Our zero-degree-freeze-the-snot-inside-your-nose 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.
The freezing weeks of winter here cause us to get a little bit creative with our indoor activities.
And by creative, I mean, my kids play with our trash.
JK. But seriously…
Maybe it’s just our kids, but sometimes they’d rather play with trash than toys. I mean, our first literally used to empty the recycling bag in our tiny Cambridge kitchen and play with the trash.
And if we let our 1st kid play with trash, you can only imagine what our 3rd child gets himself into.
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.
TO THAT END, HERE ARE SOME IDEAS FOR TRASHY KIDS TOYS
These are not glamorous, organic, pinterest worthy 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 these activities stored in ziplocks in a medium sized sterilite bins (and hidden) 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!
(Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a commission off purchases from customers I refer, at no additional cost to you of course. You can read what I do and don’t promote here.)
1. 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. (Pictured top right.) The package of pipe cleaners and the parmesan cheese shaker were $1 each at the dollar store.
- 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.
Any other ideas for this one?
2. SCOOPING: ICE CUBE TRAYS + MUFFIN TINS
- Dry pasta
- Fruit loops
- Ice cubes,
- Giant buttons (my kids love these)
- Beads (obviously not if they’re going to eat them…)
- Plastic bottle caps
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 toddler an old coffee can half full of dried pasta and an empty ice cube tray.
3. BEADS + YARN + PLASTIC NEEDLES
Beading was Addie’s favorite activity around age 2.5.
I purchased plastic needles, tiny hoop, yarn, wooden beads at Hobby Lobby for less than $5.00 total.
The netting pictured 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.
The plastic needle makes it easier for a toddler to bead than with string by itself. 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. Use your imagination!
To a 2 year old, beading pipe cleaners and beading a plastic needle/ yarn are totally different activities… winning!
Bonus: beading and threading help kids to develop the fine motor pincher grasp necessary for holding a pencil correctly. Bam! Now your free trashy activity is educational too. You’re welcome.
4. PAPER RIPPING
All of our kids have gone through a paper ripping phase circa 10 months. I showed Emma how to rip from a stack of magazines. Once she figured it out, she went to town! She’d spend 15 minutes or more on this.
(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.
5. RECYCLED CONTAINERS
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.
6. BABY WIPES CONTAINER + ANYTHING THAT WILL FIT INSIDE
An old wipes container was a BIG hit for both kids around 15-20 months. 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
- fabric scraps
- small action figures
- bouncy balls
- and on and on.
This is another toddler favorite for the bathroom floor while mom showers. (Don’t use anything they can choke on while you’re in the shower, obviously.)
I think I snagged these giant straws 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. (Our block container has a shape sorting lid. You could just cut holes in the top of an old oatmeal container.)
Other straw ideas:
- Let toddler cut them with toddler scissors. (These are AMAZING scissors for first learning to cut.)
- Use the small pieces they just cut as beads.
- Hide 5 in a room and have toddler try to find them
- Drop/ throw them everywhere and clean them up as fast as possible.
- Try to connect them all in a giant line all the way down your hallway.
Those are actual things my kids have done with these giant straws. Seriously, just give your kid a pack and they’ll make stuff up.
At 2, Addie liked doing the following with money…
- sorting change by color (silver & pennies)
- sorting by size (using only quarters & dimes)
- pouring it from container to container
- putting it in a piggy bank 1 by 1.
At 19 months, Emma reeeeeeally likes a piggy bank. Something about the coins disappearing into the slot, and then dumping them all out again.
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 let the kid(s) clip the clothespins to 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. Come on, people, don’t actually let your kids play with knives.
But give them cooked noodles, melon, bread, or bananas to cut with a butter knife, and you will have one focused toddler on your hands.
11. 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.
What are your ideas for cheap homemade toddler toys?
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