15 Free Toys You Already Have In Your House
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself and other parents say: “I don’t know
why I buy him toys. He’s just as happy with the cardboard box!” When my son was
teething, I bought all sorts of organic, wooden, rubber, wool, and other all natural
teethers, but he was happier chewing on canning rings or an empty potato chip bag. My
daughter is endlessly occupied with a bit of bubble wrap or the paper dolls I cut out for her
myself from our construction paper stash from the dollar store, but she has boxes of toys
she’s forgotten exist. If she’s outside playing with chalk, inevitably she makes a chalk
family, basically using the pieces of chalk like they’re dollies. If she’s in the car coloring
with her crayons, the crayons become a mommy, daddy, and brother and sister. If she
has no toys, she makes little families out of rocks or blades of grass. I’m not against
buying toys for your kids, but they don’t actually need them. Often, the things that most
interest my kids are things that we already own. Case in point: for the past couple of
years Bunny and I have been reading through the Little House series. What strikes me
the most about Mary and Laura as little girls is how few toys they have. At first, Laura
doesn’t even have a doll—just a corncob wrapped in scrap fabric. Later she gets a doll
for Christmas—just one, and she’s so happy with it. She feels rich with that one toy. In
addition to the doll, Ma saves precious scraps of paper and cuts out paper dolls for the
girls. On rainy days or on Sunday, they love playing with these dolls. Most of the time,
however, the girls don’t even need toys. They’re outside running around in piles of
stacked hay, traipsing through Plum Creek watching the sun dance off the water, or
making furniture out of tree stumps and pumpkins. My conclusion from both the
observation of my own kids and the highly scientific study of the Laura Ingalls Wilder
books is that kids don’t really need toys. Their imaginations thrive on what they already
have around them and they’re eager to turn their surroundings into the toys they need.
I think you’ll find, as I have, that you have tons of materials around your house that you
already own that your kids already love to use as toys. I’m not saying don’t buy the toys,
but even when you do, these old standbys usually trump even the flashiest singing,
Cardboard boxes: Every kid loves cardboard boxes. Just read Katerina and the Box and
you’ll see what they mean. Boxes can be used for everything! Forts, sleds, doll houses,
ball pits, hideouts and more! The best part is that they’re great raw materials for art
projects or for making more playthings for your kids. My friend found instructions online
for making a tree out of cardboard and gifted my daughter with it. She was thrilled! She
colored and decorated it and played with it until it couldn’t stand up on its own anymore.
Bubble Wrap: If you’re like me, you occasionally purchase things online and end up with
plenty of free packaging. When a purchase comes wrapped in bubble wrap, my daughter
is thrilled. She’ll sit quietly for 1030 minutes popping those bubbles. She also uses them
as blankets and mattresses for her dollies. You can have your fake, iPhone bubble wrap
popping app, but on long car rides, my daughter is much happier with the real thing!
Packing paper: Sometimes, instead of bubble wrap, you get a nice length of packing
paper. We flatten the wrinkles out of it and store it for art projects—especially long,
colorful murals or lifesized outlines of cute kids.
Old Electronics: Dead cell phones, unused computer keyboards, unplugged electronic
pianos, and old remote controls are all kid and baby magnets. Remove all batteries and
let your little ones use them as chew toys. Give them to your older guys for their creative
play. I never met a kid who wasn’t eager to use dead electronics as a plaything.
Canning Jar Rings: I discovered this one by accident. One of my canning rings had
fallen to the floor and my son was clamoring in his high chair while my arms were full of
dinner preparation and a sink overflowing with dirty dishes. Eager to find something to
assuage his need for oral discovery, I tossed him the ring and he loved it. He loved it so
much that I went looking for all my old canning rings and tied them together with some
fabric. He plays with that toy more than anything else. We take it with us in the car, into
church, and of course he uses it at home. Not only do the metal rings provide great
sensory input for his little gums, but they make the most amazing clanging sound when
shaken and rattled.
Pots and Pans, Tupperware, and other unbreakable dishes: Another way I’ve kept
both my kids occupied at the crawling around and putting everything in their mouth stage
is by giving them free reign of my cookware and plastic ware. Even now, at 4 years old,
my daughter loves being allowed to get out all the Tupperware and experiment. Mostly,
though, it’s eleven month old little Bear who is endlessly occupied by the cabinet full of
these dishes. He stays put playing with them just long enough for me to be able to get
dinner prepared or a sink full of dishes in the dishwasher.
Washcloths: These can be used as baby blankets, little beds, and hats. If you get them
wet you can down the sink or the counters during a rousing bout of water play, wipe your
face, or just chew on it for awhile. I keep a stash of them just for the kids under the sink
and they both know where to go to get them. Even little Bear goes crawling into the
bathroom as soon as he realizes the door is opened and makes a beeline for the
Old Clothing: When I was younger we didn’t have a box full of clothing that had been
expressly designed for dressing up like kids do these days so we used mom’s old clothes.
One of my mom’s full skirts plus a pretty, silk scarf made the most amazing evening
gown, and who cared if those high heels were too tall? It was so much fun to click-clack
around the house in them. Playing dressup was one of the highlights of my childhood.
My daughter has all these made-for-her dress up gowns, but sometimes I think her
imagination and creativity would be stretched to greater limits if she were working with
hand me downs.
Sheets and blankets: Sheets, blankets, afghans, even pillowcases have so many uses!
Forts are the number one thing. Superhero capes or togas are also wonderful purpose
for them. Our favorite thing to do with the kids is to place them on a blanket and drag
them around on the wood floors. They giggle and laugh as they lay there, sliding all
around the house as fast as we can safely pull them. I remember being enveloped within
a sheet stretched between two people and carried like luggage. That was equally great
and I’m pretty sure my daughter has enjoyed such a ride once or twice in her four years
on this earth. Her favorite thing about blankets is the obvious—playing naptime. Whether
it’s her parents or her dollies, blankets get used every, single day in her play as she takes
the role of the doting mother putting all her babies to sleep.
Couch cushions and chairs: If you don’t mind letting your kids disassemble the
couches, you’ll find that couch cushions can be used for everything! Forts, beds, rocks
floating in hot lava—you name it! My daughter and her friends make chicken coops and
animal pens out of couch cushions. They’re also good for sliding and for when energetic
kids wish to launch themselves safely through the air .
Paper bags: I think these are best used for crafting. They can be cut apart and used for
drawings or posters, or kept as they are and fashioned into clothing such as cowboy
Scraps of colored paper: Using the internet or a little bit of imagination, scraps of paper
found around the house can be folded into a menagerie of origami animals that can be
used for imaginative play. When Chick-Fil-A added origami animals to their kid’s meals,
my daughter loved making them and then playing with them, or even toting them to
daycare in her lunch box. Of course, those animals came with feathers, fur, and wiskers.
They also came with instructions. However, I think that with a marker or crayons, eyes,
mouths, feet, etc can be added to make your little zoo truly realistic, and these days, the
Internet can be used to learn anything. Even origami.
Newspaper: This is another source of large, paper. It can be used for folding large paper
airplanes, making hats, or following Curious George’s example and making little, floating
Buttons: Who doesn’t have a collection of buttons? Almost every new garment comes
with an extra button or two and over time they really add up. If your collection isn’t very
large, you can usually find a bag of buttons or two at the Goodwill for about two bucks.
And before throwing away that button down shirt, salvage those buttons to add to your
stash stash. Buttons can be used for counting and sorting activities, board game pieces
or chips, and making necklaces. You can build with them, use them as dishes for your
dollies, or play stacking games with them. They’re a very versatile and fun toy.
The table: The aforementioned blanket—preferably the largest you have—and the
kitchen table make another, amazing fort! Top off the 100% free hideout with a couple of
cardboard boxes for tables and chairs, and plenty of pillows and couch cushions and your
children may just be occupied all day long. Of course, you’ll have a mess to clean up
when the kids go to bed later, but you could always use it as a lesson in responsibility and
make the kids do that too!
So, when your sweet little kiddos whine about how bored they are, beg for some screen
time, or say they just have to have that new animatronic doohickey in the toy aisle,
remember that the best toys are free, and probably already lying around your house.
Even better, when left to themselves, your kids will find these toys all on their own!
Caitlin Date 7/28/2014
When we were kids, my brother and I used to pretend that clothing racks in stores were forts and hide in them while my mom was shopping. They have to be the multi-sided kind, so you can go into the middle of all the clothing. As long as we were near her and not disturbing other shoppers, it was a nice, free toy out in the world for two bored kids.
Brandi Flowers Date 7/29/2014
I really wish I had floor vents do I could show my son an air tent with sheets! I'm sure he would love it!
Jennifer Ireland Date 8/1/2014
love these ideas.
megan Date 8/3/2014
Yea my son is all about the pots and pans! It definitely is better than wasting money on a little drum set. Hahaha
Milt Date 8/8/2014
Very nice and easy to do playtime ideas!
Rob Date 8/8/2014
I love these convenient and fun play activities!
Alyssa Oprie Date 8/8/2014
Thank goodness for these ideas. I don't like having a bunch of toys, so this will certainly help keep my little lady entertained.
Alexa Lane Date 8/9/2014
I love these ideas!
Madeleine Lunelli Date 8/11/2014
My son loves to play with a spatula. So much so that we take it with us to outings. It sure caused a lot of laughs when we busted out a spatula for my son in the middle of church. My MIL says it's because he's half Italian!
Kim H Date 8/14/2014
Love these ideas! The cardboard box idea is HUGE at our house - we try to keep one big box around to play with. My son also has an old power strip that he loves.
Malea Paciunas Date 8/25/2014
Love this. I've always got cardboard boxes!!