If you came to my house, you’d honestly think we raided a Once Upon a Child or scored big as a toy store went out of business. My husband, who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, literally owned just a soccer ball growing up. Looking around our house, he can’t understand why two Christmases ago, I took a victory lap around Target at 10:50pm when I finally found the Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage, under retail. And he definitely didn’t understand how I got my mom, dad, sister and a friend to keep an eye out for the Polly Pocket style Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle playset with the orange turtle (I think that’s Michaelangelo?!?). This search included a city-wide tour of Toys R Us and Walmart (and yes, we finally found it if you’re wondering). But no matter how complete our set of Thomas the Tank or Little People may be, I find my kids often would rather play with some of the most mundane, ridiculous, household items instead. I’m sure you’ve experienced this when you’ve watched your kids play with a box way longer than the toy that came in it.
Our Spin On Some of the Usual and Not So Usual Suspects
Some of the short list below may be no surprise, but I share how we’ve made our own spin on things, which may just save you some money in the long run before you begin to invest in the many iterations of the Power Rangers.
Coffee creamers, straws, leftover condiment packets and some tape
My son, who is antsy and high energy, can spend at least 30-45 minutes making a “dragon lair” or other building creations out of random stuff he finds in my kitchen or the items he finds on the table at a restaurant. I help him by ripping little pieces of tape (we use blue painters tape so we don’t rip/open stuff up) and he goes to town. Often when you are handed these items in a restaurant but don’t use them, they will find their way into the trash. So find (or take home with you) a mix of things, put them in a box, and see what kind of magic your kids come up with!
An oil pan
No – not a dirty one. But rather than investing in a fancy magnetized board and putting yet another hole in the wall, or losing any more precious space on the fridge (as my kids have suddenly found it fun to take a shower under the water spout), we got an oil drip pan from Walmart for under $15 to do magnet time. It’s light, thin, and can slide behind the couch, but it’s big enough more than 1 kid can find a spot on it. Magnets of letters, numbers, shapes, and characters can keep my kids busy for a while, and is good, clean, creative fun.
My kids love every little piece of equipment I’ve ever purchased. My oldest makes American Ninja Warrior courses, stacking it in a variety of ways, bouncing on some of the items and finding new ways to exercise that in 15 years in the field, no professional has ever shown me. Obviously, this is a double dip in a sense, as having the equipment out helps me to stay more consistent with my workouts too. So if you’ve needed an excuse to purchase some new fitness items to motivate you, check out the clearance rack, grab a few new “tools” for your toolbox, and share them with the kids!
Toilet paper rolls
These are great to paint, to stack, to use for Hot Wheels car garages and I’m sure you remember making bird/squirrel feeders out of them. This same idea can be done with the unique boxes you often find in packaging. With my kiddos in the throes of potty training, there is no shortage of toilet paper rolls. They are not hard to come by, but beware: if you ask friends or family to save theirs, you may just end up with a few more than you bargained for!
Yes, this one is obvious. But especially if you still have smaller kids in the house and you have diaper boxes upon diaper boxes. Smaller kids can sit inside and color, keeping them off of your walls. Another idea you may not have tried: wrap them with your leftover or dollar store wrapping paper and use them as jumbo sized and variable sized blocks. We’ve mixed these beautifully wrapped boxes with other items around our house to build forts and bridges and work on patterns and colors, too. If they fall, they don’t hurt, and if the wrapping rips, you change it out. We had twins, so we go through more diapers than most, but keep your local favorite restaurant in mind – they ALWAYS have boxes! (Leftover containers from yogurt and ricotta cheese can work too – just takes a lot longer to build something big!)
Kitchen stuff in your bathtub
Anything from your kitchen can double as a bathtub toy helping kids to practice pouring and filling and other gross and fine motor skills. When it was cold and my son was dying to play with his outside toys – we brought a water wall into the tub. Literally, my kids fought hard when the water got so cold I had to get them out. They loved it!
Until they’re old enough to know better, make it a competition or a challenge who can dust the most the fastest, or find the most solo socks. Clean out that drawer or closet that’s been driving you nuts. Mine love to sort and find and repurpose. Don’t do this if you are in a serious purge mood, but consider what they can help with as they can find chores that we may hate to be a lot more fun!
Taking the time to enjoy the little moments with my kids is so important. Taking away the stress of having the coolest toy that so-and-so had at school today by making our everyday life just as fun and creative: #priceless.