By Raising Children Network
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With a little imagination, lots of ordinary things around the house can be turned into creative – and free – play ideas.

Toddler banging pot
 

Homemade games and toys are a great way to keep children entertained, and to help them learn and grow. They needn’t cost a cent. And they can really fire up your child’s creativity.

It’s easy to come up with ideas for children as they get older. There are lots of toys and games that you and your child can create together. You can also give your child open-ended play materials from around the house – children usually love containers and lids from the plastics cupboard, for example.

Newborns

You are the toy that your newborn most enjoys. Your touch, the sound of your voice, being rocked in your arms, and staring at your face is more than enough entertainment for a new baby.

Your newborn will also love being outside in fine weather, feeling the wind, hearing the sounds of birds, and soaking up new outdoorsy smells. Splashing in shallow water or in the bath will also provide lots of fun.

You could play gentle music to soothe your baby, or make bath time relaxing with a calm atmosphere and warm water, and a warm massage afterwards.

Hold your baby, sing, talk and make eye contact. These activities will keep your baby entertained, and help your baby learn and get to know you all at once.

Babies

Once your baby is starting to move around and is more robust, more active play will be a winner – and you’re still the best toy your baby has!

Your baby will love to clamber over you, exploring and trying out new movement skills.

Here are some more tips:

  • Blow raspberries on your baby’s tummy and tickle little toes.
  • Make a toy shaker with an empty juice or milk container – washed, dried and filled with rice, pasta, peas, dried pulses, or even old buttons (make sure the lid is secure to avoid choking hazards).
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes.
  • Read books. Visit your local library or toy library to get really good, free resources.
  • Fill a bag with interesting textures such as wrapping paper.
  • Make a drum by stretching strips of paper soaked in glue (create your own glue with flour and water) across the top of an old tin (without the lid). Once it’s dry, give your child a wooden spoon to bang the drum with.

Toddlers

Your toddler probably loves to ‘post’ things – often into the front of the CD or DVD player! Make your toddler a post box by cutting slits into the front of an old ice-cream container or cardboard box.

You could also try the following:

  • Give your toddler some pegs and a peg container. Your child will happily move pegs in and out of the container – over and over and over again!
  • Cut pieces of cardboard into small envelopes and decorate them.
  • Make some playdough and build towers, pancakes and trees – whatever your toddler likes. You can make shapes and cut out shapes. You can even just squelch the playdough between your fingers. Visit the Western Australian Play and Learning website for a playdough recipe.
  • Use an ice-cream container to make a fun dress-up hat. Cover it with foil, and your toddler is an astronaut. You can also paste material, fake flowers or pom-poms onto a container to make a fancy hat.
Find more ideas for making things in our article on encouraging toddlers’ creative and artistic development.

Preschoolers

Try some of the following ideas. They’re fun and will also help the development of your child’s fine and gross motor skills:

  • Show your child how to stuff old stockings with paper or material scraps to make all sorts of creatures.
  • Make a sock puppet with old socks and buttons.
  • Fold newspaper into a pirate’s or magician’s hat. Let your preschooler paste on coloured pictures cut from magazines.
  • Let your child turn old cardboard boxes into toys – a car, cubbyhouse, milk bar, kitchen and so on.
  • Visit the local park or a friend’s house, or just take a walk in your local neighbourhood. These are all sources of adventure and fun for your child.
Check out our article on encouraging preschoolers’ creative and artistic development. It has lots of ideas for using everyday objects to make fun new play materials.

School age

Keep your child entertained and stimulated with the following activities:

  • Try a family bike ride or camping in the backyard.
  • Pick up some old fridge boxes from your local electrical retailer and see what your child can do with them. These could be a great cubby, rocket ship or hide-out.
  • Cook with your child – start with some simple family favourites.
  • Let your child invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Turn old sheets into a cubby and supply a picnic for indoor or outdoor fun.
There are plenty more ideas for homemade fun in our article on encouraging school-age creative and artistic development.
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  • Last Updated 10-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009