Fear not; the truth is many children prefer playing with non-toys. Even in a house full of toys, bored children can be entertained for hours using one or more of the below items. With a little imagination you can make a play-thing for a child of almost any age by simply using ordinary household or backyard items.
1. Cardboard boxes
Most parents have had the experience of buying their child a large toy only to find the child more interested in playing in the box it came in. Why not skip the middle-man? Just go down to the grocery store and ask them for a spare box or two. Large boxes become boats and spaceships, smaller boxes can be helmets or doll houses. Even a humble shoebox can be turned into a puppet stage (for newspaper finger puppets, see below).
2. Sticks and twigs
It’s amazing the variety of shapes and sizes that nature comes in, and sticks and twigs are no exception. A branchy stick can become a broomstick for flying, or sweeping the yard. A small stick can be a magic wand. Whether you like it or not, boys and girls alike will turn sticks into medieval swords and daggers or even toy guns. A long stick with a bit of string (see item .7) makes a great fishing rod.
There’s a world of entertainment in the average kitchen. Metal pot lids make great cymbals, while empty yogurt and margarine tubs are perfect drums. Add a few wooden spoons, some empty paper towel roll trumpets and you have a whole marching band. If you’re looking for a quieter game just stick to plastic! Tupperware and other plastic containers are also great for stacking and building.
Large decorator’s paint brushes are a great toy for kids. Give them a bucket of plain water and let them paint the yard or a wet area of the house, like the bathroom. A dry paint brush can be used as part of the food games below or for imagining painting giant invisible masterpieces on the wall or floor.
Even very young babies love shredding newspaper, but older kids can use it to make paper hats, paper boats, paper crowns, cheerleader’s pom-poms, crazy paper wigs, snowflakes or finger puppets. You could also encourage them to try a guessing game. Gather a selection of small house hold items (remote control, a spoon, book, CD etc) and wrap them up. Then the game is to guess what each object is.
Sheets, blankets and towels can be capes, togas, ghost costumes or princess gowns. They can also be used, in combination with a few chairs to build a fort or camping tent. Or tie a dishtowel to a sturdy stick and you have a flag (maybe to lead your marching band). Pillows and cushions can be piled up for jumping into (caution is advised here!).
A fishing rod is an obvious toy you can make with string. You can also make a cat’s cradle or Chinese jump rope (elasticized string is better for both of these). String can be a belt for a twig or wooden spoon sword or magic wand. A heavier rope can be a skipping rope or a lasso. But remember; always supervise children playing with string and rope!
8. Adult sized clothes and shoes
Both boys and girls love to dress up. A free pass to an adult’s wardrobe is an afternoon of fun and imagination for children. Don’t forget to give them access to scarves and hats to finish their look. Kids also love hair accessories, and will have as much fun using them on Dad and Grandpa as they will on themselves!
Ordinary household implements like turkey basters, measuring cups, empty squeeze bottles or tubes (such as from ketchup or hand cream) can be filled up for outdoor water fights or splatter ”painting”. A bucket of water and clean paint brushes will entertain children for hours. Let them paint fences, sidewalks, trees or each other. For an adult supervised activity, try using food coloring or Kool-Aid to make different colors to mix together in educational color and taste experiments.
What child isn’t entertained by food? Try setting out sandwich fixings such as cheese, ham, vegetables, mayonnaise and mustard and letting the kids make their own delicious and healthy lunch. Or for a snack time activity, fill a large bowl with Cheerios or Rice Krispies, burying a few mini marshmallows, raisins or chocolate chips within. With a small spoons and a pastry or new paint brush kids become mini-archeologists digging for treasure.
Whether you’re at home, at an elderly relatives, a childless neighbour’s or simply with someone whose kids have outgrown toys, making playthings out of household items is a fun change of pace that your kids will love. So break out the boxes and twigs; it’s playtime!
Do you have items your children love to play with that aren’t toys? What are they?