I came home excited with a heavy bag looped around my arm. I finally found it. This was going to be the toy that entertained my toddler for hours. I just knew it.
My toddler beamed as soon as she saw me pull the toy out of the bag. She danced with glee, grabbed the toy, and ran off with it.
Yes! I was triumphant. Then, after ten minutes, I discovered my toddler looking at the store flyer she must have found at the bottom of the shopping bag. It instantly became her new favorite thing in the world.
She danced with the flyer, showed all of her stuffed-animals each page, colored on it, ripped it to bits, organized the bits, fed the bits to her animals, and on and on.
Oh no. This can’t be happening. I placed the new toy in front of her again, eagerly demonstrating all the exciting features and encouraged her to try. She simply glared at it and turned her attention back to the dang flyer.
I felt defeated. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Not only did I waste money, it appeared I didn’t know my child at all.
The new toy sat untouched in the corner of the living room for many weeks before I stuffed it in the closest. I crossed my fingers hoping the next child would take to the toy (he didn’t).
I’m sad to admit this exact scenario played out several more times before I learned my lesson. The truth is, children don’t need toys. And they don’t necessarily like them. Why? Now that’s a great mystery I’m still trying to solve—along with why my toddler doesn’t like to sleep (let me know if you figure that one out).
How can children entertain themselves without toys?
The answer is found all around you. Children can learn and be entertained through the everyday objects you already have in your home, but don’t just take my word for it. For those of you who are skeptical or may be seeking suggestions for a more diverse and wholesome playtime, I asked fifteen mamas what non-toys their children love to play with. Their responses were enlightening and gave me a good laugh—children really will play with anything!
My kids are endlessly entertained with containers from the recycling bin (like empty boxes of Mac and cheese, toilet paper rolls, and empty strawberry containers), tape, and rubber bands. They make “inventions” like houses, instruments, tools. In the next room, their toys sit ignored. – Belle, Library Loving Mommy
One of my favorite parts of the toddler stage is the amazing creativity they show with everything from around the house! My almost 2 year old uses my cardigans and towels as capes as he runs along our hallways. Short laundry hampers apparently make great chairs (and they have also been used as drums from time to time). But by far my son’s favorite cabinet is the one filled to the brim with pots and pans, where I see cooking supplies he sees a closet FULL of instruments! Oh and if your child has an affinity for remotes we just popped the batteries out of a few old ones so he has his own. – Beth, A Little Knick a Little Knack
My daughter loves to play with random objects through the house, she will always choose cardboard boxes over blocks, real pots and pans over her mini kitchen set, dog toys instead of her stuffed animals, and more recently plastic bags (AH!) as capes and using them to ‘parachute’ around the house with. She’s far more curious and entertained with everyday mundane objects than she is about the brightly colored, singalong goodies that we get for her! – Ariana Dagan
Measuring cups from the kitchen make great stacking toys and can also be used for water play. My children love to play with laundry baskets. Sometimes they pull one another around in them like a sled! Of course, don’t underestimate the possibilities provided by a cardboard box. Whether climbing inside or imagining it is something new altogether, kids can get a lot of playtime out of a cardboard box before it goes to the recycling. – Jennie, Four to Love
My 16 month old son loves playing with the boxes that his diapers come in! He crawls inside them, on top of them, stacks them, and pushes them around the house. His favorite part is when our cat, Johnny, jumps inside the box and plays peekaboo with him!💛 – Samantha, Her Journal Blog
My daughter uses her books as toys. She stacks them like blocks, lays them out as a “table and food”, uses them as beds and bed sheets for her baby doll, she sorts them… and then, of course, we get to read them! – Dani, Diapers in Paradise
My son loved playing with colored popsicle sticks at that age. Honestly they are fun, attractive and he could just make anything with it. – Neha, Sharing Our Experiences
My toddler LOVES empty water bottles, both the 16 oz ones and the gallon ones. I read somewhere about stringing several empty milk or water gallon jugs on a string to make a pull toy, but haven’t tried it yet. She also has “her own” TV remote – an old one from which we removed the batteries. & anytime she can get a handful of dry washcloths she’s pleased as punch – carries an armful, if she finds that many, all around the house, then sits down and moves them from one pile to another pile, and back again. – Michelle
It’s fun to see the things kids can create into toys. In our house I give my kids access to a simple bedsheet and they will often use it with various pieces of furniture to create a fort for playing in. That can make for hours of fun. Large Amazon boxes also delight the kids for coloring on and playing in. No toilet paper roll seems to make it to the recycling without first being turned into binoculars. I also have a dry erase calendar that my son loves to use dry erase markers on. The kids will grab a TV tray and use it to create a desk that they can pretend to work at. Their imaginations are exercised so much more when they use the items around them for play. – Angie, Calm For Mommy
Boxes! My oldest daughter saved every box we get and makes something out of it.
They also love to play with sensory items like colored rice, play doh, and moon sand (which is basically flour with a couple other ingredients.) – Jenna, The Peaceful Nest
Sticks! My son loves collecting sticks when we are out walking. Then he brings them home and pretends to build a camp fire, uses them for drumsticks, or a sword. I always joke that I’m going to fill up a box with sticks and give it to him for Christmas. – Laarne, Homebody Mommy
My kids love helping me with chores, so if I am cooking or cleaning, they want to get involved. Apparently wiping down the piano or mopping the floor is much more fun than playing with toys! A spray bottle filled with water and a towel equal hours of amusement. The bonus – a clean house! – Betty, The Terrific Five
My youngest just celebrated his 1st birthday. At his party he threw the toys to the side and played with the boxes! He much prefers items like boxes for climbing on or in. He will also happily stack the boxes and knock them over. Rinse and repeat. Some other household items he prefers over toys are a small hair brush, an old TV remote control, spatulas, measuring cups, puzzles, books, and his washcloth he carries around so he can clean as he walks around the house. Who needs to spend money on toys when you can raid the pantry and save all those boxes from your Amazon orders? – Rebecca, Collecting Clovers
I was shocked at how long my daughter can play with dried beans for! She loves scooping and pouring and measuring. I switch up the kitchen utensils she uses and she gets so immersed. At the same time she is working on her motor skills, dexterity, spatial awareness and more! For her it is just fun playtime. – Suchot, The Curious Frugal
My daughter just spent the last 5 minutes walking around with a woven flower pot on her head and I started currently playing on our laundry basket… 😂
I let her play with every non-breakable dish in our kitchen which she loves. She also has her own set of magnets to play with but you could use any magnets for that.
Don’t underestimate the power of playing with your kids, too! Who needs toys when you can play peekaboo around a corner or tag around the couch? – Melody, Slow and Homesteady
Benefits of Playing with household objects instead of toys
- Less clutter. Buying less toys means less mess and more storage space!
- Save a lot of money. Toys are expensive. Remember that toy in the beginning I talked about? That hunk of plastic was $50. I could have bought myself a new makeup palette with that money!
- Regular, every day objects will become more familiar to him. For example, if you give your child real pots and pans instead of their toy counterpart, he will learn how to lift/maneuver/manage objects with vastly different weights and sizes than he’s used to, and he will feel proud of himself for using the same pots as you.
- Your child will have so many more ways to think outside the box and express their creativity. A lot of toys have the tendency to be creative for your child. For instance, a light up toy instrument will play music on its own, doing most of the work for you child and leaving little chance for him to express his creativity. Forgoing such toys allows your child to seek other ways of creating music like shaking beans in a cup or even playing on your real piano.
Should I ever buy toys?
Of course! The key, however, is finding the right toys for your toddler. Open-ended toys such as blocks, magnets, balls, animals, and people are best. Pair open-ended toys with household objects and your child will have hours of fun.
*Remember: Before giving your child an object, always check to see if it’s completely safe.*
Thank you so much for reading! Let me know below what household objects your child loves playing with and how you feel about skipping toys altogether.