TinkerLab Gift Guide | Games that Encourage Creativity and Imagination

These games are so fun. My kids love them all, but Obstacles and Catan really rise to the top | TinkerLab Gift Guide

I’ve been busy working on a series of TinkerLab Gift Guides for games, books, and tools that support creativity, imagination, experimentation, and curiosity…the backbones of invention and innovation. Hours of research and testing have gone into making these lists a valuable resource. If you have any recommendations of products to add, join me over at Club TinkerLab on Facebook. I’d love to meet you.

Today I’m sharing gift ideas for games that encourage creativity and imagination. These are all kid-tested and celebrated for their ability to encourage creative thinking, making, open-ended discovery, and imagination.

This list contains affiliate links.

For the first guide in this series, be sure to check out our Favorite Toys for Builders and Engineers.

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Creative Thinking

Tell MeTell me a Story Cards | TinkerLab a Story Creative Story Cards – $9.95 (ages 3+)

This deceptively simple deck of cards encourages storytelling, literacy, creativity, and imagination skills. Each card in the deck is an illustration that’s loosely related to all of the other cards. There are so many ways to play. One of our favorites is to shuffle the cards and turn them over at random to weave a story together. Sometimes my husband or I tell the story, sometimes the kids take the lead, and sometimes we collaborate.

51MZ3e86HGLObstacles Game – $16.95 (ages 4+)

We’ve had this game for a few years and I can’t say enough good things about it. The object of the game is to go down a path toward home, but along the way you have to pass obstacles such as a tall mountain or a fence with security wire. Using the “solution” cards in your hand, you have to figure out a creative way to overcome or bypass the obstacle. This can be a cooperative game with grown-ups and kids working together to come up with clever solutions. Encourages cooperative problem solving, imagination-building, and creative thinking.

Story Dice | TinkerLabImagination Station Story Dice – $7.99 (ages 6+)

Named one of Dr. Toy’s Best 10 Games of 2015, the idea of these is similar to the Tell Me a Story Cards, this set includes a dice guide and four suggested games to play, with millions of possible story combinations. The dice represent different story elements such as heroes, obstacles, villains, prizes, and settings. I just ordered a bunch of these for friends and stocking stuffers.

Rory's Story CubesRory’s Story Cube Complete Set – Original – Actions – Voyages – $7.00 per set, $21 for pack of three (ages 4+)

Similar to the Story Dice (above), the images on these dice are a bit more abstract and can lend themselves to a broader spectrum of stories. We have both sets and you could easily combine them together.

Dixit Game | TinkerLabDixit – $22.99 (ages 8+)

This game encourages humor and imagination. We first played this with three generations after Thanksgiving dinner, and it was a hoot. Everyone got into the game.

Apples to Apples Junior | TinkerLabApples to Apples – $21.00 (ages 9+)

This game has 400 5-star reviews on Amazon, so something is working. Make wild comparisons while building vocabulary and critical thinking skills at the same time. While the game is recommended for ages 9 and up, independent readers will be able to play. When we play with our little ones, we help them read the words and we all have a great time. For four or more people.

Drawing and Making

Pictionary | TinkerLabPictionary – $13.89 (ages 4+)

It’s not the same as the original game, but an improvement is that it includes 1200 adult clues and 800 junior clues so that the whole family can play. You can find a copy of the original Pictionary here.

51gsfWBESwLCranium Brain Breaks Game – $9.33 (ages 6+)

Instant creative fun, with over 200 quick mini games to play around the themes of drawing, sculpting, acting, and moving. For 2-6 players. This is a good travel-sized Cranium option for the airplane, quick breaks between homework and dinner, or for a few minutes of waiting room fun.

Logic and Strategy

Richard Scarry’s BusyTownBusy Town Game | TinkerLab – $19.99 (ages 3 and up)

Solve mysteries and find hidden objects in this fun game with a 6-foot long game board with a focus on teamwork, attention to details, and matching skills. This is a great game for preschoolers and up

71ZqNTaDQIL._SL1500_Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards – $15.99 (ages 3 and up)

Match shapes to patterns and illustrations. Good for hand-eye coordination, matching, shape recognition. Made from wood. You can also take the illustrations away and just use the blocks for open-ended imaginative play.

Twister Game | TinkerLabTwister – $12.84 (ages 6+)

This one takes me back to my childhood. Put your hands and feet at different places on the mat without falling over. It supports creative thinking skills in relation to movement. I love games that encourage physical activity. 

Jenga Classic GameJenga Classic – $8.59 (ages 6+)

Pull out a bock without crashing the stack. This game is reasonably priced and it appeals to all ages. A family classic.

61p3k8SbPgLCatan Junior – $27.00 (ages 7+)

This is a fun strategy game for up to four players, but you can easily team up if you have more players. My 5-year old enjoys the game, but she usually chooses to man the “stock” or supplies (sort of like the bank in Monopoly), so I would recommend this for ages seven and up. It’s doesn’t actively encourage creativity, but it’s a fun strategy game that our whole family can play together. And there’s a bit of creative thinking around which pieces to play.

Keva Brain BuildersKeva Brain Builders – $13.46 (ages 7+)

This affordable gift is great for little builders who like the challenge of solving puzzles. Similar to Gravity Maze (above). If comes with challenge cards – match the plank design to the cards while practicing construction skills, hand-eye coordination, and pattern recognition.

818-eLy6yML._SL1500_Gravity Maze – 24.49 (ages 8+)

This is a logic game for puzzle fans who enjoy marble runs. It encourages critical thinking skills, logic, and strategy.

Q-bitz71h1PsXlyqL._SL1382_ – 21.95 (ages 8+)

This fun, fast-paced game teaches pattern recognition, fractions, spatial reasoning, memory, and hand eye coordination. It’s small size makes it a convenient game for travel, and it will appeal to all ages. My kids just got one for Hanukkah, and it’s sure to be a family favorite.

Playing Cards

My husband suggested that I add playing cards to this list, and boy is he right since they support open-ended play through the limitless games you can play and invent.

Cute playing cards for kids | TinkerLabBicycle Brosmind Playing Cards – $3.99

My girls are REALLY into cute characters, and these cards are right up their alley. Each card is different and they are super creative designs. Brosmind is a design studio in Barcelona, Spain, founded by Juan and Alejandro Mingarro and their bright illustrations draw inspiration from street art all over Spain.

Monarch Playing Cards | TinkerLabTheory11 Monarch Playing Cards – $7.92

These high quality cards are gorgeous. I just bought a couple sets of these gorgeous card sets as stocking stuffers for my husband and brother-in-law (shhh).

These games are so fun. My kids love them all, but Obstacles and Catan really rise to the top | TinkerLab Gift Guide

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For more gift ideas that support creativity, curiosity, imagination, and making, be sure to check out our Favorite Toys for Engineering and Building.

Best toys builders engineers | TinkerLab Gift Guide

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If you’re looking for the full list of recommended books, art supplies, science tools and more, head over to TinkerLab Resources for our most popular, recommended supplies and tools.

TinkerLab Resource Guide

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Rachelle Doorley Rachelle Doorley is a mom and an arts educator with a passion for helping families and teachers set up meaningful creative projects for kids. She's the author of the popular kids’ craft book and bestseller, TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors, and her articles and ideas on creativity and arts education have been featured in School Arts Magazine, Real Simple, and FamilyFun. Rachelle has an art studio. in Palo Alto, CA where she seeks out ways to make every day creative. Join the TinkerLab circle through our FREE newsletter.


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