Twenty Children’s Toys You Don’t Have To Buy

by Colleen Moulding

Fed up with forking out for the latest piece of over-hyped
plastic? Answer “What can we do now Mum?” by making toys from
items you will already have around the house.

1. Shops: Save all your empty grocery cartons for a week or so
and you’ll soon have a shop any aspiring grocer would be proud
of. Gluing down the flaps makes cereal boxes, jelly packets
etc. look unopened. Clothes, shoes, and toys can all be used
as “stock”. Paper bags and real or play money add to the fun.

2. Paper balls: When the kids keep arguing suggest that they
throw something at each other! Paper balls are easily scrunched
up from torn out magazine pages to make “ammunition”. When it’s
time to tidy up, stand the waste paper basket in the middle of
the room and see who can throw the most in. A rolled up
magazine makes a good “bat” too.

3. Doctors/Nurses: A roll of white toilet tissue makes this
game much more fun as Dads, Grans, teddies or dolls are
mummified before your eyes. Plastic medicine spoons and
cardboard box hospital beds for toys are extra props that make
the game last longer.

4. Tubes:  Cardboard tubes from kitchen roll or foil make
instant telescopes for sailors or pirates, or tunnels to roll
marbles through. Babies love to watch things disappear then
reappear out of the bottom. Don’t leave them alone with the
cardboard tube though as they will probably suck it.

5. Cardboard boxes:  These must be about the best free toys you can get
hold of. Push in the ends of large ones to make tunnels and
caves to crawl through. Draw on windows and doors with felt tip
pens to make a house, add a flag and portholes for a boat or
paper plates and a steering wheel for a car.

6. Miniature gardens:  The foil trays that pies and prepared
foods arrive in make lovely containers for miniature gardens.
The children can enjoy hunting around the park or garden for
twigs to make trees, moss for a lawn, stones to arrange as a
rockery or a waterfall. Keep twigs or stones where you want
them with a little blue tack or plasticine. Add toy people or
animals and maybe a little water if the container is
watertight. This can be a very creative and enjoyable exercise
if you have children of very different age groups to entertain.
A variation is to use play sand (not builder’s sand – it stains
everything yellow) to make a beach scene, maybe adding shells,
stones and a blue paper sea.

7. Paper puppets: A picture of anything – colourful bird,
clown’s face, animal or cartoon character, carefully cut out by
an adult and stuck to the top of a strip of card about five
inches long and one and a half inches wide becomes a very
easily made puppet. These give such pleasure and are so easy to
make that you will probably end up with dozens of them.
Magazine pictures can be stuck on to folded card to make
theatre set background and wings.

8. Potato prints: After cutting a potato in half, draw on a
simple shape. A triangle, circle or star perhaps. Cut away the
rest of the potato, leaving a shape to dip into paint and print
on to paper.

9. Skittles: Skittles can be improvised from large plastic cola
or lemonade bottles. A little sand or water in the bottom makes
them more stable. A good game for learning to count.

10. Dens: Building a den must be one of the most memorable
parts of childhood as we all seem to recall the bliss of
blankets draped over the airing rack in the garden or over the
backs of chairs indoors. Even today’s sophisticated kids seem
to find the thought much more exciting than just erecting the
shop bought plastic play house. I think the secret is to give
structural advice about making the thing stay upright, but let
the children do as much as possible themselves. Really large
boxes of the type that washing machines and fridges come in

can be had for the asking from the big electrical goods retailers
and are useful for rooms within dens. Indoors, one of the
simplest dens can be made by throwing a large sheet or duvet
over a table. Cushions, torches, biscuits and comics or books
will all be needed at the housewarming.

11. String: Children find a million uses for string, from tying
up toy “baddies” to making a washing line for doll’s clothes.
It can be tied to chair legs to make a jump, dipped into paint
and twirled on to paper, plaited, knitted with, made into a
parachute or mobile, used as a measuring aid or for learning
how to tie shoelaces and bows. It need never linger in the
kitchen drawer again.

12. Sewing cards: Stick a picture on to a postcard or draw a
simple duck, car or teddy shape. With a bodkin needle push
holes around the outline of your design about one inch apart.
Using brightly coloured wool in the bodkin or a long bootlace,
thread in and out of the holes.

13. Stilts: You need to do a little drilling for this one. Take
two strong tins, coffee or clean paint tins are ideal, and
drill a hole about one inch from the top on opposite sides of
the tin. Insert a length of string and knot securely. Check
that the handle is at a comfortable length for the child before
knotting the other side. These are always very popular, but
never leave young children alone with them especially near
stairs or steps.

14. Cafes: Children’s tea sets are a handy prop for this game,
but a picnic set or microwave cookware is just as good. Giving
the waiter/waitress a little notebook and pencil to take orders
and making a tall white hat from a cylinder of paper for the
chef will add realism. Sit dolls and teddies around as well as
willing Aunts and Grannies for extra customers.

15. Playdough:  Mix together two cups of flour, one cup of salt,
one cup of water, one tablespoon of oil and a few drops of food
coloring for an easy to make dough that will keep for about
three weeks if you wrap it in polythene and keep it in the
fridge. All you have to do is knead the mixture well. Divide
the mixture up first if you have more than one colour available.

16. Obstacle Course: An obstacle course can turn a rainy day
into an adventure. Use whatever you have available. A bench to
walk the plank, cushion stepping stones across shark infested
seas, through a cardboard box tunnel, up a chair mountain or
through a duvet cave. The wilder your imagination the more your
children will love it.

17. Easy boats: Recycle your empty margarine cartons. Use them
as boats for the bath or paddling pool. These are so easy that
even very young children can help to make them. Cut out
triangular sail shapes from white or coloured paper. Make a
small hole at the top and bottom of the sail so that you can
push through a straw to make a mast. Let the child fix this to
the bottom of a clean margarine tub with a lump of blue tack or
plasticine. They sail extremely well and will even take a
couple of toy people on an exciting cruise.

18. Capes: Nurses, kings, queens, Batman, Superman – they all
need capes or cloaks. Luckily they are easy to make by
attaching ribbon ties to an oblong of fabric in the colour of
your child’s favourite caped character. Keep an eye on them
though as anything tied around the neck could be dangerous.

19. Leaf art: Collect leaves and draw around them. This is fun
for little ones and an educational tree identification game for
older children. Colour in the details with crayons or paints.
The leaves could then be stuck on to paper collage style or
dipped into paint and then pressed firmly on to paper for a
lovely leaf print.

20. Make a puzzle: Stick a favourite picture on to card and
allow to dry with a heavy book on top. Cut into pieces, how
many depending on the age of the child, for an almost instant
and personal puzzle.

More fun and cheap preschools activities that are both enjoyable and educational.

Colleen Moulding is a freelance writer living in the south of
England. She is also the owner/editor of All That Women
a magazine, web guide and resource for women everywhere.