These Household Items Make Great Children’s Toys
The idea that children don’t work is simply not true. When kids play, they are discovering, experimenting and developing. Play is their work.
This means that having open-ended, ludic toys is important to the healthy development of a kid. But that doesn’t mean that you need to spend hundreds of dollars every couple of months on fancy toys.
Instead, use items you already have lying around in the house. These household items make great toys for children.
Developmental skills boosted: Problem solving, gross motor development, spatial awareness
Why they make great toys: If you’ve ever bought your kid a fancy, expensive toy only to have them completely ignore it in favor of the box it came in, you know the allure of boxes.
Children of all ages, even babies, enjoy playing with boxes of all sizes. The best part is that there is literally no limit to how boxes can be used.
Kids can use them as tunnels, put toys in them or take them out, get into the box themselves, stack boxes together, use them as hats, make arts and crafts with them, etc., etc., etc.
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, gross motor development, creative thinking
Why they make great toys: Baskets are a lot like boxes, except that they are sturdier and that you can’t cut holes in them.
One of kids’ favorite games is to get inside a basket and be pushed around. But they can also learn to push the basket around, either with their hands or, if they are smaller, by pulling a sturdy rope that has been attached to it.
Of course, baskets can turn into boats, cars or planes. They can be filled with different items or become an accessory for hiding toys.
Developmental skills boosted: Spatial awareness, fine motor development, logic, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Even if you’re not an expert cook, chances are you already have measuring spoons in your kitchen.
Babies have fun simply nibbling them or banging them against different surfaces, which helps them learn about how different surfaces make different sounds. Toddlers can practice stacking them in order or placing things within them.
Give your toddler frozen peas to get them to practice the pincer grasp. Older children can practice actually measuring different ingredients and helping you cook.
Developmental skills boosted: Spatial awareness, fine motor development, logic, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Just like measuring spoons, babies and toddlers love measuring cups. The skills developed are similar, but because of their size, children can stack them more easily and practice putting things inside them.
You’ll see your baby figure out how many toys fit within each cup, bang them, throw them around and, eventually, bang them together. Older kids can have fun filling them up with liquid and trying to avoid it overflowing, which is great for their spatial awareness.
Developmental skills boosted: Fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, auditory development, problem solving
Why they make great toys: Tupperware is a lifesaver in many ways, including getting your kid to stay still in the kitchen while you cook. Give them an empty Tupperware and watch them be entertained simply by banging it on the kitchen floor and seeing what sound it makes.
For toddlers, leave the lid on and let them practice taking it out and putting it back on. You can also put some toys inside so they can have fun trying to get to the toys.
Just make sure your containers are plastic or metal rather than glass.
Developmental skills boosted: Creative thinking, spatial awareness, logic, fine motor development
Why they make great toys: Even adults have fun flipping and throwing balls into plastic cups, so you can imagine the world of possibilities they hold for kids.
Kids can play with empty ones by putting things in them or taking them out, stacking them to make castles, banging them around to make noise, or using them to play telephone.
You can also fill them up with small items so small toddlers can practice their pincer grasp or take them outside and let them play with water.
Developmental skills boosted: Auditory development, hand-eye coordination, fine motor development
Why they make great toys: Learning to grasp and hold a spatula is a great way for babies and toddlers to develop their fine motor skills. They also absolutely love banging them around on everything, so you can also give them some pots and pans to bang.
For toddlers who can already stand on their own, you can also have them "help" you cook or give them a pan so they can play pretend. Since kids love imitating adults, they are absolutely thrilled when they get to do what they see you do every day.
Developmental skill boosted: Fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, sensory processing
Why they make great toys: Whisks are fun to bang on the floor and on other kitchen items, particularly for babies. They are similar to spatulas but have a different form that makes for interesting sensory experiences for small children.
Older children can use whisks to make patterns in the sand, to practice whisking different ingredients and even to paint.
Developmental skills boosted: Creative thinking, cooperation, gross motor development, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Has there ever been a kid who did not play with pillows? Besides helping you sleep well, pillows are the perfect open-ended soft toy that have a million uses. Kids can build forts, pretend they are on a boat, practice stacking or jump safely from the couch onto them.
The only caveat is that they are not always safe for infants and babies, so if there are pillows around your small baby, you should keep an eye on them.
Developmental skills boosted: Object permanence, logic, working memory, abstract thought
Why they make great toys: If you let them, your babies will most likely invent the game of peek-a-boo on their own, usually by covering and uncovering their face with a blanket. This helps them develop object permanence, or the awareness that things exist even when they can’t see them.
Blankets can also be used for forts or to hide things. Small toddlers will also have a blast folding and unfolding them.
Developmental skills boosted: Object permanence, sensory processing, fine motor development
Why they make great toys: Like blankets, towels can be used in many ways, but they also come with an interesting texture that makes them a perfect toy even for infants.
You can let your infant baby play with the same small towels you use to burp them. They are fascinated by the soft texture and practice grasping them.
Older kids can use them for creative and sensory play, getting them wet, using them to hide things and practicing folding.
Developmental skills boosted: Creative thinking, object permanence, sensory processing
Why they make great toys: Sock puppets are an absolute blast for children. The best part is that you don’t have to turn them into actual puppets by putting eyes on them. Let your kids engage in pretend play by simply putting your hands in the socks and having them imagine they are something else.
For small babies, socks of different textures are fascinating and can be a great way to develop object permanence, since they realize their feet exist even when they can’t necessarily see them.
Developmental skills boosted: Problem-solving, fine motor development, creative thinking
Why they make great toys: We can’t even list all of the ways a simple plastic bottle can be used to play. You don’t even have to do anything to it. Just hand it to your child, and you’ll see how much fun they have making it crunch and banging it on different surfaces.
Eventually, they can learn to twist the caps on and off, and practice fine motor skills by putting things into the narrow neck. If you want to get fancier, fill the bottle with beans or rice for a quick and easy homemade musical instrument.
Developmental skill boosted: Auditory development, spatial awareness, fine motor development
Why they make great toys: Rather than throwing away the lids or caps of bottles you use, upcycle them into toys for your kid. Since they come in different sizes, kids love playing with a whole stash of them.
You’ll see them throw the lids around, bite them, put them inside of other things (like boxes and pans) and then take them out and stash them.
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, fine motor development, object permanence
Why they make great toys: Babies love to bang mixing bowls and put things in them. When turned upside down, they can be used to stash things on top or to hide things inside, which promotes object permanence development.
You can also use them as hats or take them outside and fill them with water to let your kid splash and enjoy sensory play.
Developmental skill boosted: Sensory awareness, abstract thought, critical thinking
Why they make great toys: Ice is incredibly interesting to kids. It’s a solid object that becomes liquid, and it is cool yet becomes warmer the more it’s touched. Playing with ice encourages children’s brains to develop critical thinking and begin to have a rudimentary understanding of the states of matter.
Remember the mixing bowl? Fill it with a couple of ice cubes to keep your kid entertained with a minimal mess.
Pots and Pans
Developmental skill boosted: Sensory awareness, creative thinking, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: If you have kids, you already know how much they love banging on pots and pans. Give them a spatula and let them at it, or join in the fun by wearing a pan as a hat.
Older kids can also pretend that they are using it to cook, which they absolutely love.
Developmental skills boosted: Fine motor development, creative thinking, sensory processing, spatial awareness
Why they make great toys: Colanders work similarly to pots and pans, but the holes they have make them particularly interesting to kids.
Simply running their hands over a colander is fun for babies, since it has an unusual texture. It can also be fascinating for them to experiment with different items and see which ones fall through the holes and which ones don’t.
Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Tubes
Developmental skill boosted: Creative thinking, fine motor development, abstract thought
Why they make great toys: Reuse empty paper towels or toilet paper tubes by making them into toys. You don’t have to get complicated, as children, particularly small toddlers, will love playing with them as they are. They can bang them, twist them or look through them.
Older kids can use them for arts and crafts, cutting them, painting them or gluing things onto them to make different figures.
Developmental skill boosted: Fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness
Why they make great toys: Tongs are tricky for kids, especially small ones, which is why they are the perfect toy. Kids need toys that are challenging but not impossible to use, and learning to correctly use tongs can help develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Even babies can use them to practice their grasp, though you would want to make sure they are small tongs that aren’t too heavy. Older children can practice taking things out of a box or container with tongs.
Developmental skill boosted: Fine motor development, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Like tongs, clothespins or chip clips present a healthy challenge for children. They also help practice fine motor skills like grasping. At first, kids can practice simply unclipping them and then "graduate" onto clipping them.
However, this is a toy that requires supervision, as you don’t want your kids to pinch themselves with the pins.
Empty Tissue Box
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, object permanence, fine motor development
Why they make great toys: Tissue boxes are boxes, yes, but they count as a separate toy because they have a ready-made slit that hides what is inside. This makes them perfect toys for toddlers learning object permanence, since they can practice putting toys inside and then taking them out.
Kids also like putting their hands inside the box, even when it's empty or shaking it around when it's full to make sounds.
Serving Tray With Dividers
Developmental skill boosted: Relational reasoning (categorizing), fine motor development, spatial awareness
Why they make great toys: If you have a serving tray that is cheap and not easily breakable, let your kids play with it. It’s the perfect toy to practice categorizing, since it usually comes with dividers.
Children can practice placing similar objects together within a tray. For example, you can give them peas, red beans and rice and have them separate them.
Ice Cube Trays
Developmental skill boosted: Fine motor development, spatial awareness, relational reasoning
Why they make great toys: Ice cube trays work similarly to trays, except that the divisions are much smaller and therefore more challenging. This helps older children practice fitting in small objects into a tiny tray. You can also make categorization games by having them sort items by color or type into adjacent cubes.
Babies love playing with ice cube trays simply by banging them on the floor and feeling the dents, which are interesting to them. Filling them with liquids and semi-liquids of different textures like water, jello and juice makes for fun — though messy — sensory play.
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, creative thinking, relational reasoning
Why they make great toys: Egg cartons can be used in similar ways as ice cube trays. They can also be used for arts and crafts or for engaging in sensory play.
If you want a fun project with your older child, try using the cartons to plant seeds and having your kid see the daily growth of the plant.
Developmental skill boosted: Creative thinking, fine motor development, sensory processing
Why they make great toys: A muffin or cupcake tray can be used in many different ways that don’t involve baking sweets.
Like ice cube trays and egg cartons, kids can play by categorizing items, learning how many things can fit into a tray and using them for sensory games.
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, auditory processing, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Metal or plastic cans are great as toys, so the next time you finish your Pringles, keep the can. As with containers, cans can be used to put things in and take them out, though if they are longer, kids will have to turn them upside down to get their toys back.
They’re also fun to play with when empty, especially to bang on things, and can be filled with rice or beans to make fun sounds.
The only caveat is that you have to make sure metal cans have no sharp edges.
Developmental skill boosted: Creative thinking, fine motor development, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: A staple in every kindergarten classroom, popsicle sticks are the perfect arts and crafts material. Paint them and/or glue them to make different toys and shapes or stack them up into towers.
Babies can play with the sticks by biting them, putting them into things and practicing the pincer grasp.
Developmental skill boosted: Spatial awareness, fine motor development, hand-eye coordination
Why they make great toys: Do we even need to explain how fun buckets are? Filled with water, they make for endless water games or serious activities like learning to water the plants. They can also be used to build sandcastles or to place toys inside.
Buckets are great for open-ended activities and children get creative by making them into hats, using them as instruments or stacking them.
If you are using buckets filled with water, it’s imperative that you are supervising your children at all times.
Developmental skill boosted: Body awareness, critical thinking, facial recognition
Why they make great toys: Seeing babies look at themselves in the mirror is one of the most adorable things in the world, given that they are both fascinated and confused. Mirrors can help babies develop critical thinking, as the brain understands that the objects in the mirror reflect real objects and don’t exist in and of themselves.
It also helps babies recognize themselves and become aware of their own bodies. Give your baby a mirror and see how they almost immediately smile — your heart will melt!
Unless you’re using a toy mirror that has been made to not break, make sure you supervise your child so that they don’t accidentally break the mirror and cut themselves.