Definitely the most popular toy in our house, both Stella and Jack love playing with our collection of cars, buses, motorbikes and the like- most of them were bought in a bulk lot of trademe for about $15 all up, with a few extra cars and things coming from christmas and birthday presents. I bought the car mat from Payless Plastics- it comes on a roll so you can choose how much you want. They don't use the car mat all that much though, just the lounge floor and couches are enough most of the time! A friend had this cool car ramp at her place so I did buy this new- it was $10 from K Mart in the toy section with the Matchbox car range.
I bought my first toy baby when I was pregnant with Stella so Amelie would have a baby to play with which was great advice. This is a really popular game to play when they have friends over but they also love playing with them when they're on their own at home too. We have about 4 now I think, 3 from the second hand shop and one was a birthday gift (handy when there are a few kids over -they can all have a baby each.) I got the little cot from Trade Me, the buggy and the high chair were birthday gifts from family, and the bath and baby accessories were also from the second hand shop.
Puzzles are really popular with all 3 of my children, they all loved the wooden ones with the little pegs in them when they were around 2 years and now they are loving the alphabet cardboard ones and some easyish jig saw puzzles as well. I love them playing with puzzles- lots of learning, fine motor skills, problem solving etc and they get a great sense of achievement when they complete one. Dollar value type shops have heaps of really budget friendly puzzles and again Zero to Five has heaps as well. Also lots on Trade Me.
Duplo is a fantastic thing to start collecting if you have little ones- I bought a bulk bag for $40 from Zero to Five which was a great starting point to our collection, and then every Christmas my dad has bought them a set which is a great tradition. It's a great open ended imaginative toy and my 7 year old still enjoys playing with it. Lego is great too but we've found it better for older children say 5+ years at least (but that's just our kids, some I know starting playing with lego younger)
5. Fisher Price Little People and Fisher Price Toys
I have a bit of an obsession with vintage Fisher Price toys and have started a little collection of them, nearly all from Trade Me. The kids also got a few Fisher Price Little People Sets for birthdays or Christmas so we have a good little collection of that- the bus is by far the most popular toy, Jack would play with that nearly every day putting his little 'persons' in and out of the bus. Again on trade me there are quite a few bulk lots of Fisher Price Little People if you were wanting to start a collection.
All you need for this is lots of soft toys and a doctors play kit. And plenty of wrap around bandages!
7. Farm animals
I made this reversible playmate last year and the kids love getting out the animals and playing farms with it. If you can find a collection of animals on trademe try and find one that has fences too so they can create their own farm paddocks.
I've included playdough as the kids love it but it's not exactly independent play compared with the other toys, and the mess afterwards.... well lets just say I'm pretty happy I have very old carpet at the moment! I pick up quite a few playdough 'tools' from op shops- look out for anything in the kitchen wares like plastic knives, pastry cutters, old muffin trays etc.
There are loads more great imaginative toys out there, tea sets for tea parties, dinosaurs, trains, dress-ups are another one of my favourites…would love to hear of your favourite toys :)