For kiddos like mine, who love realistically-molded plastic animal models (especially dinosaurs and horses), I think that the paint-your-own model kits that some companies sell now are just great. They're basically the exact same realistic toy animals, only unpainted.
No worries about lead paint? Score.
Kids get to exercise their artistic and creative muscles? Score.
Kids get to take ownership over the look of their toy? Score.
Kids get to use the same toy in more open-ended ways? Score and score.
These dinos that I bought the girls for Christmas are pricey, so I can't say that paint-your-own animal toys are going to be a constant in our homeschool stash (I need to buy a big set of labeled slides first, for one thing), but I can see a new set making its appearance at a variety of gift-giving occasions. The dinos that we do have, however, have been thoroughly enjoyed thus far.
Painting them is an all-consuming pastime, as you can see:
I'd say that these painted dinosaurs are ALMOST the kiddos' favorite plaything of late: