Being a parent can get expensive! Toys are an optional expense and you can often make them cheaper by going with fewer high quality toys, off brand just-as-good toys, or (if you really want to get creative) making do with things you already have. Here are 10 of our favorite toys. They are free because you already have them!
- Dirt. Kids love to play outside. Just take them to a park or your own yard and let them draw in the dirt with sticks, run around, and get some of that energy out! Man Cub also likes stacking/arranging rocks and pine cones. Hours of fun for free!
- Your Purse (or a bag of safe “grown up things”). Kids love grown up’s things. So let them go through your purse sometime. Just be sure to take out anything dangerous first and watch to be sure it all gets put back. Keys are another classic favorite.
- Nesting Plastic Bowls. I’m not sure what it is about nesting objects that kids love so much, but it seems to be universal. They can nest them, stack them, or lay them out in a pattern.
- Lids. We were on a road trip when Man Cub was 6 months and he was NOT a happy camper. We always take Pringles on road trips because they fit in the cup holder, and in desperation (all the actually toys had been flung from the car seat in a fit of rage by then) I gave him the (clean) lid to the Pringles can. It was the only thing I had left! Amazingly, he quieted down. He loved looking through the clear lid and apparently it made a good teething toy. Oh, and a Pringles lid and a Lays Stax lid fit perfectly inside each other, for extra fun.
- Formula Scoop. This was another act of desperation, I think, I can’t actually remember when this started but Man Cub has had a formula scoop in his toy box for a while now. I clean them first and he can’t choke on them. He loves to suck air through the little hole, scoop dirt or water with it, and sometimes use it as a microphone.
- Paper & Pen. We found that a pen was much easier for Man Cub to use then a crayon when he was younger because you don’t have to push nearly as hard on it. Crayola even makes Ultra-Washable Markers (love them!), but if you’re in a pinch you can just use a pen (not a sharpie) from your purse. WATCH THEM LIKE A HAWK because pens can end up in an eye or a mouth, but Man Cub had a lot of fun with this.
- Kitchen Tools. The kitchen & the bathroom are the most fascinating places in the world when you are two or three feet tall. I don’t really like letting Man Cub play in the bathroom (ew), but sometimes we play with kitchen things. Wood spoons & pots or pans can make a good drum set, of course, but a Funnel, cup or Strainer in the tub can also be great fun. Man Cub sometimes likes to wear the strainer as a hat. You can also give a small pot, small toys (or bits of whatever- stir sticks, cereal, etc) and a wooden spoon and let your little one make “soup”. A water bottle can be used to squirt water in the tub or outside. You can even draw with chalk, then have your little one wash it away.
- Cheerios. Okay, this one can get messy, but it provides a lot of entertainment. Toddlers and babies love to drop their food on the floor. So let them. They are learning all kinds of things (like “when I drop this cup of cheerios from up high, they scatter”) and I don’t think letting them make a mess is the end of the world. If you want to contain it you can use a high chair and tray or a playpen. Older kids can thread cheerios (or their fruity counterparts) on yarn or a stir stick.
- Cards. We give Man Cub old Index/Gift/Business Cards to play with, and he loves them! I think it goes back to the “playing with grown-up things” concept, or maybe it’s just a good size. At one point I even made him a little wallet out of construction paper.
- Cardboard. Of course, I couldn’t skip cardboard. The best thing about cardboard is it has infinite possibilities. A large box can be a house, car and rocket all in one morning. Small boxes can make a city or can nest in each other or stack on top of each other to make a tower. Even flaps of cardboard can make ramps for cars, fences for animals, and more. The best thing is to just provide it and see what your child comes up with.
So there you have it. These are a few of our favorites. What are you going to try? What would you add?