The secret to everlasting, free baby toys
When I was pregnant, I read an article about baby toys. The writer was extolling the virtues of a wooden spoon and empty saucepan, saying babies found real household items far more interesting than toys designed for their own age group.
“Whatever”, I thought. In my all-knowing head I was convinced the article was just trying to ride the latest thrifty wave.
I mean, everyone knows nowadays the fashion is for homemade stuff and living on a shoestring, right? I was sure the publication was just trying to soothe money conscious parents (of which I was one) and make us feel better about spending less.
But then I had a baby.
The few toys I’d lovingly sourced for my daughter didn’t last long. It seemed about a week before she would get bored of her latest offering and move onto something else. Like a shoe. Or a wooden spoon.
So I decided to hold off buying any more expensive baby toys for her. Now, at 19 months old, my daughter has an array of toys which she occasionally plays with. And lots of things which keep her far more occupied.
Here’s how to avoid making the same mistakes I did and use what’s actually in your house already to keep your baby busy.
Tinfoil and mirrors:
If you’ve ever been forced to stand in front of a mirror for half an hour, just to keep your baby amused, you’ll know how much babies of all ages love shiny reflective stuff. When my daughter was around four months old I covered some of the toys on her cot mobile with tinfoil.
As much as I hated hiding the gorgeous soft teddies that matched perfectly with her room, I loved watching her little eyes follow the shiny objects above her head. The colours glinted off the ceiling and my daughter stopped crying. And how much does a roll of tinfoil cost? Well, it’s far cheaper than a new cot mobile.
You don’t need to go out and buy a fancy wooden box stuffed with magical treasure. Actually, the whole point of the baby treasure box is to only use what is in your house.
For ours, we painted an empty egg box (an activity which filled up most of a morning in itself). We then filled it with scraps of material, a teaspoon, a lemon juicer, a walnut, a gardening glove and a pine cone. It cost nothing in terms of money, but we’ve had at least four months of play out of it.
Rice and dried pasta:
A staple ingredient in any food cupboard, rice and dried pasta also make great play objects for young children. My daughter loves to “measure” her pasta pieces into a couple of bowls and takes great pleasure transferring one full bowl to the next. It’s also a handy activity to develop those fine motor skills, as she likes to attempt spooning individual pieces around too.
Dried rice can be used in lots of different ways. We created an “indoor sandpit” out of ours, filling an empty oven cleaning tray with it so the baby could feel the texture of the rice in her hands. When that got boring, we filled jars and tins with rice to create our very own musical instruments. And finally, we soaked some dried rice in food colouring and left it to dry overnight, to create coloured rice. The perfect “pretend food” or new sandpit filling.
Flour and water:
It’s a given that babies love to get messy. But for some good old fashioned “messy play”, you needn’t have to rush to the latest toy store and purchase expensive paints or baby sensory products. Just use what’s already in your cupboards.
We filled an old lunchbox with some flour and water. I then gave my daughter a wooden spoon and a plastic pot. I managed to cook a whole meal while she happily “baked” her own creation beside me.
OK, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you go into your back garden next Christmas and wrap up a stone for your child. That’s just mean. But you can definitely make the most of what’s already in your yard if you want some quick and easy toy inspiration.
All older babies and toddlers go through a phase of picking smaller objects up and transferring them around. I’ll never forget a summer holiday spent with a younger cousin who, at the age of two, spent the whole day moving a pile of stones from one bucket into another, before moving them back again.
So with that in mind, a baby, pot and a handful of pebbles should all complement each other nicely.
Clearly, all the above ideas can be used as a starting point. Your house may be far better stocked than mine, with all sorts of fun things like feathers, empty cardboard boxes and homemade play dough. The point is, you don’t need to be particularly imaginative or have bursting cupboards to make the most of your child’s naturally inquisitive side.
You can go out and spend a fortune on posh baby toys if you like. Some are definitely worth the money. But just remember, next time you’re tempted to splash out on the latest “must-have” item, there’s a whole cachet of toys just waiting to be discovered among your household items.
And after all, there’s only so long you’ll be able to fob your child off with a wooden spoon. I can’t imagine a teenager being particularly pleased with an empty egg box and a pile of pebbles.