Last Updated: October 22, 2022
As summer is starting to wind down, we’re thinking about what a winter indoors is going to look like. With a few indoor play places to go, and outdoor adventures being shorter, it’s the season to start thinking about finding the best indoor play active toys for your kids. We’ll be spending a lot of time at home this winter. We still get outdoors in all weather year round, but not like summertime.
So before you start panic buying anything that looks like it might buy you five minutes of free time, consider what your family will use most. This list is geared toward younger kids (think toddler, preschoolers, and elementary age), but some of these items will interest older kids too. And each item includes a cheaper “save” option for those on a budget.
“Active” toys are only as fun as your kid thinks they are! So if you invest in a cool toy that your kiddo is not into, then try to mix it up and use it in another way. Play a game with it, combine it with another toy etc. Or trade up with a friend and swap for something else your kid might be into. While a lot of the really durable and beautiful Montessori-style toys are wooden and minimalist, in our house, as long as it gets used, isn’t “instant garbage” (super cheap and breakable, batteries required), and can be handed down to someone else in the future, we’re here for it! Plastic toys included. This list is also great for indoor play in summer when the air quality is too bad for outdoor play!
Here are the best active toys for indoor play to buy now before they sell out:
- Balance Toys
- Indoor Climbing Toys & Slides
- Wheeled & Ride-on
- Bouncing & Hopping
- Indoor Swings
- Active Learning
- Fort Building & Miscellaneous
I wrote a whole post about these in the spring – The Best Balance Boards for Kids. There are a lot of neat options in this category.
The options are pretty endless for balance beams. You can go the traditional route, more advanced with some height, or even interlocking pieces to create different shapes. Just consider where you will store a balance beam before buying. Shorter ones can fit under a couch.
There are a lot of things you already have in your home to use for tumble mats! We still haven’t bought one as we use doubled up yoga mats that we already own. If not, here are some great options. Remember to look at the dimensions/thickness and reviews as all mats are not created equal.
Free: [if you have] yoga mats or blankets
Stepping Stones Balance Rocks
These “river rock” foam balancing pieces have been trendy the last few years. Be aware of the dimensions before you order. Some of the smaller sets probably wouldn’t interest older kids as much as the larger “rocks”. Great for preschoolers open ended active indoor play.
Free: couch pillows!
Indoor Climbing Toys
Monkey Bars Climbing Tower
Ok this one is a bit out of budget range! But how beautiful is this Koala wooden playset. Ok, Pinteresting and moving on. There are so many different ways you can go with an indoor climbing structure. Most of them expensive. I loved the Piklar triangle Montessori climbers, but just couldn’t justify the expense. I’m glad I waited and got my three year old the Eezy Peezy (or building something outdoors). This is also an area worth looking for a Step2 brand type climber/playhouses on Facebook Marketplace etc as summer ends.
A friend had one of the smaller Step2 climbing play houses with a little slide and tiny door in her dining room for her 18 month old and she loved it for years! They would occasionally put it away or move it outside in summer, but it was a great indoor rainy activity for gross motor play! There are some pretty amazing indoor climbing gym and structure installations. Limited space? Gorilla Gym also has some nice indoor options for doorways.
Kids Couch, Cushions, or Foam Blocks
Free form building and climbing with a kids couch or foam block type pieces is the ultimate open-ended physical indoor play. A lot of families swear by the colorful Nugget Comfort couch. We haven’t invested in one. But a tri-fold foam sleep mat we got for camping this summer has really bridged the gap. Our preschooler is using it as a mountain, hill, fort and all kinds of tumbling fun.
Free: Whatever you got! We’ve used poufs, pillows, yoga mats, and even a twin mattress a couple times after guests were visiting and we hadn’t put it away yet.
The Little Tikes slide is great for indoor use, and short enough that it doesn’t feel super dangerous. The Piklar triangles with slides are super beautiful. So if you’re Montessori or already have the triangle base, you could upgrade to the slide attachment. We were quite happy with the Little Tikes plastic slide. It’s not a work of art, but it has served its purpose of indoor play from 18 months onward. And then we have a play slide outside off our deck.
Hear me out! I don’t recommend this for older kids, but if you have a little one in the 18 month – 3 age and you have the space in your home. Biking on a balance bike can be a great indoor activity to help them gain confidence and balance. Around 2, we would clean off the tires, he’d put his helmet on, and then let him bike around and he loved it, got energy out without having to get bundled.
Ride-on toys are kind of an all-encompassing category of active toys and age ranges. Kids tend to go through phases of interest between 1-3, and even after. We had a borrowed Ybike Pewi Walking/Riding toy for awhile, a hand-me-down Radio Flyer roadster, friends had a wheelie bug, and other the Little Tikes ride-on elephant. If you still have any ride on toys, and have the space, putting it away and then bring out during winter could be a great option. Or get the PlasmaCar which is indoor/outdoor and for all ages (adults too!).
Bouncing & Hopping Toys
Around 15 months to 2.5 most kiddos looove to bounce. I believe the Rody Pony was the original in this category. My niece had one years ago, we got the Amazon Horse. It’s the Rody’s slightly less shiny cousin. Good enough for this house. This active toy was a hit for the early toddler years, around 18 months to two. Slightly older toddlers and older kids will enjoy the ball hoppers with handles.
Speaking of bouncing. The small Little Tikes rebounder is great for indoors. While it does take up some floor space, it’s a great way to let toddlers get some extra wiggles out, especially with the grip handle. A friend has this and stores it in their guest room so it’s not always out in the living room. And of course if you have some kind of huge indoor space, or covered outdoor area, the giant climb and slide one looks pretty fun!
Choosing an indoor swing really depends on your space, kids, and you. If you don’t have a room that a swing could safely go in, a more pod type or chair swing can be a fun loungy addition. This can also be a great cool-down or chill out space for older kids.
Depending on your house and kids, you might not want your children throwing anything. If you do have a space that can be used for throwing indoors, here are some options.
Roll, Dice, Active Learning Toys
Miscellaneous Active Play Items
Fort Building Kit
File under, wow, you really can buy anything! Not to sound like an ancient mama, but when I was growing up, if we wanted to build a fort indoors… that was on us. They now make fort building kits. Some of them do look pretty cool though and great for encouraging the engineering mind. Fort building tops our list of one of the best open-ended toys and activities for 4 year olds and older preschoolers! While you can get fort kits, it sounds like they are either often cheaply made, or you need to buy 2 or 3 kits to get enough pieces to satisfy kids building needs. Fort building clips can also be great for using items you already have in your home. We have used the Melissa & Doug construction toolkit with large pieces of cardboard to assemble houses and forts as well.
Free: Have some clothespins? Sheets? Enjoy!
Other Active Play Ideas
Burton Riglet Snowboard – I just got this for my almost three year old. It’s an indoor/outdoor snowboard for young kids (2-5 is probably target age) with a pull reel for the parent to hold onto. It can go on carpet, grass, sand, or snow. You can also get a felt cover for it so you can use on hardwood floors (Backcountry has that $11). I snowboard so I was initially excited to find an intro to boarding option that didn’t require boots and bindings! This is a great balance toy and low pressure way to introduce a snow sport without spending a bunch on gear, lift tickets, lessons etc. Even if you’re not a snow sport family, it’s still a fun indoor balance toy! We’re using with tri-fold mat and would be fun with a Nugget Couch! Burton – $105 or search last years model (I paid $72)
Inflatable Kiddie Pool – If you still have one from summer, use with other toys or do a ball pit but with pillows or something. Sorry I just cannot with the amount of waste with typical ball pit balls. I think you need hundreds if not thousands for it to be deep enough for kids to get really into it. So unless we got them used, we just use stuffed animals and soft toys and balls or play a game with it.
Hula Hoop – You know what to do!
I hope this list gave you some ideas for a few active toys to get you through winter. This list can also make great gift ideas for grandparents or other family members. Happy indoor play time!
More Active Play ideas
Originally published August 2020, updated fall 2022.