Fed up with forking out for the
latest piece of over-hyped plastic? Answer "What can
we do now Mum?" by making toys from items you will
already have around the house.
Save all your empty grocery cartons for a week or so
and you'll soon have a shop any aspiring grocer
would be proud of. Gluing down the flaps makes
cereal boxes, jelly packets etc. look unopened.
Clothes, shoes, and toys can all be used as "stock".
Paper bags and real or play money add to the fun.
2. Paper balls.
When the kids keep arguing suggest that they throw
something at each other! Paper balls are easily
scrunched up from torn out magazine pages to make
"ammunition". When it's time to tidy up, stand the
waste paper basket in the middle of the room and see
who can throw the most in. A rolled up magazine
makes a good "bat" too.
A roll of white toilet tissue makes this game much
more fun as Dads, Grans, teddies or dolls are
mummified before your eyes. Plastic medicine spoons
and cardboard box hospital beds for toys are extra
props that make the game last longer.
Cardboard tubes from kitchen roll or foil make
instant telescopes for sailors or pirates, or
tunnels to roll marbles through. Babies love to
watch things disappear then reappear out of the
bottom. Don't leave them alone with the cardboard
tube though as they will probably suck it.
5. Cardboard boxes must be about
the best free toys you can get hold of.
Push in the ends of large ones to make tunnels and
caves to crawl through. Draw on windows and doors
with felt tip pens to make a house, add a flag and
portholes for a boat or paper plates and a steering
wheel for a car.
6. Miniature gardens.
The foil trays that pies and prepared foods arrive
in make lovely containers for miniature gardens. The
children can enjoy hunting around the park or garden
for twigs to make trees, moss for a lawn, stones to
arrange as a rockery or a waterfall. Keep twigs or
stones where you want them with a little blue tack
or plasticine. Add toy people or animals and maybe a
little water if the container is watertight. This
can be a very creative and enjoyable exercise if you
have children of very different age groups to
A variation is to use play sand
(not builder's sand - it stains everything yellow)
to make a beach scene, maybe adding shells, stones
and a blue paper sea.
7. Paper puppets.
A picture of anything - colourful bird, clown's
face, animal or cartoon character, carefully cut out
by an adult and stuck to the top of a strip of card
about five inches long and one and a half inches
wide becomes a very easily made puppet. These give
such pleasure and are so easy to make that you will
probably end up with dozens of them. Magazine
pictures can be stuck on to folded card to make
theatre set background and wings.
8. Potato prints.
After cutting a potato in half, draw on a simple
shape. A triangle, circle or star perhaps. Cut away
the rest of the potato, leaving a shape to dip into
paint and print on to paper.
Skittles can be improvised from large plastic cola
or lemonade bottles. A little sand or water in the
bottom makes them more stable. A good game for
learning to count.
Building a den must be one of the most memorable
parts of childhood as we all seem to recall the
bliss of blankets draped over the airing rack in the
garden or over the backs of chairs indoors. Even
today's sophisticated kids seem to find the thought
much more exciting than just erecting the shop
bought plastic play house. I think the secret is to
give structural advice about making the thing stay
upright, but let the children do as much as possible
Really large boxes of the type
that washing machines and fridges come in can be had
for the asking from the big electrical goods
retailers and are useful for rooms within dens.
Indoors, one of the simplest dens can be made by
throwing a large sheet or duvet over a table.
Cushions, torches,biscuits and comics or books will
all be needed at the housewarming.
Children find a million uses for string, from tying
up toy "baddies" to making a washing line for doll's
clothes. It can be tied to chair legs to make a
jump, dipped into paint and twirled on to paper,
plaited, knitted with, made into a parachute or
mobile, used as a measuring aid or for learning how
to tie shoelaces and bows. It need never linger in
the kitchen drawer again.
12. Sewing cards.
Stick a picture on to a postcard or draw a simple
duck, car or teddy shape. With a bodkin needle push
holes around the outline of your design about one
inch apart. Using brightly coloured wool in the
bodkin or a long bootlace, thread in and out of the
You need to do a little drilling for this one. Take
two strong tins, coffee or clean paint tins are
ideal, and drill a hole about one inch from the top
on opposite sides of the tin. Insert a length of
string and knot securely. Check that the handle is
at a comfortable length for the child before
knotting the other side. These are always very
popular, but never leave young children alone with
them especially near stairs or steps.
Children's tea sets are a handy prop for this game,
but a picnic set or microwave cookware is just as
good. Giving the waiter/waitress a little notebook
and pencil to take orders and making a tall white
hat from a cylinder of paper for the chef will add
realism. Sit dolls and teddies around as well as
willing Aunts and Grannies for extra customers.
Mix together two cups of flour, one cup of salt, one
cup of water, one tablespoon of oil and a few drops
of food colouring for an easy to make dough that
will keep for about three weeks if you wrap it in
polythene and keep it in the fridge. All you have to
do is knead the mixture well. Divide the mixture up
first if you have more than one colour available.
16. Obstacle course.
An obstacle course can turn a rainy day into an
adventure. Use whatever you have available. A bench
to walk the plank, cushion stepping stones across
shark infested seas, through a cardboard box tunnel,
up a chair mountain or through a duvet cave. The
wilder your imagination the more your children will
17. Easy boats.
Recycle your empty margarine cartons. Use them as
boats for the bath or paddling pool. These are so
easy that even very young children can help to make
them. Cut out triangular sail shapes from white or
coloured paper. Make a small hole at the top and
bottom of the sail so that you can push through a
straw to make a mast. Let the child fix this to the
bottom of a clean margarine tub with a lump of blue
tack or plasticine. They sail extremely well and
will even take a couple of toy people on an exciting
Nurses, kings, queens, Batman, Superman - they all
need capes or cloaks. Luckily they are easy to make
by attaching ribbon ties to an oblong of fabric in
the colour of your child's favourite caped
character. Keep an eye on them though as anything
tied around the neck could be dangerous.
19. Leaf art.
Collect leaves and draw around them. This is fun for
little ones and an educational tree identification
game for older children. Colour in the details with
crayons or paints. The leaves could then be stuck on
to paper collage style or dipped into paint and then
pressed firmly on to paper for a lovely leaf print.
20. Make a puzzle.
Stick a favourite picture on to card and allow to
dry with a heavy book on top. Cut into pieces, how
many depending on the age of the child, for an
almost instant aand personal puzzle.