiet time when I’m reading or working, and the kids are next to me playing quietly, without the glow of a single screen. Or the intrusive noise of a YouTube video.
These are the toys that really keep her attention for a long time, even when she’s alone, and they never end up in the back of the closet — unused, forgotten, wasted. Don’t you just love toys with a good long shelf life?
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Related: The coolest craft gifts for kids of all ages
Papermade Paper Bots
This affordable little book of punch-out, fold-up robots can keep my daughter’s attention for ages. Because when the crafting part is done, the imagination part kicks in. There are other sets too like Ninja Paper Bots, Paper Pups, Paper Monsters, and coming soon, Paper Kitties including Miss Grumpy Cat. Just make sure you have a nice empty bin or basket to store them all, because your kid will never ever want to get rid of them.
YOXO building kits
She’s already obsessed with the pegasus and dragon, and now this company, named for the shapes of the eco-friendly cardboard building pieces (at very top), have a new series of Dino and Robot sets. As with LEGO sets, it’s a little hard to get my daughter to take apart her creation once she’s finished it. But when she does, she always comes back the next time with something a little different that she might even love more. Then it’s really really hard to get her to take it apart. Repeat, infinitely.
Spirograph Deluxe Design Set
How great is any toy that’s still going strong with very few changes after 50 years? My daughter is still totally nuts for Spirograph, which is in part why we included it in our holiday gift guide as one of the coolest art toys and gifts for kids of all ages. Unlike say an Etch-a-Sketch, which doesn’t keep her attention for too long, I can set this up on a table (or airplane tray table) and won’t see her come up for air — or snacks — for a good long while. There’s also a really affordable Spirograph Tin Set which is great for travel, though I recommend bringing along another pen just in case, because their included gel pens can be a little hit or miss from my experience.
Related: 6 ways to entertain kids in restaurants without pulling out a screen
Adult coloring books that kids like too
Not every kid has the patience to commit themselves to intricate abstract designs, but there are a few books that really capture kids’ attention, especially if they like the subject matter. Coloring Animal Mandalas by Wendy Piersall is a favorite. And now, so is the brand new Cotton + Steel coloring book (above), which includes images from all five of this fabric company’s designers. The result is more variety than you normally see in this kind of book and far less abstraction; you’ll find a vintage phone, flowers of all kinds, a cool overhead image of people walking with umbrellas, kids playing in front of a skyline, a pond of koi fish, and my favorite, Melody Miller’s page of cute cartoony gum wrappers.
In fact, my daughter said when she first opened the book, “I thought it would just be designs but there’s actually like a PERSON you can color!” So there you go.
You can also find adult coloring books around single topics your kid might be interested in, like Harry Potter, cute kawaii animals, or Air Jordans (seriously). And hey, if you don’t want to invest in a whole coloring book, these printable Star Wars Force Awakens coloring pages from a talented Etsy artist we found earlier this year are pretty awesome.
Fashion Plates and Action Plates Drawing Playsets
Anything having to do with designing outfits can keep my kids busy for hours, which is why we included the Action Hero set in our gift guide this past holiday as one of the coolest superhero gifts for kids. But hey, lots of kids are still into the Fashion Plates that we played with as kids — my daughter asked to put them on her birthday list, and I don’t blame her; I have fond memories creating pages and pages of outfits at my grandmother’s on rainy days. So wonderful.
Repositionable Sticker Playsets
I admit I would have thought my 8 year old a little old for reusable sticker playsets, but she goes crazy for these sets from Melissa & Doug, and I think any kid with a big imagination will too. It’s almost like a travel dollhouse she can take on the road. While I find some of the themes a little gender-stereotypical for me (Princesses! Day of Glamour!) she sparked to this “Cool Careers” set we found in our local drugstore, and the 100 repositionable stickers kept her nice and busy on a sick day at home this week. Plus the price is awesome.
There’s also Colorforms, which have gotten pretty licensed lately (Minions, Frozen, other usual suspects), though older kids might love the Colorforms Original 60th anniversary playset. There are also great magnetic tins to the same effect, like the DC Comic Magnetic Scenes we featured in our list of 11 of the best travel toys for kids.
As for traditional stickers, my daughter absolutely adores all the Usborne dress-up sticker books too, for what it’s worth. But you know…once they’re done they’re done.
These eco-friendly, magnetic blocks are magical and my kids have loved them since they first came out a few years ago. Since then, they’ve added so many more sets that let you create cars, robots, and their newest addition, the Stunt Team Tegu sets which let you mix and match parts to make crazy copters, tow trucks and more speedy things that go. Though I still love the basic blocks the best. The one caveat: They’re pricey. But if you add onto them slowly over time, you’ll end up with an awesome heirloom collection of really high quality blocks.
I know this goes without saying, but kids love LEGOs. Even if we don’t always like finding them embedded in our feet. But I remain amazed by how much time my daughter can spend following the instructions perfectly to create exactly what’s on the box cover — and then keep the fun going by mixing and matching with other sets she has. The LEGO Friends gals in our home are no stranger to Rey’s Speeder, Emmett and Unikitty, and various Middle Earth denizens. As it should be.