When my now 21 year old son was an infant he was in an early intervention center, due to his prematurity. He started early intervention when he was 15 months old and graduated from the program at the age of 3 years.
During the time he was in early intervention, the workers that were coming for the home visits were always bringing in new ideas to keep my very active, and bright, son entertained. I was a young single mother who didn’t have a lot of money for the toys that were on the market to help him, so the workers were bringing in ideas for toys that I could make from everyday household items. Some of these items were things that we would normally throw away, but with a little invention, they made great, safe toys.
One of my son’s favorites was the Pringles can. Did you know that frozen juice tops fit perfectly into those tubes? Save the can lids (the ones with the pull string holding them to the cardboard can) and glue pictures of animals to each one. You can use pictures of adult and animal babies and use them for matching games. If you go through a lot of juice, you will quickly have enough for a couple of games. There will be no need to buy fancy memory games that have boxes that break on the sides and the pieces get lost. If your child really wants a game with his or her favorite character you can use stickers on the lids instead of cutting out pictures. Store the lids in a contact paper covered Pringles can. If any of the homemade pieces get lost you can easily make more. The tube fits on a shelf without taking up much space.
You can also use the juice tops in a shape sorter game. Take a few coffee cans and cut shapes in the lids large enough for the tops to fit through. Put pictures of the different shapes on the tops for your child to sort into the correct coffee can. Have your child use the juice tops, milk covers (properly cleaned) and anything else you can think of. It will keep them entertained for a long time. The coffee can full of these items also doubles as a noisemaker. Use it as an instrument in a homemade band.
Those multi-colored milk tops are great for many different things. Save enough of two colors and make your own checker board. No need to worry about lost pieces, because you just need to wait until the next gallon is gone to replace it. You also won’t feel guilty when you have to throw them away.
Is your child a little young for checkers? No problem! Keep the milk covers for color matching and stacking. Use them to teach your child math. Hide some under a few facecloths and see how quick they are found. For older kids, use each color as a different denomination and let them “buy” food from your cupboard. Make a grocery cart out of a cardboard box.
Which leaves me with the best toy of all. Throw away the toys and GIVE THEM THE BOX! No matter how many toys I WAS able to buy for my son, he always wanted to play with the box, while ignoring the toy. So give them the box! The ones with the clear plastic fronts make great noises. My son always wanted to fit into the box and did whatever he could to turn himself into the toy. I have pictures of my second son squeezed into the box of a toy half his size. He did that himself. He was pretending to be a jack in the box. The box can be turned into a castle, a car, a dragon, a store…and the list goes on. Whatever the kids can imagine, the box can be.
Five kids later, ranging in ages from twenty-one to five, I have found that the toys that get the most attention are those made from home. Why? Partially because it takes a parent’s interaction to create these toys and the kids are more prone to play with toys that THEY helped make (kind of on the same lines as eating the food that they cook). Another benefit is that when the toy breaks, throw it away and make a new one!