Creative Play Ideas: Without Toys!

Walking through the baby aisle in through any big box store, you’d think tots require blinking plastic playthings for constant entertainment.  As we point out in The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, parents need far less than they’re pressured to buy in those months leading up to baby’s arrival.  Plus, everyone knows the story of the child who receives a brand new gift only to end up playing with the ribbon and cardboard box.

So what do you have around the house that might fascinate your baby and toddler?

Cereal boxes, egg cartons, and toilet paper tubes. Young children bat them around and sit on them while older kids can use them to construct castles, caterpillars and many other three dimensional art projects.

Paper sacks and measuring cups. I love seeing how many hours a six-month-old can spend observing a paper bag.  It crinkles, it has an inside and outside, and it collapses.  What a fantastic device!  My children spent many hours nesting measuring cups and clanking them together.  Plus, the fact that these are obviously real adult objects that parents use regularly makes them extra appealing to tots.

Real pots and pans, wooden spoons, and grains or pasta. Sit your child at the table with a bowl of dry noodles or rice, several measuring spoons, and various bowls and cups.  They’ll be entranced by their cooking experiments and you may just get time to prepare a meal.

Keys were another hot item that parents listed when we solicited info for the The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, but then they aren’t always safe.  What are the favorite non-toys that your baby loves to play with at home?  Is your child chewing on Tupperware at this very moment?



  1. We are moving and have most of my son’s toys packed. He has been having a blast with chopsticks, a wrapping paper tube, sardine tins, bread pans, a bit of cloth and his tiny stuffed penguin.

  2. We’re moving too! The wrapping paper (blank newsprint) is a huge hit with our 11 month old. She loves crinkling it, ripping it, tossing it, etc. Another great ‘toy’ – an empty and rinsed milk jug. It is an odd shape, it makes neat sounds, and has a unique texture.

  3. Boxes, junk mail, DVD cases. Also catalogs, which I let them tear up. Oh how children love the sound of ripping paper. They also love everything in the kitchen. Mostly it’s just very fun to open and close the cupboards. My best repurposed toy is orange juice lids through a slot in a box or canister (like oatmeal). It’s true that kids just want to play with whatever you are using.

  4. Lately my kids have been taking the baking sheets out of the drawer below my oven and slamming them around the kitchen. It’s noisy but it keeps them busy.

  5. Sebastian is 6 months old and obsessed with a rinsed-out Starbucks cup. Unfortunately he loves to throw it but can’t quite retrieve it on his own, which doesn’t really work out when I’m trying to entertain him to get things done. He really loves napkins too but he eats them so that’s a no go!

  6. And it’s not just babies who love this stuff. Our grandkids are 10 and 6 and they all (4) love it when I bring out assorted stuff and let them “have at it.” They can play for hours. And sometimes, they enjoy making decorative or useful items. (I know this blog is aimed at moms of babies, but maybe there are some older kids too!)

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