As a parent, you are your baby’s first teacher. Swiss philosopher, Dr. Jean Piaget, upon whose theories many of the foundations of Early Childhood education have been built, once said, “Young children are explorers and it is the job of the adults around them to provide the experiences and materials to stimulate their development.”
Parents promote education from the beginning, using everyday life experiences to expand their children’s minds and bodies. And toys are stimuli in the world of learning. When a young child plays—he learns. Unfortunately in a world of inflation, it is difficult for us parents to provide every toy available on today’s market. Homemade toys are a fun and playful solution.
Here are some of the favorite homemade toys. You can make these toys by simply using household discards along with a few items that can be found in dollar stores. Bright colors, soft textures, and tinkling sounds make these play things especially appealing to the little ones. (But, please make sure you use only materials that are safe for baby/toddler play and no matter what toys you give your child to play with—supervision is always a priority.)
- Stitch together (by hand or machine) several zipper-top sandwich bags along the bottom edge.
- Cut cardboard to fit inside each bag.
- Glue magazine pictures or personal photos to the cardboard, then slip each page into the plastic sleeve.
You can change these pictures often for variety, and the pages are easy to clean with a damp cloth or sponge. Enjoy sitting with your baby and turning the pages of your homemade book together. Don’t forget to talk to your baby as you look at the pictures—it helps to develop important language skills.
- Collect several plastic milk-jug lids.
- Cut an “X” into the plastic lid of an empty coffee can.
- Decorate as desired. (I spray painted the cans with bright colors and attached whimsical stickers. Another variation would be to use colorful adhesive contact paper.)
You and your baby or toddler can take turns pushing the plastic milk-jug lids through the X in the coffee can. Ker-plunk! Your child will enjoy making this musical sound. When you have used all of your milk-jug lids, remove the coffee can lid, empty the can, and start again!
- Gather milk cartons in a variety of sizes (half gallon, quart, and pints).
- Wash, clean, and stuff the cartons with newspaper.
- Fold and tape the open ends down, creating a square and proceed to cover each block with adhesive contact paper.
You now have lightweight, surface-washable blocks. This is a great toy with which your little one can build towers (and no heavy blocks to fall on tiny toes or pinch little fingers).
Nesting or Stacking Tins
- Gather several aluminum or tin cans of various diameters such as coffee, vegetable, soup, tomato paste, and large juice cans (you can also use plastic containers).
- With one end removed, clean and soak off labels from each can.
- Hammer down the edges until they are flat and very smooth; use cloth or vinyl tape to cover the rims and edges (We must protect tiny, tender fingers!).
- With this colorful tape, make stripes around each can (primary colors work well).
Sit with your little one and show him how to nest the smaller cans inside the largest one. If you turn the cans upside down, stack them to make a tall tower.
Here is a color-classifying game to use along with the above nesting tins: Paint wooden clothespins (you can find these in craft stores—don’t purchase the spring-action type), to coordinate with the striped tape of the cans in the above toy. Your young baby will enjoy dropping the clothespins into the can. Older toddlers can play two games:
- 1) Drop the pins into the correct colored can;
- 2) Clip the clothespins in a line around the rim of the can (this activity promotes good fine-motor skills).
- Cut off the legs of a pair of pantyhose, creating strips about 18-inches long.
- Stuff the hose with polyester fiberfill and tie a knot to close the hose.
- Use a variety of pantyhose colors to make multicultural dolls.
- Use a rubber band to tie off the top section for a head.
- Use permanent markers to draw facial features on the doll.
- If desired, sew braids of yarn to the doll’s head for hair.
Babies and toddlers will enjoy hugging, carrying, and rocking these soft, cuddly dolls. Toddlers can begin to talk and sing to their dolls, which encourages language development.
Shape Matching Puzzle
- Gather several small household items, such as jar lid, comb, plastic spoon, old key, clothespin, and unsharpened pencil.
- Take a piece of cardboard and simply arrange these items on top.
- Spray paint the entire surface (outdoors). After the paint dries, remove the items.
Help your toddler match each item to its matching silhouette on the cardboard.
Making your own baby/toddler toys might take a little more effort on your part as the parent, however the rewards are well worth it—a delighted child and money saved.