Top 10 Holiday Toys (Recommended By A Play Therapist) Under $30

Toys are my world. As a play therapist, I have a fully stocked play therapy space and am always on the lookout for great toys. Despite the current popularity of video games and electronics, there are no electronic toys in my office. And kids still really enjoy my stuff!

What Should I Buy For Kids?

As you prepare for this holiday season, I have compiled a list of the Top 10 Toys used in my office. I have also tried to explain why a child might benefit from this toy. And, everything on the list is under $30.  Most are under $20.

**There are no affiliate links or any financial connections to any of these products. **

TOP 10 Play Therapist Recommended Toys

10. Toy Phones.  Get two so you can talk to each other. This comes in handy to complement other toys you will find later on this list. Just stick with the basics-a wooden one if you can find it, or a plastic one that doesn’t light up and sing distracting songs. The red one I have is technically electronic. If you dial 911, it will say, “What is your emergency?”  You can find this toy phone on Amazon for $29.


9. Dress Up.  A cape and a mask is the most popular dress up item in my office. Everyone loves to feel powerful and a superhero cape does the trick for under $10. I see these at department stores a lot.  Amazon has a cool 4 pack for girls for $19.99.


8. Handcuffs.  This one may surprise you. And you might be worried that this is not appropriate. But they make these inexpensive toy handcuffs  (usually 5.99 at Walgreens) and they have a release button so you don’t’ have to worry about losing the keys. This is definitely one of the most popular items in my office. And it’s a good way to discuss rules and consequences when you pretend to go to jail. Get the metal ones. The plastic ones are not as good.


7. Musical anything. Anything that plays music or makes music is a hit. I know what you’re thinking: the noise! But letting kids make their own music is so much better than listening to that annoying video game music play in the background constantly.

THERAPIST TIP:Get in there with them and try some rhythmic drumming with their names. Practice spelling words and have some fun while you are at it.

6. Swords. Having a set of foam swords is always a cool way to allow some aggressive play without worrying about injuries. I have had these foam swords for years, but they have a great 6 pack of toy swords at Wal-Mart for $11.99.


THERAPIST TIP: If you can’t find swords, get some of the pool noodles and cut them in half. Same thing, half the price. You can also wrap some of that new duct tape that has the patterns on the bottom to make it a little sturdier.


5.  Cash register. Little kids up to tweens seem to love practicing as cashier. The older kids become more focused on getting exact totals and change which helps build their math skills. You can find some cool printables to go along with your cash register on Pinterest. I have this toy cash register (Amazon $20.79).


4. Games. Any type of board game or card game is fun for all ages. My favorite competitive games are Jenga, Connect Four, and Sorry.   These games build frustration tolerance (the ability to handle hardship without falling apart) and also following rules and directions.



Cooperative board games are also really fun. These games require you to either win or lose as a team. Sounds hokey? You know how popular those adult escape room games are (Memphis has one). Cooperative board games are kind of like that. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Every kid in my office is compelled to play it again and again until we can “beat it” together. My favorite is Hoot Owl Hoot (17.99 at Barefoot Books).


3. Art supplies. For little kids to teens, anything arts and crafts is a safe bet. Crayons, markers, paint, clay, play-doh, coloring books, or anything that you can design, create or make. Not only does this stimulate creativity, but it is great for attention and focus. You can find these adult coloring books everywhere now. I prefer markers, but some people prefer colored pencils.


THERAPIST TIP:Don’t comment on how beautiful the creation is (this actually decreases artistic creativity. Instead, comment on what you see. You can say, “you used lots of colors or you drew on the entire paper” to show interest without affecting their imagination.


2. Kitchens and Play Food. Definitely a winner for children 3-8 although if you have older siblings, they will probably join in. If you don’t have the budget for a big kitchen, then just get the food and some pots. The Facebook resale sites usually have this one there and you can always find one at a consignment sale.


And the Number 1 TOY IS….

1. SAND. This is a hands down favorite toy.  I have this portable sand tray (reg. 19.99)from Child Therapy Toys (but  you can use any solid container). As an actual parent, I know that the mess can be annoying. Kinetic sand is a less messy option. But really, find a way to incorporate sand into your life (outside or in the garage) and your children will thank you for it. The sensory benefits are amazing ( just feels good).

Portable Sand Box

So, hope you find some great ideas for holiday shopping for all ages.

P.S. I just remembered…this is my all time favorite gift for 3-4 year olds so you get a bonus.


These Melissa and Doug bricks ($19.99 at Target) are great for building and destroying towers.


And they are virtually indestructible.

You can literally STAND on them and they don’t break.


Have fun putting them together (it’s not that bad) and do this ahead of time so they are ready to go first thing Christmas morning.

Happy holidays! What’s your favorite toy gift for kids? 



About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at


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