Why do I buy stuff? The novelty of opening up a gift is the most exciting part of stuff. In the pandemic, when we first locked down, I thought I could buy my kids’ sanity with more things. I bought art supply kits, toys, and even a bounce house.
In the end, the things my kids have loved the most are not the fancy toys but the everyday, lying around your house or part-of-the-natural-world things. Here are the greatest toys that aren’t toys.
10. THE CHAIR
To a toddler, a chair is Everest, begging to be surmounted and toppled. There are infinite types of chairs, all with their own delights. Rocking chairs can be violently rocked to your heart’s content. You can spin your brother in a chair until he laughs so hard he pukes. Chairs make for good fort walls. A rolling chair can be used to push or pull yourself all over the newly refinished hardwoods.
Tape is one of the most versatile items. Washi tape is made for crafting. Scotch tape is ever so satisfying. Painter’s tape is, of course, the most toddler-safe. Maybe keep the duct tape away from the preschoolers. They’ll have plenty of time to experiment with it in middle school. And beware packing tape.
8. KITCHEN UTENSILS
Consider giving your child free reign of the utensils. Take the whole project up a notch by giving them a bowl of ice, water, food goo like pudding or applesauce, shaving cream, Play-Doh, kinetic sand, or art supplies and see all they can do with those citrus peelers and melon ballers.
7. PLASTIC FOOD CONTAINERS
Plastic takeout containers can contain “potions:” mixtures of dirt, flowers, rocks, water, and whatever else they can find lying around. Over the years, we’ve used empty tubs for water play, towers, bowling pins, and art. They even stack nicely.
We all know the magic of a pillow, blanket, and sheet fort. You can also use blankets or sheets to make a sensory swing or hammock by putting a kid or two in the middle and swinging them around between two hearty adults. Plus, don’t forget the usage of bedding: comfort object a la Linus. Always a classic.
5. A CARDBOARD TUBE
When it comes to cardboard tubes, the bigger the better. Toilet paper tube: useful for crafts and birdfeeders. Paper towel tube: good for a pirate’s telescope in a pinch. Wrapping paper tube: swords, duh. Rug or poster tube: the possibilities are endless.
4. BUBBLE WRAP
Line a hallway with it and run your cars over it. Wrap yourself in it and sumo wrestle your sister. Wrap your toys in it and throw them down the stairs. Or just sit and pop it to your heart’s content. There is no wrong way to bubble wrap.
You gotta be careful with rocks, you hear? No throwing them at your brother. Into a river? Yes. But not at a person or car. Paint them. Disperse them around your neighborhood. Play Jenga or Tic-tac-toe with them.
2. A TREE
Climb it. Swing from it. Sit under it and read. Do a rubbing of the bark. Use the fallen leaves for crafts. Decorate it with knick knacks and ribbon for the fairies.
1. THE BOX
Again, the bigger the better. A small box can hold treasures or be decoupaged for a gift. A medium box can be a doll bed or a dinosaur habitat. A big box can be one of many rooms in that fort you’ve been working on or a Barbie dream house of your own design.
It’s okay to get your kids new toys once in a while, of course. It’s also okay to tell them to go play with the cardboard box the toy came in. I’m not holier than thou–my kids watch TV and have tablets. But sometimes, when the mood strikes them, my kids abandon their devices, pick up some trash, and turn it into treasure.