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, plastic plaything:
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 washcloths.
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 vests.
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 boats.
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!