Before writing this piece, I was given one rule: “Start out the article by saying that spending time with your child is the biggest gift that a parent can give.” That’s from Dr. Roberta Golinkoff co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (and who helped us find the best toys for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds). Just a few days before we got back on the phone for 5-year-olds, Dr. Golinkoff’s partner’s son, Benj Pasek, won a Tony Award for the Best Original Score he wrote for Dear Evan Hansen. He’s halfway to an EGOT now (he has an Oscar for writing “City of Stars” for La La Land) and has become living proof that Dr. Golinkoff and her partner, Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to raising creative and successful children. Since she doesn’t quite understand the appeal of fidget spinners (“What the hell is the draw?” she asks me before we begin), Dr. Golinkoff recommends an array of classics for 5-year-olds.
Update, November 30, 2017: For the 2017 holiday season, we’ve updated this post with a couple of newer toys we think are just perfect for 5-year-olds. We’ve used our own Strat judgement alongside Dr. Golinkoff’s definitions of what makes the most educational and fun playthings for tots. The newest toys are up top.
Crafty and creative kids will love the sticky tactile feel of the newly released Oonies, which are little balloons they can inflate and then stick together. Each Oonie kit also comes with add-ons — like connectors, pellets, and eyes — so that you can create jungle animals out of your sticky balloons, and then make long chains of those animals.
“Hama Beads are fun and very creative, that’s for sure. By this age, they’re not going to eat the small pieces, so you don’t have to worry about that. My grandkids have a lot of fun with these.”
“Walkie-talkies encourage communication, collaboration, and creativity. Kids can go into their own imaginary worlds, but they have to tell each other stuff that the other one understands. It could be really fun. More fun than a cell phone, although kids love apps.”
“What about the old-fashioned favorites? Chutes and Ladders and Connect Four are great for pre-readers. Board games in general are great for any age group. Think about what happens: You’ve gotta talk; you’ve gotta count; you’ve gotta be nice. There isn’t much in the way for creativity because you’re following the rules, but as they get older, you realize you can make up your own rules.”
“Did you ever play games with a bouncing ball? There are all kinds of things you can do with a small pink bouncing ball and hand-clapping. I played those for a long time when I was a kid. As a parent, you can teach your kids these games (if you don’t know any, look them up on YouTube), and then they’ll go and teach the other kids, which is really great and so much fun.”
“Anything that spurs the imagination is great. A miniature anything, like this doll house, will make kids want to do role-play, which is very powerful for building creativity and imagination. It can be done alone or with other friends and family members. ”
This craft kit is sold out, but there’s another winter-themed craft kit of miniatures sold here.
“To go with that, make sure you get figurines that represent people of different ages — like grandma, grandpa, kids — so that kids can role-play family stuff. Any kind of imaginative role-play is good for creativity and content. If they play with other kids, they’ll argue and make cases, often about the kinds of things that boys and girls can do. One will say, “You can’t be a doctor, only boys can be doctors,” and meanwhile the kid’s mother is a doctor. This is how they learn. It’s going over the rules and roles of childhood.”
“Puzzles. The older the kid gets, the more pieces and the more abstract the picture gets. Kids love them. Stuff like this can be used as a reward for working together or doing homework by themselves.”
“It’s so much fun for kids to make little movies. Five might be a little young for making movies, they might need to learn how to read first, but a regular kids’ camera can work. It’s so fun, and you can work with the kid to teach it to them.”
“I don’t know that 5-year-olds can solve a Rubik’s Cube, but I think it’s kind of fun to play around and try this. Apparently, on the web there are guides for how to do it, and that’s maybe a nice opportunity for parents to work with kids to build collaboration and communication.”
“I think train sets are wonderful. Any type of props so they can do the make believe thing. And you know there are those mats that go on the floor that lay out the neighborhood? Kids love that. Starting even earlier than five, but they love that.”
This set is sold out, but Pottery Barn has another great, much more modern Metropolis Play City Train Track Set.
Get the best of The Strategist delivered to your inbox.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.