Screen-Free Playtime – Over 10 Toys and Games to Shop in a Thrift Store

While being a parent is the most amazing part of my life, I will admit that it’s a very expensive endeavor. Most of us moms and dads are looking for frugal and budget-friendly ways to entertain the troops at home. One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to avoid paying full-price for toys and games. Most local thrift stores have shelves filled to the brim with donated toys from other families who’s children have grown up.

Screen-Free Playtime

I know all of us parents use movies and cartoons to entertain the kids while we try and get things done, which is totally fair. Trust me when I say that I completely understand! But there should be a balance and designated screen-free playtime as well.

Screen-free playtime is crucial for the healthy development of children in today’s digital age. It offers numerous benefits that help foster creativity, social skills, cognitive abilities, and overall well-being. When children engage in screen-free play, they are free to create their own worlds, stories, and characters. This imaginative play stimulates their creativity and encourages them to think outside the box, enhancing problem-solving skills and critical thinking abilities.

Non-digital play stimulates various aspects of cognitive development, including problem-solving, memory, attention span, and logical reasoning. Activities like puzzles, board games, and building blocks help children develop critical cognitive skills while having fun.

This type of atmosphere allows for unstructured and open-ended play, where children have the freedom to explore, experiment, and make their own decisions. This autonomy fosters independence, self-confidence, and a sense of agency, empowering children to become self-directed learners.

While screens can be stimulating and overstimulating, screen-free playtime offers a break from the constant barrage of sensory input. It provides a calm and soothing environment where children can relax, unwind, and recharge their minds and bodies.

The Best Toys and Games to Shop Secondhand

Shopping for toys and games in a thrift store can be a fun and budget-friendly way to find gently used, unique and nostalgic items. Here are some popular toys and games you might come across in a thrift store:

Children’s Books

Buying children’s books in a thrift store can be a fantastic way to build a library for kids. Thrift stores offer books at significantly lower prices compared to retail stores. You can find a wide selection of children’s books in good condition for a fraction of their original cost. This allows you to buy more books and expand your child’s reading options without breaking the bank.

There’s no specific age range for books, in fact the benefits of reading start during the infant months, and continue for the rest of your life. When you become a new parent, you can start by finding baby books for just a couple dollars.

Thrift stores often have a diverse collection of children’s books, including both popular contemporary titles and nostalgic classics from the past. This gives you the opportunity to introduce your child to beloved stories and characters from your own childhood.

Look for popular authors, award-winning titles, educational books, and books that align with your child’s interests and reading level. Building a collection of diverse and engaging children’s books from thrift stores can inspire a love for reading and create cherished memories of storytime with your child.

Wooden Blocks

Old school wooden blocks are a classic and timeless toy for children. Wooden blocks are known for their durability and longevity. When you purchase them from a thrift store, you can often find well-made blocks that have stood the test of time. Unlike plastic alternatives, wooden blocks can withstand rough play, making them a worthwhile investment.

Playing with wooden blocks offers numerous developmental benefits for children. They promote fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and problem-solving abilities. By manipulating and arranging blocks, children exercise their creativity, imagination, and logical thinking.

Pretend Play Toy Sets

Pretend play toy sets are designed to encourage children’s imaginative and creative play by providing them with tools and props to role-play various scenarios. These sets often consist of themed playsets that mimic real-life environments or situations, allowing children to engage in pretend play and explore different roles and responsibilities.

Some common types of pretend play toy sets are kitchen sets, doctor kits. tool sets, dollhouse sets, tea party sets, animal vet and construction sets. The premium toy brand Melissa and Doug make amazing pretend toy sets and I always pick them up when I find them at Goodwill.


From young kids all the way to grandparents, puzzles are enjoyed by a wide range of people. Thrift stores often offer a wide variety of puzzles, including jigsaw puzzles of different sizes, themes, and difficulty levels. You can find puzzles depicting landscapes, animals, famous artwork, or even movie scenes. The assortment of options allows you to discover unique and interesting puzzles that may not be readily available elsewhere.

Note, finding new puzzles at the thrift store is especially beneficial because you’re guaranteed that all the pieces are still in the box.

Board Games

Family game night is a time honored tradition going back many generations. Shopping for board games at a thrift store can be an ideal way to discover new games, expand your collection, and enjoy budget-friendly entertainment.

Thrift stores often have a diverse selection of board games, ranging from classic titles to lesser-known gems. You can find popular games like Monopoly, Scrabble, or Clue, as well as vintage or out-of-print games that may be hard to find elsewhere. When shopping secondhand for games, it’s essential to inspect the game boxes for any missing pieces or damage.

Educational Toys

Educational toys come in various forms and cater to different age groups and learning objectives, plus they make learning fun!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) toys introduce children to fundamental concepts in these disciplines. They can include building kits, coding toys, science experiment sets, or robotic kits. STEM toys encourage hands-on exploration, logical thinking, and creativity.

Language-based toys aid in the development of early literacy skills, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and communication. Examples include alphabet blocks, word puzzles, storytelling kits, and phonics toys.

Musical toys, such as keyboards, drums, or xylophones, provide children with an introduction to rhythm, melody, and sound exploration. Playing musical instruments helps develop hand-eye coordination, listening skills, and an appreciation for music.

Math manipulatives are hands-on toys that assist in teaching mathematical concepts. They can include counting bears, number cubes, pattern blocks, and fraction sets. These toys make abstract math concepts tangible and aid in understanding mathematical operations and problem-solving.

Science kits allow children to conduct experiments, observe the natural world, and learn about scientific principles. They can cover topics like chemistry, physics, biology, or astronomy. Science kits promote curiosity, critical thinking, and a love for scientific inquiry.

Action Figures

Action figure toys are popular toys based on characters from movies, TV shows, comic books, and video games. They typically feature movable joints and accessories, allowing children (and collectors) to pose and play with them in various action-packed scenarios. They often include superheroes, movie characters, cartoon characters, and iconic figures from various franchises. They allow children to engage with their favorite characters and recreate scenes from their favorite stories.

Dinosaur and Animal Figures Toys

Young children have always been fascinated by animals and dinosaurs. Dinosaur and animal figures provide educational benefits by introducing children to different species, their characteristics, and habitats. They promote learning about biodiversity, animal classifications, and the natural world. Children can develop an appreciation for animals just by playing with these toys as a child.

These toys spark imaginative play, enabling children to create their own adventures and stories. They can mimic animal behaviors, create habitats or ecosystems, and engage in pretend play scenarios. This type of play fosters creativity, storytelling skills, and cognitive development.

Hot Wheels and LEGO Sets

When you’re on the hunt for specific toy brands, it can be hit-or-miss on whether your local thrift store has them in-stock. But with frequent visits you can find popular brands such as Hote Wheels and LEGO. We had a thrifted Christmas last year and I was able to find bags of vintage Hot Wheels for the kids (and my husband loved them too!).

Art Sets

Shopping for art sets at a thrift store can be a great way to find affordable art supplies and materials for your child’s creative endeavors. Your local store may have a variety of art sets available, ranging from basic drawing sets to watercolor and acrylic painting or crafting kits. For younger children, coloring books with crayons and markers will keep them busy when bored.

Barbie Dolls

Shopping for Barbie dolls at a thrift store can be a fun and affordable way to expand your Barbie collection or find unique vintage dolls. Keep in mind that dolls in thrift stores may have been previously loved and played with, so some wear and tear is to be expected. However, my daughter doesn’t seem to mind and still loves to play with them. Look for bundled bags of extra Barbie clothing, shoes and accessories for outfit changes and a variety of play scenarios.

Plush Toys

My daughter really gravitates towards soft and cuddly toys. Thrift stores often have a wide selection of stuffed animals and plush toys, ranging from popular characters to familiar animal friends. When shopping for stuffed animals at thrift stores, carefully examine their condition. Check for any stains, tears, loose parts, or odors. While some wear and tear may be expected, it’s important to ensure that the toy is clean and safe for use.

If the plush toy is safe for the washing machine, I will steam it out with my sanitation setting. If I don’t think I can put it in the laundry machine, I will spray plush toys with Lysol and then let it air dry.

Outdoor Games

During summer days we are meant to be playing outside in the sunshine. Most thrift stores have an entire aisle dedicated to sports equipment, lawn games, camping gear, and more.

How to Sanitize Toys from the Thrift Store

Sanitizing toys from the thrift store is an important step to ensure they are clean and safe for your children, especially when it comes to items that have been previously owned.

Water Washable Hard Toys

Fill a basin or sink with warm water and add a small amount of mild soap and diluted bleach. Mix the solution gently to create a soapy water mixture. Dip the cloth or sponge into the soapy water and wring out any excess liquid. Use the damp cloth or sponge to wipe down the entire surface of the toy, paying attention to any areas with visible dirt or grime. Scrub gently to remove any stubborn stains or marks. Make sure it has at least 30 seconds of cleaning to properly disinfect.

Note, never submerge electronic toys in water.

Non-Water Resistant Hard Toys

For electronic toys, sanitize with disinfecting wipes or Lysol spray. Let sit for at least 30 seconds, and then wipe down with a dry paper towel or cloth.

Washing Soft Toys and Plush Toys

If the toy is machine washable, I use the sanitation steam setting on my machine. Let air dry when cycle is done.

If the toy is not machine washable, spot clean it by using a cloth dampened with a mixture of water and mild detergent. Gently scrub the surface, paying attention to any stains or soiled areas. Rinse with a clean cloth dampened in water to remove any soap residue. Air dry the toy completely. You can also spray it with Lysol for an added layer of germ removal.

For stuffed toys that have battery compartments, remove the batteries before cleaning. Clean the toy using the appropriate method as described above, taking care to avoid getting the battery compartment wet.

Consider Using a UV Sanitizer

If you want an extra level of sanitization, you can use a UV sanitizer specifically designed for toys. These devices emit UV-C light, which helps eliminate bacteria and viruses.

Cleaning Books from the Thrift Store

I use a disinfecting wipe on the cover, and a very light mist of disinfecting spray on the pages.


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