The 10 Best Non-Reactive Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Non-reactive toys are quiet toys. They do not beep or light up or spin around or have screens.

Non-reactive toys require more imagination than reactive toys. The toddler or preschooler must provide the sound effects, movement, etc., rather than the toy.

What Are Reactive Toys?

Simply, the noisy ones. Toys that speak or beep, light up or move of their own accord.

Reactive toys are video games or tablets. Most baby toys are reactive.

Listen, reactive toys have their place. They’re not all bad.

But reactive toys aren’t best for my autistic son. He tends to fixate and stem on these exciting beeps and boops, instead of playing with the toy more appropriately.

“Appropriately?” I can hear you say.

I know, it sounds harsh. But, hear me out: Play emerges in stages. Stages that reactive toys can interfere with.

Ish Mom shhh be quiet
Non-reactive toys are very, very quiet

Emerging Play Stages and Reactive Toys

Emerging play stages tend to go in this order of development: sensory exploratory, functional, constructive, and dramatic.

(That’s not to say these stages are completely linear or there isn’t regression or dabbling in different stages at once.)

Typically, the sensory exploratory phase involves grabbing and gnawing. Functional play is using a toy for its’ intended “purpose.” Sensory exploratory playing is chewing on a toy car, functional play is driving it, crashing it, pushing it down a ramp. You know, treating it…like a car.

The last two emerging play stages are constructive and dramatic. Constructive play is using toys to make things (blocks, art supplies); dramatic play is imaginative (dress up, puppet shows).

Reactive toys can get some children “stuck” in the sensory exploratory play stage. With such a satisfying pay-off (all the blinking and beeping) some kids don’t see the point in moving up the play stage hierarchy.

autistic toddler kneading homemade play dough
Kneading dough for homemade ornaments a few years ago (non-reactive and great for hand strength)

Non-Reactive Toys Do The Work

Moving through the play stages helps children increase fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills, creativity, and more.

It’s harder for children to practice vocalization when the toy makes sounds for them. And it’s harder to develop hand strength; if preschoolers only need to use one finger to jab a button.

Children can become fixated on blinking lights and repetitive noises (A1 certainly does). That fixation can mess with joint attention development (vital for listening skills).

Reactive Toys and Joint Attention

Joint attention is the ability to pay attention to two things at once. Joint attention is listening to a podcast while preparing dinner.

Children naturally struggle with joint attention (that whole non-fully developed brain thing), and reactive toys can further impede this development.

Non-reactive toy play often involves doing two things at once, like pushing a toy car and making car noises. This type of play increases joint attention.

Non-reactive toy, puppet made with pipe cleaners and pom poms.
A couple of pipe cleaners, some pom-poms and googly-eyes, and you’ve got a great non-reactive toy (a puppet!)

Non-Reactive Toys and Physical Development

Many non-reactive toys encourage movement, coordination, and motor skills development. Think jump ropes, balls/catchers, a game of jacks, pogo sticks, trampolines, art supplies, bikes, and outdoor games.

10 Non-Reactive Toys

I’ve included a variety of toys in this list. Different kinds and sizes, that can be used or kept in different areas. The only thing these toys have in common is their reticence.

These non-reactive toys are ideal for toddlers and preschoolers.

These pop tubes are fun sensory toys that connect, stretch, and make cool noises.

This interactive toy set encourages children to move through emerging play stages: functional, creative, and dramatic. It’s best for kids over three, as there are some small parts.

It’s not really darts. It’s sticky balls and felt, ideal to get some energy out on rainy afternoons.

Interactive fabric books for toddlers, meant to keep little hands busy and quiet.

Another toy meant to keep hands busy. Small plastic dinosaurs can be laced with included string and traced on construction paper for a quick art activity.

A bit of a splurge, but it’ll last.

Kids love guiding the magnetic balls through the town to their color-coded designations. With an attached magnetic “pen,” they can practice writing and increase fine motor skills (great for car trips!).

When you open this extremely lightweight bag, you’ll find felt accessories that toddlers will love to open and close, lace and snap, etc.

Build a miniature garden with this all-inclusive, glow-in-the-dark terrarium kit.

Blend functional and creative play stages designing three wooden race cars.

It sounds boring, but wait. This wooden sorting game increases fine motor skills and encourages pretend play.

Ish Mom being quiet
It’s oh so quiet

This article is not to shame reactive toys or those who give or own them. These days, it’s hard to find toys that don’t beep or flash or move.

I’m just pointing out that non-reactive toys exist, and these are the reasons it’s worth hunting for them.

What are your favorite non-reactive toys? Let me know in the comments.

Happy quiet time!

Love,

megan imhoff
Megan

Megan

Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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