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.
Shops. 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
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.
Doctors/Nurses. 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.
Tubes. 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.
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.
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 entertain. 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.
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.
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. 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.
Dens. 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
themselves. 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.
String. 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
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 holes.
Stilts. 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.
Cafes. 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.
Playdough. 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.
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 love it.
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 cruise.
Capes. 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.
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.
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 and personal puzzle.