Gift Edit

15 of the Best Quiet-Time Toys For Kids Who’ve Dropped Their Naps

published Feb 9, 2023
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Credit: Lula Poggi

This feature is part of Cubby's Gift Edit, our editor-curated collection of gift ideas. Need more inspiration? Check out all our guides here.

Here at Cubby, we spend a lot of time thinking about toys. We discuss the merits of particular playthings over Slack and talk about the best systems for organizing them in pretty much every edit meeting. For our latest toy round-up, we called on our parent pals and other toy experts to share their favorite toys for quiet-time play. If you child has dropped her nap and needs something quiet to do for a portion of the afternoon, this is the list for you.

While we found fifteen great picks, a preschool teacher we spoke to cautioned that no toy will magically make quiet time play happen. She suggested parents look for open-ended and low-tech toys, noting that the best toys don’t “do” anything. “Many toys are produced to be used in only one way, and that kills creativity. Those toys are a dead end that prevents children from playing independently, because they get boring.”

She also cautioned that if your child hasn’t played quietly and independently before, this is a skill that will need to be strengthened. It won’t happen right away, but you can make it happen: Start small. Use a visual timer, like a countdown or sand timer, and slowly increase the duration of quiet-time play over time. One of these picks should set you and your child up for success:

The Classics

There were certain toys that came up over and over again when Cubby asked parents and educators for their quiet-time play recommendations: Duplos, LEGOs, Magna-Tiles, and Brio or Hape train sets. Read on for more specific picks from parents:

Easy-Build Blocks

“My four-year-old son has spent hours playing independently with his Tegu block set,” says Liz Schnabolk, a writer in New York. “I cut off the top of the box and store it with the blocks. It has examples of things you can build, like a T-rex and a helicopter, which he likes to use as jumping off points for his own creations.”

In my own house, old-fashioned Lincoln Logs have been a surprise hit. We started with a basic set, but have added onto it over time. The notched logs proved easier for my son to build with himself than traditional wooden blocks which so often topple over and frustrate him.

Imaginative Play

“In the spirit of the Scandinavian phrase “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes,” I highly recommend a Muddy Buddy (AKA a full body raincoat)” says leadership coach Leah Wiseman Fink. “Paired with a couple of toy pots and pans, my daughter will play by herself  for a long time in mud puddles!”

“Find a Playmobil set for your kid’s mania: Pirates, construction, mermaids” advises Sophie Donelson, a mom of two and consultant in Montreal, who notes that there are hundreds of options available.

We received our Bruder crane truck secondhand, but after the hours of play it has inspired, I can say I think it’s worth its (very) high price tag. More than 500 reviewers on Amazon agree with me that it’s a five-star purchase. If you prefer a model with lights and sound, Bruder’s Scania crane has those features.

All the Sticker Things

Joanna Muenz, a mom of two and photo editor in Queens, New York points to Workman Publishing’s paint-by-sticker series and Brain Games’s Sticker by Number for quiet play, noting that there are books and themes for a variety of kid interests (dinosaurs, unicorns, Christmas, etc.)

Nucci of @our_simplestory in British Columbia and mom of two, recommends Melissa and Doug’s reusable sticker pads. As a small-space dweller and self-describe minimalist, she likes that they take up very little space.

Low- and No-Mess Art 

Cubby’s head honcho Faith Durand is a big fan of Petit Collage’s Doodle + Draw Drawing Boards. “They’re kind of old-school but they somehow really holds my daughters’ interest, especially in the car,” says Faith. Her pro tip: Buy one with the drawing stylus connected to the board, so it can’t get dropped/lost.

An artist herself, Schaefer recommends Caran Dache’s Colored Pencil Set. $23 may seem high for kid art supplies, but these are artist-grade watercolor pencils that will last for years. Sketch then add water for a low-mess spin on watercolor painting.

Leandra Levine from our brand partnerships team at Apartment Therapy swears by Melissa and Doug’s ‘Water Wow’ books—a truly mess-free art activity that let kids paint with water on paper that is specially coated to turn colors when wet. “These are the only things that will keep my 2 1/2 year-old self-occupied for a solid 20 minutes,” she says. “They’re so great I just keep buying them!” 

Not one but two parents in the AT Media family say Uni-Posca Paint Pens are especially engrossing. “There’s zero clean up, and you need very little artistic ability to be able to make something cool,” says Elise Hinchey, a mom of two, who handles revenue operations. However, these parents suggest using them on something other than paper: “We buy our nine year old daughter multi-packages of small canvases to draw on,” says Stephen Sauceda, one of our web engineers. Elise’s kid loves to use them on glass jars. 


Diane Crespo and Karin Schaefer, the founders of Acorn Toy Shop, say puzzles are the ultimate quiet-time entertainment. For younger kids they recommend a floor puzzle with large pieces and for big kids, something a little more complicated, like a giant dragon!

Our Simple Song Nucci says she likes Melissa & Doug’s wooden puzzles. The four-in-one jigsaw sets make an especially nice gift.

Screen-Free Technology

Cubby’s Executive Editor, Cambria Bold, is still amazed at how smitten her 5-year-old is with her Yoto player. “She loves picking out her own story or music cards and popping them in the player herself. Hours go by with her coloring and listening to her Yoto stories. It’s really become a quiet time routine now.”

This post has been updated from its original publication date in November 2020.

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