Updated on 03.14.12

Turn Supplies You Have on Hand into Toys (74/365)

Trent Hamm

Whenever I watch my one year old at play, I can’t help but notice that there really are only a few requirements for entertaining him in a safe way.

The item needs to be fairly sturdy, as he can get mad and throw it. He’s one, so emotional control isn’t really part of the equation, nor is an understanding of any sort of “correct” way to play.

The item needs to have virtually no intricate parts. If it does, a one year old will break it. They are incredibly crafty little people who find new and inventive ways to dismantle items.

The item needs to be reasonably safe for him to put into his mouth, but not small enough to be swallowed. Inevitably, an infant or a young toddler will put things in the mouth. This means it shouldn’t be toxic or coated in a toxic paint, and it shouldn’t be very small lest it be a choking hazard.

The truth is, he’ll play with pretty much anything we put in front of him. He prefers that it makes noise or that he can make noise with it. He likes it if it’s something that his older siblings will also play with, particularly at the same time.

Most of the time, he just talks to the toy and holds it. He’ll sometimes put it in his mouth, almost to give it a taste. He’ll hit it on the floor or a table to see if it makes noise or if it changes shape. If it makes noise or changes shape, he’ll hit it over and over again. He likes to give the item to other people for a bit, but they need to give it back within ten seconds or so.

In other words, there are dozens of items already around our house that qualify perfectly for a toy for this child.

Turn Supplies You Have on Hand into Toys (74/365)

When you have a small child to be entertained, bust out the pots and pans and wooden spoons and let them go to town. Sure, it can be noisy. Sure, you can get tired of the racket. Still, there are few things that entertain a young child more than playing with the stuff that a grown-up uses, particularly when it makes noise and they’re given freedom to do with it what they will.

There have been countless times when I’ve just given my child a wooden spoon and a few pots and pans and just let him (or her) go to town on the kitchen floor. The child laughs. The child makes a lot of noise. The child pretends to stir things in the pot. The child flips the pots and pans over. The child will try to wear lighter items for a hat.

This is a perfect way to keep them entertained for a while as kitchen duties are taken care of. Afterwards, I just give the items a quick cleaning and they go right back in the cupboard until their next use.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of possibilities. With the older children, paper towel rolls have been converted into telescopes, toilet paper rolls have been converted into binoculars, empty soda bottles (with a bit of super glue, glitter, water, and food coloring) have been converted into oceans in a bottle, and large boxes have been converted into houses.

Your house provides an endless supply of items for children to play with without needing to buy them toys. That means you can certainly get away with less toy buying, which means you can provide more financial stability for your future and your children’s future.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. EngineerMom says:

    One of my fondest memories from around age 8 or so was using bits of wire, tin foil, batteries, and flashlight bulbs to figure out how electricity worked and make homemade flashlights.

    At some point around 5th grade, I went to get a pot of leftover soup from the fridge and couldn’t get the lid off. My dad happened to be home, and explained how when gas (such as steam or air) is heated, it expands, and when cooled, the same volume contracts, reducing the pressure. The outside pressure then “pushes” on the lid, making it hard to open until you break the seal keeping that lower pressure inside the pot intact. Talk about a practical example of ideal gas law.

    In fourth grade, my mom helped me make red cabbage juice to bring in for show and tell. It’s a natural litmus test – changes color depending on the ph of the liquid it’s added to.

    I made a volcano this week with my 3-year-old as part of our letter of the week – V. Tiny glass vase, 9×9″ glass baking dish to catch it all, play dough to form the volcano, baking soda and vinegar plus a couple of drops of food coloring for the eruption, and his “what did you bring for the letter V” was a huge hit in his little one-day-a-week preschool class.

    Kids will play with and learn from almost anything. Expensive toys aren’t really necessary, but an adult open to the curiosity and experimentation that comes with kid play can really enhance the experience.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I never bother to wash the items after they are played with, unless obviously covered in goo. When mine were little they would tear the cabinets apart multiple times a day. It was easier to just know that any utensil or tupperware needed a quick wash before we used it. That saved us a lot of dishes.

  3. Lisa says:

    I grew up making dollhouse furniture out of whatever I could find that was headed for the trash. Cereal boxes, thread spools, and bottle caps.

  4. jim says:

    This douchebag is so cheap, he makes his son wipe his ass with ONE SQUARE of toilet paper. Do you think that gets him clean? He makes his son go around with a dirty ass to save a little money, so he doesn’t have to get a real job. What’s more, he goes to the bathroom in front of his son. Disgusting.

  5. jim says:

    He goes to the bathroom in front of his son in order to encourage the kid to go in front of him, so he can monitor the kid’s activities and see how much toilet paper and any other bathroom products he uses. How much soap do you think he let’s the kid use after his finger breaks through that ONE SQUARE and gets the shit smell all over them?

  6. Mark Gavagan says:

    Sounds like he raising a retarded mongoloid with the way he described the child’s play habits, as it sounds very abnormal. Ought to get the genetics tested before they have any more kids, find out where the glitch is. Don’t worry about the toilet paper jim, I’m sure the kids are happy to wipe their asses with their thumbs, sounds like what they would do even with an unlimited supply of toilet paper.

  7. Mark Gavagan says:

    Jim, you just getting up or going to bed?

  8. Gillian says:

    #6 That is a remarkably unpleasant comment. The snark usually amuses me, but really, if you feel the need to write comments like that you need to step well away from the computer and calm down.

  9. Johanna says:

    Looks like comments 4-7 are from the same troll who was posting stupid crap under other people’s names a few weeks ago. Best ignored.

  10. Joanna says:

    I can totally relate to this post as I just this week repurposed some old (cleaned out of course) plastic 32 oz yogurt containers as toys. I was holding my daughter in the kitchen, she saw the yogurt container that we’d used to warm her bottle (fill it up with hot water & done) and just had to have it. Now she happily bangs them together and builds with them (I gave her 3).

  11. Baley says:

    Yeah, #4 & 5 don’t sound like the regular “jim” around here. I don’t know what Mark’s problem is though. The description of play certainly sounds like all of the bright one-year-old children I know. Hopefully he’s just a troll, too, as Johanna says.

  12. 8sml says:

    Mason jar lids and rings are another popular toy with my one-year-old.

  13. jim says:

    Yes, thanks Johanna. That Jim is not me.

  14. Kai says:

    Yay for not feeding the trolls!

    When I was a kid, my grandparents kept years worth of yogurt containers. We made room-sized pyramids, and castles, and all sorts of stuff. It was one of the coolest things around.

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