Homemade toys and free activities: why they’re good
Homemade toys and free activities at home help children learn and develop, because they can boost curiosity, creativity and imagination. They’re also great for building your relationship with your child, and they’re a lot of fun.
There are plenty of everyday things around your home that you can use for toys, games, activities and open-ended play. For example, young children usually love putting on and taking off the lids of containers, and older children often enjoy playing make-believe with old sheets and towels.
Just make sure that the things you give your child are safe to use. For example, they should be non-toxic, unbreakable and too big to be choking hazards. Also, they shouldn’t have sharp edges.
Play is the main way babies and young children learn. It’s a good idea to let your child take the lead with play, because children learn best when they’re interested in a play activity or toy.
Newborn toys and play activities
To learn and develop, your newborn baby needs warm interactions with you, more than toys.
For example, talking and singing with you is a great play activity because your baby loves the sound of your voice. It’s even better if you have cuddles and make eye contact too. These activities stimulate your baby’s brain, help your baby learn and build your relationship, all at the same time.
Your baby will also love being outside when the weather is good, feeling the wind, hearing the sound of birds, and experiencing new outdoor smells like the scent of flowers.
Splashing in shallow water or in the bath is also fun. Just remember always to keep your hands on your baby when they’re playing around water. Babies can drown in as little as a couple of centimetres of water.
You could play gentle music to soothe your baby, or make bath time relaxing with a calm atmosphere, warm water and a gentle massage afterwards.
Your baby’s cues can help you know when your baby is happy to play or when they’ve had enough and want a rest. When you watch how your baby responds to different toys and play activities, you can get a good sense of what baby enjoys and is interested in.
Baby toys and play activities
Once your baby starts to move around more, they might enjoy toys for more active play – especially with you.
For example, your baby will love to crawl all over you or grasp and shake objects to try out new movement skills. All young children need time for quiet play too, so watch for cues that your baby needs some downtime.
Here are ideas for homemade toys and play activities for babies:
- Make time for one-on-one play every day – for example, talking with your baby or counting your baby’s toes. You can make this a part of routine activities like nappy-changing.
- Blow raspberries on your baby’s tummy and tickle their little toes.
- Fill an emptied, washed and dried container with rice, pasta, peas, dried pulses or even old buttons (make sure the lid is secure to avoid choking hazards). Let your baby shake the container to hear the noise it makes.
- Sing songs and nursery rhymes from your own or other cultures and languages. Babies really love these when you repeat actions like clapping hands or doing twinkling star fingers.
- Read books as part of your baby’s daily routine – for example, before bedtime. You can borrow books for free from your local library.
- Make a drum using upside-down boxes, pots or plastic tubs. Give your child a wooden spoon to bang the drum with.
Toddler toys and play activities
Toddler play is often about experimenting, observing, trying out ideas and figuring out how things work. For example, your child probably loves to ‘post’ things – often behind the couch or between car seats.
You could try these ideas for homemade toys and play activities for toddlers:
- Give your toddler some pegs and a peg container. Your toddler 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. You could also make a ‘post box’ by cutting slits into the front of an old ice-cream container or cardboard box.
- Make some playdough and roll it into balls, pancakes, sausages and other shapes – whatever your toddler likes. Your toddler can also just squelch the playdough between their fingers.
- Put together a box of old clothes for dress-ups or pretend play. You could also make costumes out of household bits and pieces, like cardboard boxes, foil, fabric scraps and so on.
- Make a treasure box. This is a simple box or container filled with everyday items and natural materials, like different sized and textured balls or scraps of paper, shells or leaves. Your toddler will have fun discovering what’s inside.
- Go for some outdoor play in the backyard, local playground, beach or park.
Find more ideas for homemade toys and free activities in our article on creative activities for toddler learning and development.
Preschooler toys and play activities
- Show your child how to stuff scrunched up paper or material scraps into old stockings to make creatures like snakes or caterpillars.
- Make sock puppets with old socks. Sew on buttons or paste other bits of material for eyes, nose and hair.
- Give your child old cardboard boxes to turn into cars, cubbyhouses, shop counters, kitchen stoves and more.
- Get your child started on some collage with paper, glue and things to stick. This might be things like pictures cut out of catalogues, scraps of paper, ribbon or fabric, natural materials and so on.
- Set up a ball run with your child. This involves making ramps and routes for balls out of cardboard or other household items.
- Visit the local park or take a walk in your local neighbourhood. You could even turn this into a nature walk, listening walk or treasure hunt.
- Play simple word-spotting games, counting games and memory games.
Check out our article on creative activities for preschooler learning and development. It has a lot of ideas for using everyday objects to make fun new homemade toys.
School-age toys and play activities
Keep your child stimulated with these ideas for homemade toys and play activities:
- Find some big, old boxes and see what your child can do with them. They could become a cubbyhouse, rocket ship or hide-out. You could ask your local supermarket or electrical retailer if they have boxes you could take home.
- Cook with your child – start with some simple family favourites.
- Let your child invite a friend over for a short playdate.
- Turn old sheets into a tent by draping them over the backs of chairs, or make a cubbyhouse by draping a sheet over the edges of the table.
- Let your child help you out with small household chores and tasks. Children often enjoy collecting the mail, helping to fold clean washing or watering the garden.
- Encourage your child to do activities that solve everyday problems – for example, your child could make a small basket for house keys so the keys don’t get lost.
- Play word games – for example, make up silly rhymes and riddles.
- Make a family story book with your child, using family photos and drawings.
There are many more ideas for homemade toys and fun in our article on creative activities for school-age learning and development.