I remember at one time when we were kids our parents bought a new fridge, of which I have no recollection of except that it was white.
The box it came in, however, has many wonderful memories for me, making it whatever our imaginations could conjure up was a long time pastime.
These days it seems kids are inundated with toys of all kinds, whether it’s from birthdays, Christmas, friends passing on toys their own children out grow or because your child gives you the sweet-pea eyes every time you glide past the Matchbox car section in Coles. No matter how large their collection of toys becomes, kids never really seem to be all that enthralled by it all.
For sure, my kids have their favourites that they get into daily and explore the ‘hidden’ toys (a big drawer that seems out of mind mostly) occasionally, I honestly think half of what we hoard could be donated and not missed.
I’m quite sure I keep all the excess because I’m worried there won’t be enough to do, which really is stupid because we’re raising two high-energy outdoor fanatics who love making things and who mostly have to be coaxed inside each afternoon. What they really love doing is anything we make together like play dough or decorating and stacking cardboard boxes and of course painting the down pipes on the veranda. They are entranced by anything that holds water, dirt, rocks or sand. When they eventually do come inside the little couches, books, blocks and bean bags become instant speed bumps for their bikes, trucks and cars.
Ok, it’s decided, I’m having a clean out! Thank you. Then we’re going to keep making things to play with inside and outside. I went searching for some easy make-it-yourself activity ideas and there is so much to choose from that doesn’t require crochet lessons or a hot glue gun. I’ll admit I’m probably going to enjoy it just as much as the kids!
1. Pool Noodle Abacus
I’m starting with my personal favourite and number one on my to-do list. It’s super easy with one or two (however many you like) pieces of thin, strong rope tied between two poles and a few pool noodles cut into pieces to slide onto it. The kids love playing with the big plastic ball version of these at the local playground and it’s a great activity for learning colours and counting. Slice the noodles with a sharp knife from the centre hole out on one side and the kids can then pull the noodle pieces off themselves and use for all sorts of games and putting them back on is the perfect place to store them!
2. CD Sun Catchers
We’ve all got plenty of old CD’s (most of mine read ‘Car Mix’ on the label) stashed in the hallway drawer, so why not grab the glue sticks, sequins, google eyes, old wrapping paper and get decorating? These will come in handy on our front veranda to help discourage our feathered friends from ‘dropping’ in. I don’t mind that the birds eat our cat food, just wish they didn’t have to poop on their way out. CD suncatcher/bird deterrents are happening here for sure.
3. Water Bottle Spirals
My hubby recently made us a bush walk around our property and the kids and I are desperate to decorate it. This looks easy and pretty. Colour in some plastic drink bottles with permanent markers, cut the round bottom of the bottle off, make an incision and continue cutting upward and around the bottle making the spiral shape. Stop when you get to the rounded top edge. Do three or four of them and slide the mouthpiece of each bottle over a stick and hang it in your garden or bush walk. Pretty!
4. Doll’s House
I love making doll houses. I can’t get enough of decorating the walls, making pictures for the hallway, cutting material for bed sheets and floor rugs. I’m doing it while my boys are little, pretty sure it won’t be on the list in a few years.
You can make stamps out of so many things- potatoes, corks, erasers, bars of soap, odd-shaped items out of the ‘junk’ drawer. Attach foam letters to the ends or cut out your own shape from washed sink sponges for heaps of creative fun.
6. Bubble Straw
Got a straw? Got some tissue paper or coffee filter? Wrap it around the end of the straw, tape on and dip in bubble solution or dishwashing liquid like the original Morning Fresh. Blow through the straw and bubbles r us.
7. Sock Puppets
You know how to make these! Raid Dad’s sock drawer, stitch some buttons on for eyes and give them a name!
8. Ocean In A Bottle
This looks so amazing and is absolutely mesmerizing for little ones. Cooking oil, water, a clear bottle and some food colouring will be all you need. Pop in some plastic toy ocean creatures if you have some! Make sure you seal the bottle lid nice and tight and watch their delighted little faces!
9. Tight Ropes
If you made the pool noodle abacus with two strands of rope tied between poles, then you’ve already made this! One rope for walking with feet, one rope for holding onto with hands! I’ll be getting someone else to tie the ropes on as my motto is ‘If you can’t tie knots, tie lots’ which will obviously not cut it in this case!
10. Rope Hoops
It’s as simple as it sounds. A rope, a hoola-hoop on each end and toss over the washing line or shade sail wire. The kids will spend ages climbing through them, pulling them up and down, generally using their gross motor skills and working up an appetite.
11. Bucket On A Rope
This is the bucket to nowhere that never gets boring. The kids fill and empty a bucket that is set up over that trusty clothes line or exposed beam on the veranda and secured to the pole. It’s an exercise in discovery and team-work in the most basic sense.
12. Musical Instruments
Shakers are a fun activity for kids. Colour some rice with food colouring or paint the empty plastic bottles and containers for a super easy music maker.
Drums are in your kitchen cupboard. Stainless steel mixing bowls, plastic containers and a couple of salad servers make for excellent bangy thingies.
Music is a fantastic way to communicate with your children. Put on a cd of their best-loved songs and bust out your newly hand-made instruments and really get into it with them!
13. Dino Activity Bin
We’ve got a tub of dinosaurs that always seems too full for the last few, which painfully end spike-up right where I’m walking. Grab some of those spiky critters, rocks, leaves, gravel or sand and a big rectangle bucket or a corner in the garden somewhere and build a Dinosaur hang-out. I love this because it changes each time the kids play with it. A fairy garden is also a winner for little ones with big imaginations!
14. Slip And Slide
Every summer at our grandparents house we had a huge length of black plastic or a couple of tarps end to end, a bottle of dishwashing liquid and the hose turned up and we literally threw ourselves into this activity for hours. Never broke a bone. It’s so much fun and I can’t wait until our boys are a bit bigger so they can give this a try. We have a pretty good slope down from the back yard and I’m sure a mattress up against the garden shed at the bottom of the hill will make a great stopping point. Yes, I’m that parent.
15. Esky Lid Slide
Esky lids or flattened cardboard boxes make great sleds if you’ve a gentle grassy slope for the kids to ride down. You can fit on it too. Go on, have a little fun yourself!
16. Rainbow Ribbon Dancers
We have recently been introduced to these through a Sing and Grow program and my littlest boy loves, loves, loves them. He tells me each of the ribbon colours and dances around with them, wears them as a scarf and generally enjoys the feel of me dangling them so he can walk through them. Some bangles and ribbons from the cheap shop will have you making these for all the kids that come over to play.
17. Garden Soup
My kids like cooking and baking with me, they also like making mud pits, so why not combine both and see them get creative? Collect some wildflowers, grass cuttings, bark, sand or whatever you have handy (the neighbours won’t mind a few petals missing surely?) and clean out your Tupperware cupboard. Old bowls, measure cups and egg beaters will bring at least an hour of garden cooking delight! Store it all in a bucket outside ready to go at the first sign of melt-downs.
18. Furniture And Automobiles
This is where my love of the cardboard box comes into play. There are so many things you can build with boxes of any size and shape. Better still once you have a little collection the kids can build around you while you sip a nice cup of tea in your castle or house, depending on your status during the game I suppose!
19. Coloured Water
Empty plastic anything- cups, bottles, dishes, funnels, whatever you can find in your clean out, some fresh water and half a dozen bottles of food colouring will be entertaining and educational. Everyone learns primary and secondary colours somewhere right?
20. Sensory Boards
If your junk drawer contains some slide locks, light switch cover plates, door handle, retractable fabric tape measure, touch lights (you know the ones you stick to the pantry wall?) padlock and keys and whatever else has buttons or things that click, you can glue or drill these to a piece of MDF, the side of a bookshelf, or your wall if you’re keen. What you have is a toddler height, activity centre that teaches and entertains without you having to hold your 12kg child in the air while they flick a switch or yank on a door handle and fiddle with the lock!!!
Thank you to happyhooligans, funathomewithkids, pintarest and cbc for some helpful inspiration!
What other homemade activities and toys would you add to the list?