Our freeze-the-snot-in-your-nose-cold midwestern winters are in full swing, and we are officially hibernating. I bought 3 months worth of food and we’re not leaving the house until April.
No park, no outside play, no walks, no extra trips out just for fun. This leaves us to get a little bit creative with our activities. With a 3 and 1 1/2 year old, most activities they find themselves playing with last about 15 minutes max. Every so often, up to 30… especially if it’s something they perceive to be “special,” aka: off limits. (i.e. dumping cotton balls all over the bathroom, emptying wipes containers or toilet paper rolls, etc…)
I have an old post about our kids’ favorite toys. Most of those are still on the favorite toys list around here. But I realized my kids also spend a fair amount of time playing with non-toys.
Maybe it’s just our kids, but sometimes they’d rather play with trash than toys. I mean, Addie literally used to empty the recycling bag in our tiny Cambridge kitchen and play with the trash.
To that end, here are some ideas for some trashy kids toys. 😉
These are not glamorous & beautiful children’s activities… These are cheap homemade toddler toys you could put together with junk you probably have around your house, while you binge watch old episodes of Downton Abbey. I keep a lot of this stuff in ziplocks in a medium sized sterilite bin hidden away, so that when I pull one out, it’s special and fun. Almost every idea in this post requires less than 10 minutes of effort to put together (with a couple exceptions). Now that’s my kind of home-made toy. Cheers to being free & easy.
Do you have any ideas to add? Add them below in the comments!
Pipe cleaners + objects with small holes
Addie likes to see if she can get the short pipe cleaners to fill all the holes in the parmesan cheese shaker without them going all the way through. The package of pipe cleaners and the parmesan cheese shaker were $1 each at the dollar store. Also, my children think it is an entirely separate activity to stick toothpicks in the shaker. Or pipe cleaners in the colander. Or toothpicks in an old spice container. You get the idea…
scooping with ice cube trays + muffin tins
Dry pasta, fruit loops, ice cubes, giant button, beads, plastic bottle caps, legos, whatever! anything that makes noise, is small enough to scoop, but big enough to clean up. I’ve found that less is more. 1 type of item + 1 scooper + 2 different types of containers is a good amount of things. Too many items and containers and the kids seem to get overwhelmed or bored faster. In the top left picture, I gave my 14 month old an old coffee can half full of dried pasta and an empty ice cube tray. Obviously, you should be within eyesight if your kid is young enough to pop things in their mouth…)
Beads + Yarn + Plastic Needles
Beading was Addie’s favorite activity for a while. I purchased plastic needles, tiny hoop, yarn, wooden beads at Hobby Lobby for less than $5.00 all together. The netting was extra from some of that sticky cabinet liner that you put on the shelves in your cabinets. Or they sell netting at Hobby Lobby too. It’s all in the embroidery section. Beading is a lot easier for a 2 year old with a plastic needle to feed the bead on to the string. If you have old shoelaces around, those will work too. Pipe cleaners are fun to bead, then you don’t even need the plastic needle. But again, use your imagination. To a 2 year old, beading pipe cleaners and beading a plastic needle/ yarn are totally different activities!
Recycled Containers + Paper Ripping
Both of my kids have gone through a paper ripping phase circa 10 months. I had a stack of magazines. I opened one and ripped a page out to show Emma. Once she figured it out, she went to town. Probably 15 minutes at a time or more. (Which, as you know, can be JUST the amount of time you need… squeeze in a 15 minute workout, prep a quick meal, have your kid do this on the bathroom floor while you take a shower, or just read a book and sit by yourself in the quiet with the peaceful sound of paper ripping in the background.) She thought this was fun for weeks. When she would get bored, I’d just toss all the ripped up pieces in a brown paper bag to recycle. She would help.
Also – empty plastic bottle. Fun to crinkle. Fun in the bath. I was not kidding when I said my kids play with trash.
I have a small box of washed out plastic containers that we use for all kinds of things… all the scooping and pouring activities, playing in the sink, bath, sandbox, or pool, etc… Old spice containers and store bought grated parmesan containers are the crowd fave because the kids love to flip up the lid and see the water pour out through the little holes.
Sand toys? Who needs sand toys!? We prefer trash.
Wipes Container + Anything that will fit
Right around 15-20 months, an old wipes container was a BIG hit for both kids so far. They love pressing the button and seeing the top pop open. They put something in, click it back down and repeat. Once all their objects are inside, they sometimes need help opening the whole box to get them out. Eventually, they figure out how to open the box, or how to stick their hand in and pull stuff out.
ANYTHING is fun to put in and dump out of an old wipes box: recycled milk tops, q-tips, fabric scraps, pennies, legos, cards, small action figures, bouncy balls, and on and on. This is another toddler favorite for the bathroom floor while mom showers.
I think I snagged these off an endcap at Walmart for $1.00 They have served us well. Besides using them for smoothies, they are fun to drop in our empty block bucket. (You can make your own shape sorting bucket from an old oatmeal container.) We’ve cut a few and beaded the small pieces onto shoelaces as beautiful necklaces. Other straw ideas: cut them with toddler scissors, hide 5 in a room and have toddler try to find them, drop them everywhere and play pick up sticks, sword fight, try to connect them all in a giant line all the way down your hallway.
At 2, Addie liked sorting change by color (silver & pennies) or by size (if it was only quarters & dimes), pouring it from container to container, and putting it in a piggy bank 1 by 1. At 19 months, Emma reeeeeeally likes the piggy bank.
Sometime in between 2 1/2 and 3, Addie figured out clothespins. These small/medium sized crafting ones were easier for her than big ones. I picked up some paint chips to try a color gradient activity, which she really liked. I put a light, medium, and dark green paint chip in a tray with 3 clothespins. I cut off a strip of each paint chip and glued it to the clothespin. Then, she would match the shade of green to the right color paint chip by clipping the clothespin on. She didn’t conceptually understand light and dark colors until we did this, and doing this activity helped her just figure it out on her own. It was so fun to see her figure this out on her own! #TeacherMomNerdAlert
If you’re feeling like the whole cutting/ glueing of paint chips is too much, skip color gradients and just color on them with markers and clip them to construction paper. Or skip color matching all together and just clip them on whatever they’ll fit on – cardboard, old cereal box, hair, fingers, string, necklaces, the edge of their shirt…
Jk. kinda. Around 2 1/2, Addie reeeeally wanted to help cook. Every single meal. And it wasn’t enough to just stand next to me with an empty bowl and spoon and pretend anymore. So, we have a dip-spreader with a serrated side that I made a big deal out of – how it’s a grown up knife, only for big girls, and she has to be so careful and not have her other hand up there, etc. We’ve also talked extensively about how it’s the only knife she’s allowed to do… yada yada yada. People, don’t actually let your kids play with knives. But give them cooked noodles, pieces of melon, or bread to cut in half with a butter knife, and you will have one focused toddler on your hands.
Pillows + Forts
The girls love to jump into a sea of pillows. And now, they’re old enough to run and get all the pillows by themselves 1 at a time, and put them all back when they’re done. So this is a minimum 30-minutes-of-fun activity. One of their faves while I’m making dinner because they can occasionally peek out the window and see if Dad is home yet.
Finally, if all else fails, put some all-time favorite toys in a fort and call it a day. Because forts make everything more fun.