Simplify Your Life: The Charm of Homemade Toys

Last week I talked about the very core essentials needed for a new baby, and obviously toys don’t fall under this category. However, toys are fun and can spark a child’s imagination and keep little hands busy. Here I’ll give ideas and tips on how to creatively create or modify a toy at home…

When Little was born, we didn’t invest hundreds of dollars in toys. In reality, infants don’t need toys. Parents love to outfit their rooms with the latest and greatest of what they believe are “developmental” toys or “educational” toys. In reality, however, the very best development and the most valuable education your baby can receive is from interacting with you.

As he got a little older, he would get toys from grandparents and other relatives, and his room was soon full. However, we tried our hardest to put an emphasis in other areas of life other than things.

Here are some ideas for saving money, recycling household items, and reducing waste and consumerism when it comes to your child’s toys:

1. Buy used: Nearly all of the toys we have purchased for Little from the time he was born have come from our favorite resale boutique. We’ve found nearly new toys in perfect condition for a fifth of the price they would cost new in a store. He has no idea.

2. Look Online for Templates: Some homemade toys require considerable amounts of skill to craft together, but many don’t. One of my favorite (and super easy) templates came from Toad’s Treasures, a blog by Emily Ashby. This sweet and simple owl template is not only adorable, it’s also versatile. You can use any fabric combination you want, and you could make the owl as large or as small as your imagination will allow. Here’s the one I made this weekend for Little in about an hour:

Ouchie the Owl

3. Use household items: Any baby book you read is going to encourage you to let your little one have their own drawer in the kitchen. Our little one was too loud with the pots and pans for mommy’s comfort, but a drawer full of plastic bowls and lids was perfect for him (and us). He’s played with empty plastic hampers, cardboard boxes, tupperware items, and wooden spoons. He has also finger-painted with jello, chocolate pudding, and even ketchup. I’m always looking for creative and cheap ideas using things we already have around the house.

4. Recycle recycle recycle: We’ve made horns out of old toilet paper rolls, drums from empty coffee cans, bean bag toss games made from left over fabric scraps filled with rice (and tossed into an empty box), played dress up with old clothes, paper airplanes, maracas made from empty cans filled with beans, puppets from old socks, and colorful collages made from melted old crayons.

4. Get creative with what you have: Puzzle pieces don’t live long in our house. Well, some of them do. But most don’t. Today as I was cleaning out our activity closet in the office, I ran across a puzzle that has seen better days and was missing about half of the pieces. So I had an idea! I have a roll of magnet tape (magnet on one side, sticky on the other- sold at Hobby Lobby for $2.99) that I keep around for any opportunity to turn something into a magnet for Little. So here’s what I came up with in about 2 minutes:

Blurry picture. Sorry, I hate that!

His friends, former members of the On the Farm puzzle crew, now live on the fridge at 2 year old height.

*We’ve also re-purposed bath toys as sand box toys and vice versa (after cleaning the sandbox toys really good).*

5. Read: The most fun things to do together involve very little props. Battery operated talking ducks that teach your kid the ABC’s are fun, but they can’t replace you sitting down with her and reading to her. Books are wonderful. They can spark conversation and imagination like nothing else in the world. Books can spark crafts, themed-meals, parties, outings, games and more. When Little sees something in a book that excites him, I try to find unique ways to bring that thing to life for him so the enjoyment lasts far longer than the story. Sometimes we draw what we saw in the book, sometimes I make up songs about the characters to sing about them during bath time, sometimes I make snacks that tie into the story.

6. Realize that Time is better than Things: In choosing to live simply, we are also standing against the world and refusing to conform to the idea that things express or convey love more than time, affection, and words. I refuse to accept this idea. Spending time with your child at all is better than showering them with more and more things. Sometimes as a homemaker, I feel overwhelmed or guilty because I didn’t play with LB enough one day. I have to remind myself that any time spent giving him my 100% attention is better than none. That’s more valuable than any toy. Reading together, cooking together, playing together, singing together, even just doing chores together, is more valuable and more precious than any item you could make or buy.

So don’t grow discouraged if you aren’t super creative or crafty. Your time is more precious to your child than anything else in the world. He can’t replace you.

August 2009

Just spent time together. You can make anything fun with a child. When Little was tiny, I would sit him in the laundry basket next to me while I folded and sorted laundry. He loved it. I always look back on that and smile. No toys required.


Happy Simple Sunday!




Filed under Creative Ideas and Crafts, Simplify Your Life

2 responses to “Simplify Your Life: The Charm of Homemade Toys

  1. My grandmother used to take me on long walks with a paper sack. We’d pick up leaves, then come home and iron them between wax paper. It is one of my favorite memories of her. When I did child care work in Austin, I would take kids on walks with paper bags and we’d come back and make pictures with our discoveries. You’re so right that time is what matters.

    • We did the paper bag thing last autumn. We went to the park and collected leaves and sticks and then came home and made a “Why I Love Autumn” collage. I laminated the poster so we can tape new leaves on every fall. We’ll pull it out again soon and go on our leaf hunt. It’s a great idea.

Leave a Reply to Sharon Kay Bradshaw Yeates Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s