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Who Needs Toys? Use These Household Items to Entertain Children

16 Apr 2021 by Sarah Hadden

We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.

As children’s book hero Alexander might say, 2020 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. In some places across the U.S., you and your child may be venturing out more and more, but in others, families are still spending plenty of time at home. So, what can you do when they’ve read all the books, played all the games, and aren’t even enticed by the television? The short answer, rely on your children’s ingenuity. While you might be tempted to seek out new games, puzzles, or books, I’m betting that there are some common materials you already have that you can use to spark your children’s imagination. Here are some ideas to try out:

Cardboard Boxes

Making a Box Fort

Cardboard boxes, especially larger ones, can turn into all sorts of great things. Individually, boxes can be a boat or a car. Turn the box upside down and decorate it, and you’ve got a lemonade stand. String a series of boxes together in a row and you’ve got a train. All aboard! An appliance box makes a great spaceship. Boxes can also be turned into costumes. Cut a hole in the top and a hole on each side and you’ve got the start of a robot costume. Don’t have any larger boxes? No need to worry, a bunch of shoeboxes can be used to make a dollhouse or corrals for the farmyard, while older kids can make dioramas. The possibilities are only limited by children’s imaginations! 

Towels & Blankets 

Every superhero needs a cape and in a pinch, a towel makes a good one. Stuff crumpled up paper into the middle of a hand towel and cinch in together with a rubber band and you’ve got a puppet. A blanket on the floor makes a good picnic spot; put that same blanket over the kitchen table and you’ve got a blanket fort where kids can snuggle and read together. Finally, if you string the blanket on the wall, it makes a great backdrop for a puppet show or a play.

Fabric & Yarn (Don't Worry, No Sewing Required)

Even if no one in your household sews, chances are good that you have a rag bag or a pile of not-so-gently used clothes. And if you’re like me, you probably have a jar full of buttons  - you know, the extra buttons that come with new clothes that you saved just in case you ever need them. Now is the time to bring these things out. Fabric can be used to make costumes, doll clothes, headbands, and yes, even face masks. Strips of fabric can be woven together to make placemats, yarn can be used to string beads and twisted together to make bracelets.

Paper Towel Rolls, Toilet Paper Rolls, and Other Household Items

Household Learning Supplies

Cardboard rolls are incredibly versatile. A single paper towel roll makes a dandy telescope, while two toilet paper rolls can be glued together to make binoculars. Rolls that are cut into even “slices” can be decorated and strung together to make necklaces or napkin rings. Egg cartons can be painted and turned into caterpillars or used to sort buttons or other found objects by size, color, or shape. Clean empty cans can be painted to make a personalized set of bowling pins.

These are just some of many ideas of how to use household items to keep children busy and encourage their creativity. And while it may seem that the kids are just making crafts, they are also building skills! 

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