Walking down the toy aisle of any store can be an overwhelming experience, especially during the holidays. It’s hard to see past the loudest singing, brightest flashing toys claiming to be the next “must-have” toy. I have spent a lot of time as a pediatric occupational therapist critically evaluating the toys I incorporate into my practice and they have spilled into my life at home with my children. And most of them are battery-free toys!
My #1 guideline for choosing toys that best support and enrich all areas of development is that the toy isn’t the one having all the fun. When you think about battery-powered toys, often the toy is doing all of the playing. The child simply has to push a button then watch the toy “play” until it is time to push another button. This can be fun and satisfying for a few days, but eventually becomes predictable and can be challenging for the child to think of other ways to use the toy.
In contrast, battery-free toys are open-ended, requiring the child to move, make noise, or even build them, offering endless options for different ways of engaging in play. Plus, batteries are expensive, and you never seem to have enough of the correct size in the junk drawer when you need them!
Here is a list of 15 battery-free toys under $30, broken down by developmental age, that would make a great Christmas gift and create fun for longer than winter break! Many are available online, but can also be found in Portland neighborhood toy stores and consignment shops if you are shopping local this season!
- Stack and Roll Cups: Fun for stacking, knocking over, or putting together and rolling. Another bonus – at three, my son still LOVES them!
- Indestructible Books: Soft and flexible, these really are indestructible!
- Pull Back Cars: The body is soft and squeezable, and it does not take a lot of backwards pull to create a forward motion. The best battery-free toys for little hands!
- Wonderbly Personalized Books: With whimsical illustrations, the adventures characters go on to “find” their lost name, this gift will captivate your child for many years!
- Highlights! Hello Magazine: Made of durable, rip resistant pages filled with bright pictures, short stories, and age-appropriate activities, they are the perfect size for small hands and can even involves the whole family.
- My Town Block Set: 35-piece puzzle base of grass, ponds, and roads to build the block town on.
- Squigz: The suction cup base allows for building on a variety of surfaces, and pulling and pushing the parts together to makes these hours of imaginative play!
- Spot It!: An easy-to-play card game, perfect for family game night or to throw in a bag when traveling.
- DIY Monster Puppets: These Melissa & Doug puppets allow for taking apart and building them again, over and over!
- Board Games: The original battery-free toys! Some of our favorites from this site include The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel, Frankies Food Truck Fiasco, and Sophie’s Seashell Scramble.
- Off Bits: Think of Legos, with a twist. Each kit comes with a variety of pieces to build different characters or mix with other kits to create your own Off Bit.
- Fizzy Paint Watercolor Kit: Includes quality materials needed to create your own shades of paint. Plus, there are idea sheets that offer interesting ways to use the watercolor tabs. Recommended for 8+, but my three and five-year-olds love it!
- Lulu Illustory: Kids write and illustrate their own story on the pages provided, mail it to the company (postage-paid mailer included) and they get their very own published, hardcover book!
- ZOOB Builderz: Another open-ended construction toy that supports S.T.E.M. concepts through play!
- Cooking Class Cookbook: A cookbook designed specifically for the young chef in your family! A fun, healthy way to support independence and creativity in the kitchen.
Please comment below if any of these are already a favorite of your family or if you have other favorite battery-free toys on your shopping list!
Katie is an occupational therapist, recently turned stay-at-home-mom and relocated to PDX from Maine. Her days are filled with coffee, playgrounds, and providing seemingly endless snacks to her two children.