Top Five Play Based Learning Must Haves

play based learning

Wondering what play based learning materials and toys you need for your classroom? Looking to add more play based learning and purposeful play to your classroom? You shouldn’t have to spend your whole paycheck to supply your classroom with play toys and materials, so where do you even begin? Your collection can build slowly over time. In this blog post I’ll go into my top 5 play materials so you know what to look for first, but remember, you don’t have to have it all your first year! You can add toys and materials slowly over the years!

Where do I get the play based learning materials and toys?

play based learning classroom

You can buy play based learning toys, but before you even spend a cent, please look at some yard sales or Facebook Marketplace or Buy Nothing groups in your area! Families are always outgrowing these toys and looking to give them a good home, and who better to give them to than a teacher?! You can also ask the families in your class that if they ever outgrow any toys, you would love them for the classroom. I’ve got many games and toys that way. I have put all my must-haves in this one Amazon list, but use it for ideas and do some searching for used toys first before spending your precious money on brand new ones!

Open-ended play based learning materials

play based learning

One of the most important criteria when I am buying new play based learning toys and materials for my classroom is that it be open-ended. I want the material to have lots of possibilities for play, not just one. For example, I wouldn’t buy a lego set that can only be made into one thing, I’d rather buy the open-ended lego creating set that can be used to build anything the children think of! There are different imaginary toys, like a dollhouse, that only technically serves one purpose… the children play dolls with it. However, they can come up with a million+ scenarios for their play. It’s open-ended. 

Building toys

play based learning

Building materials are an absolute must-have play based learning material. So much learning happens from building! Science, engineering, mathematics, and if you tie in writing signs or books about buildings, you’ve got literacy! I love open-ended blocks like these ones. There are a million choices, but start with an open-ended set like this and then grow your collection from there. My students love these Playstix if you are looking to add to your collection. Legos and Magnet Tiles are also always a favorite, but definitely ask families or check yard sales for these, because they are expensive! I definitely did not buy my sets I inherited them from retired teachers and families. 

Creating materials

playful learning

Children love to create and express themselves with art. Luckily for you, most of these materials can be found in your recycling bin! I love using Beautiful Stuff as a play area in my classroom to let the children create. You can learn about that play center here. In addition to building and creating with recycled goods, I include paper (often scrap paper), stamps, stencils, and different coloring tools. 

Imaginary materials

purposeful play

Children love to pretend and imagine and dramatic play is the perfect place for this. You can read about dramatic play and it’s benefits here. I inherited a pretend kitchen with pretend food and kitchen tools, but we don’t use it for every dramatic play set up. If you have limited fund and don’t have this for your room, don’t worry! You can still have a successful dramatic play center! You can use a blank poster or bulletin board paper to draw a background (or get the kids to help draw!) to show off the theme for your dramatic play center! There are more tips by reading this post on setting up dramatic play at home!

I like to have some dress up and baby dolls in my center. A lot of the dress up came from my grandmother when she passed away. I took a lot of the purses and gloves that were just going to be given away. I also took a lot of her scarves that can be used for so many purposes in the child’s imagination! So, before you go buying new dress up packs, look around at what’s in the donation pile and ask family members too! Finally, I like to print some photos and visuals to go along with the theme, which is why I love my dramatic play bundle! It has everything I use to transform my dramatic play centers. 


play based learning toys

I like to have games for students to play to practice winning, losing, and playing with others. I have card games, board games, and some cooperative games too! These are easily found in yard sales, or even your own childhood home! I took a lot of games I found at home to school, like my favorite childhood game Rat-a-tat-Cat!

Windows and Mirrors in Play Based Learning

When looking to take new play based learning toys and materials to your classroom, try to always have a windows and mirrors lens on. When searching for new baby dolls for my classroom, I had to scroll and scroll and scroll to find a baby that wasn’t white. I want my students to have toys that showcase families and babies and people that look like them (mirrors) and that don’t look like them (windows). I also want to make sure that I am not reinforcing stereotypes with dolls. Many dolls show the women in a pink dress and then man in a suit with a briefcase. They also only have families that show a mom and dad, as opposed to other kinds of families. I am very purposeful about which toys I bring into my classroom. I always try to have a windows and mirrors lens when choosing those toys. 


When choosing your play based learning materials and toys, I’ve got you covered with these five must-haves! As you are building your collection, always be looking at Facebook, yard sales, families from your classroom, and your own family and friends, for used toys instead of buying them new! Also, always be looking at toys and materials to both represent the students and families in your class, as well as children that might not be in your class. 

Comment below with your favorite place to find toys for your classroom!

Get the FULL Dramatic Play Bundle with 10 different dramatic play setups. These include posters, visuals, writing sheets, word walls, labels, and more!

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