Updated on 11.03.06

Free Toys For Your Infant Or Toddler

Trent Hamm

When my son was born, I wanted him to have the best of everything, so at first we spent a good deal of money on all sorts of stuff. Rattles, balls, play pens, and so forth – we dumped a lot of money on these things.

Do you want to guess what his three favorite toys are, now that he’s eleven months old? My old cell phone (with the battery removed), a simple homemade rattle, and a large red plastic cup we got for free at the State Fair.

Before you splurge on expensive (or even inexpensive) toys for your infant or toddler, first give these ideas a try:

Make a homemade rattle. We had tons of leftover baby food jars, so we simply turned one into a rattle. Put four pennies in a baby food jar, make the lid tight, and coat it in a few layers of packing tape (so that if the toy somehow gets broken, the glass will be contained). My son absolutely loves this toy.

Turn over your old unusable electronic devices. My son plays all the time with an old remote control and an old cellular phone. He pushes the buttons and talks on them.

“Laminate” pictures. Print off pictures of family members and laminate them heavily with packing tape (so (s)he can’t chew them up). Make sure the pictures are fairly large so there’s no choking hazard. My son loves these as well – he has a set of pictures of many family members and friends. We also make homemade flash cards, too, with letters and numbers and colors, using the same “lamination” method.

Make a soccer ball out of …. socks! Got some older socks that are starting to wear out? Clean them thoroughly one last time, then make a ball out of them by tying one in a knot, then putting them inside of each other. With the last one, tie a good knot to keep it closed. My son and I roll this “ball” back and forth to each other all the time.

Old plastic cups make great toys. My son has a set of measuring cups he plays with at Grandma’s house; at home, he has a big red plastic cup. He pretends to drink out of it and likes to talk into it because it makes his voice sound funny.

I used to spend money on rattles and other things, but most of my son’s favorite activities and diversions are now freebies.

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  1. Kevin Howes says:

    My family has a family “matching” game made from laminated pictures. Just get doubles. :)

  2. jj says:

    I took plastic grocery store bags, turned them inside out so there was no ink and tied them in a few knots. My kids loved those when they were not crawling yet – they’re crinkly and you can squeeze them and drool all over them. I didn’t leave them alone with the bags in case they started to shred but they never did, and at night I could just throw them out since they were spitty and gross after a while. Plus they’re free.

    Also, take pictures of their favorite toys doing things they’re not supposed to do! Example: doll trying on mommy’s shoes, truck driving in the china cabinet, toy train on daddy’s head. The last is the best, kids that age LOVE stuff on people’s heads, it’s hilarious for some reason :)

  3. DadCafe says:

    Good tips – thank you. jj’s photo tip looks fun as well. May I also suggest cardboard boxes. We’ve had endless fun with big boxes as houses/shops, small boxes as little machines with drawn-on buttons and box lids as play scenes for cars, dinosaurs, etc. The possibilities are limitless and all free!

  4. Alyson says:

    Cardboard boxes of various sizes, cardboard tubes from paper towels are the toys our kids actually fight over at our house. They’re way more fun than stuff we’ve actually bought for them. And outside, they love to pick grass, twigs and chestnuts to make pretend stew (they tell me it’s for the squirrels).

    Also, the favorite baby toy for in the car…junk mail. So fun to them to crumple and look at. And there’s a never ending supply.

  5. Jess says:

    I remember when I was a kid one of my favorite toys was this old rotary phone. It was so much fun to watch the dial spin around. I also really liked playing in laundry baskets.

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