Non-Toy Toys for Toddlers
February 14, 2013 1:58 PM   Subscribe

For kids under the age of three, what household objects have been the most entertaining for your kids? I'm looking for household objects that your kid discovered and ended up being a cherished play item, not things bought in a toy store (e.g. buckets, bags, boxes, dead remotes, phones, etc.)? No electronics please.
posted by benzenedream to Home & Garden (69 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Papertowel rolls. Egg cartons for sorting- little people do well in them. They don't last long, but they're the sort of thing you will always have!
posted by sunshinesky at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2013

Funnels. My kids had several nesting funnels, each in a different bright color, that they always played with in the bathtub. A set makes a great gift for new babies. I usually get them in the automotive section of the local big box store. Sometimes sold as a set, sometimes individually. Very inexpensive.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:03 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Toothbrushes, dish towels, whisks, hand mixers (like the ones you have to turn the handle on manually), spatulas, pillows, blankets, cushions, the couch, beds, and more, I'm sure.
posted by zizzle at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2013

My brother and I had the most fun--by far--with a king-size bedsheet and two laundry baskets. Sometimes used together, sometimes used separately.

I swear, we probably played with that sheet and laundry baskets until I was well into double digits. DON'T JUDGE ME.
posted by phunniemee at 2:08 PM on February 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: A laundry basket, especially one that is ventilated and tall enough to turn upside down over a sitting toddler. It makes a great hiding place without being too dark and maybe scary.
posted by smuna at 2:08 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

old silk/polyester scarves (the square kind, not winter scarves)
plastic measuring cups for the bathtub
posted by belladonna at 2:09 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding the laundry basket, especially for pre-walkers to push around, and for older toddlers to put said pre-walker inside of and then pull around.

I am continually amazed by how long a box of tissues will hold a young child's attention.
posted by thenewbrunette at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2013

posted by palegirl at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2013

Lots of kitchen stuff - wooden spoons, plastic measuring cups, cookie sheets.
posted by jbickers at 2:16 PM on February 14, 2013

Couch cushions and blankets. Because there's no fort as cool as a couch fort!
posted by Lynsey at 2:17 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Slightly older, but my daughter used to love playing with old purses and wallets full of expired credit cards, empty gift cards, shopping club cards and old receipts.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:19 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My husband's ukulele and my banjo. A ceramic coin bank in the shape of a pig (hours upon hours of entertainment). Disposable chopsticks. My dog.
posted by halogen at 2:20 PM on February 14, 2013

nth laundry baskets. Both my girls loved them. They sit in the big ones and put the small bushel ones on their head to play Robot. Sometimes they double up one on bottom one on top to play Jail. Don't look at me I didn't teach them that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:21 PM on February 14, 2013

Does giving the shag carpet a haircut count?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

In my family, empty paper towel rolls -- and when we were lucky, empty wrapping paper rolls -- were called "doot-doot-doos" after the sound you made with them. A wrapping paper doot-doot-doo, properly festooned with stickers, was a big deal.
posted by .kobayashi. at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

The kitchen sink, a scrubbing brush, soapy bubbles, and some plastic dishes to "clean" (and clean, and clean, and clean).
posted by Dansaman at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

at ages 2-3, my twin sis & I loved canned goods. we would spend ages making towers. just insist on shoes because ouch, toes
posted by changeling at 2:32 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Small, round laundry baskets over the head are also handy for pretending to be a beekeeper, especially if you are outfitted with large oven mitts on your hands. (Oven mitts on your feet turn you into a monkey.)
posted by scody at 2:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: THIS THING!
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [14 favorites]

works for cats, too
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:34 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Remotes that don't turn anything in or off.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:36 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The magic cat wand - he uses it as a fishing pole and bonus! the cats still love to play with it so he gets to play with the cats, too.
posted by Leezie at 2:37 PM on February 14, 2013

Folding wooden ruler was a biggie.

I also went through the hardware store one day. Clear plastic tubing cut into slices as "beads" (nice because you can see the string going through), a couple pieces of chain, a bunch of mis-cut keys and a ring.

His plastic animals and the kitchen sink.. He has been playing "zoo keeper "for a few years.

I also saved all old remotes, key boards etc, and they are wire tied up in his "rocket ship" - which is a big box.
posted by beccaj at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Old clothes/costume jewelry for dress up.
posted by greta simone at 2:40 PM on February 14, 2013

A friend of mine's kid has a hand-held magnifying glass/reader (plastic obviously) which she carries around and uses not only to look at stuff but as a microphone and whatever other prop she needs. So cute.
posted by BibiRose at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Measuring cups and bowls. Plunk kid on towel, put water in bowls, watch kid transfer water back and forth and back and forth. Later, just wipe the floor with towel. Much later, search the house for the 1/4 cup measure when you're trying to bake something.
posted by houseofdanie at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Old keys to whatever.
posted by greta simone at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A bulb syringe and a source of water.
posted by payoto at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's the best part about toddlers -- pretty much anything that looks like a toy is kind of boring compared to stuff that is not toys. I aver that no child before the age of 2 needs a toy! Not that that will stop anyone. :)

My daughter's favorite "toys" have been an old, inexpensive men's watch with a stretchy band. Some large, inexpensive silk scarves that I tie-dyed. I think there was a month where she carried around a plastic beer cup and practiced putting things into it and taking them out and shouting into it. Eventually it broke, we gave her an identical one but apparently the magic was gone. I threw some macaroni into an empty plastic water bottle and that did all sorts of things -- made cool noises, rolled across the floor, was a good thing to bang around on other things and eventually the amount of concentration expended in trying to get the top off was very entertaining.

The cats.
posted by amanda at 2:43 PM on February 14, 2013

scented candles
tape measure (taped into "slow" mode instead of snap-back)
envelopes, post-its
clothes pins
broken thermometer for doctor kit
salt shaker, pepper mill
posted by xo at 2:47 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: A large plastic or metal bowl (metal makes more noise), plastic measuring cups, assorted mixing spoons, a bath or beach towel, lots of ice cubes and a large beach or bath towel to put under the whole mess. This has worked well for my own kids when they were young and also visiting kids when you have nothing else appropriate for them to play with.
posted by i_like_camels at 2:48 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: My daughter has always loved flashlights - shadow puppets, making your fingers glow red, making swirly patterns, playing with it under the blanket, making the circle of light bigger and smaller - and now that she's almost nine, holding it under her face and telling creepy ghost stories and reading under the blanket.
posted by peagood at 2:48 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Or you can use some kind of large macaroni instead of ice cubes. Ice is more fun, I would think.
posted by i_like_camels at 2:50 PM on February 14, 2013

Apparently I loved balled up socks when I was little. It also gave me something to play with while my mom folded the laundry.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:53 PM on February 14, 2013

A turkey baster and a bunch of tupperware containers so water can be sucked up and splooshed from one to the other is pretty nifty. So is a maraca made from some dry rice in a tightly-capped old individual-serving water or soda bottle.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 3:00 PM on February 14, 2013

Our nephew loves empty oatmeal containers. They make great drums!
posted by zooropa at 3:01 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our kid loves stacking cans and waving flashlights around.
posted by agress at 3:03 PM on February 14, 2013

clean mop head, the kind that look like muppet

aluminum foil

dish-washing soap and a hairpin to blow bubbles
posted by fifilaru at 3:03 PM on February 14, 2013

Has anybody mentioned a plain old cardboard box yet? My almost-three-year-old gets a kick out of jumping on and off smaller boxes, and hiding inside the bigger boxes.

Other big hits are a salad spinner, a collapsible silicone colander, and milk steaming pitchers (the metal ones baristas use), and a tape measure.
posted by meggan at 3:09 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my daughter was about 3.5 years old, her grandparents mailed several books for xmas, which were so carefully packed under styrofoam peanuts that when she opened the box the actual present wasn't even visible. Nonetheless, her face lit up at the sight of packing peanuts and she said with all sincerity "it's just what I wanted!"

As I learned, there is a surprising amount of entertainment value in a pile of packing peanuts.
posted by she's not there at 3:20 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ring & necklace boxes! I loved them because they were fuzzy on the outside, and I enjoyed opening them over & over.

And then I started hiding golf tee's, penny's, and dead bugs in them by the time I was three. It was like my own private treasure box collection.
posted by haplesschild at 3:23 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My kids love their cleaning kits: rags, water-filled spray bottle, and real feather duster. And a sawed off real broom works better and is cheaper than a toy broom.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 3:47 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

My oldest used to teeth on a leather bookmark and he so loved my keys that getting them away from him became an issue for driving. Solution: Leather keychain of his own with reject keys (cut wrong) donated from the key making place at the mall. My only regret: not asking for a bunch more keys. I think he only had three.
posted by Michele in California at 3:47 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 2 year old loves to sweep (broom or dustpan) and use his grandparents' hand vac. He pretends to vacuum for real but finds the actual vacuum too scary.

He also really enjoys wiping up spills.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 3:58 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Old fashioned eggbeater (good for making obscene amounts of bubbles in the kitchen sink or tub) and the kind of sifter that goes ka-chicka ka-chicka ka-chicka.
posted by apparently at 3:59 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh. The kid is also inordinately attached to a keychain with a couple of old keys, the fob of which is a cheap promotional flashlight. He really loves his flashlight.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 3:59 PM on February 14, 2013

My kid loves a small pocket tape measure.
posted by LightMayo at 4:04 PM on February 14, 2013

A folding metal vegetable steamer makes an awesome spaceship for other toys, an antenna, etc. And cut and taped-together cardboard tubes make great marble runs.
posted by limeonaire at 4:09 PM on February 14, 2013

Those jar lids that have a little tamper detecting button thing that goes POP-POP when you press it.

Bubble wrap.
posted by emilyw at 4:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Vacuum cleaner.
posted by katypickle at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2013

I don't have a kid but when I was a kid I remember the spaceship vegetable steamer and the laundry basket as fort. My brother and I would also sled down the stairs in ours (or I would push him down in one when he was under 3) but don't tell my mom.
posted by sweetkid at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

We put baby locks on all the kitchen cabinets except one, and in that one we kept all our tupperware and other plastic bowls and lids. The toddlers loved to pull it all out, play with it, put themselves in the cabinet and close the door. It was easy to put everything back later.
posted by CathyG at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

The 1.5-year-old I nanny loves to cut up soft foods (banana, hard boiled egg, boiled carrots) with an egg slicer. She also likes hangers, jewelry (not to wear, just to hold and sort and count), and natural materials like rocks or shells.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:02 PM on February 14, 2013

Empty single-serving yogurt containers. Stack, knock over, repeat.
posted by expialidocious at 5:38 PM on February 14, 2013

Also, when I and my sister were both visiting our parents with kids in tow, I saw via a mirrored door that my toddler niece was up to no good around the corner. I gently said something to her and she discovered the amazing magic of mirrors and seeing around corners. This was the most exciting, giggly fun ever.
posted by Michele in California at 5:50 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 7-month old has been incredibly entertained by a plastic sandwich bag full of hot glue gun sticks. Babies are weird.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:52 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not only my daughter, but every child who has ever visited our house, has been enthralled with our metal coasters. They have a matching metal thing that they sit inside of, and babies through 6 year olds will clink them in and out, make things with them or (for the younger set) gnaw on them. I have plenty of toys for different ages around the house and nothing has been as satisfying for as long as those coasters.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:20 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We have a $1.00 bag of bendy straws that my daughter loves to play with and use to build little structures. She allowed a few at a time, otherwise she would take the whole bag.

She also loves handkerchiefs and dinner napkins to the point where I always carry one. They are good for peak-a-boo, hats, lap blankets, pretend cleaning, as well as real cleaning.
posted by Alison at 6:41 PM on February 14, 2013

Boxes, and bigger is better. (Refrigerator box, OMG.)

Also, once I was a bit older, pretty much any household object I could turn into doll furniture/housing was a hit. Small boxes, organizing cubbies, the tiny tables that come in pizza delivery boxes from some places, yogurt containers, etc.
posted by ktkt at 7:06 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My kids love a lot of stuff mentioned above (Tupperware, pots, pans, spoons, and the doorstop spring thing). In our house, any stick shaped object is called a "magic stick" and enormously popular. Depending on the situation, it can be a sword, light saber, baseball bat, broom/vacuum, telescope, motorcycle, horsie, shovel, magic wand, guitar, cane, spear, or drum stick. My eldest has on occasion insisted on going to bed with a particularly important stick.

Also, and this might not be practical, but my wife and I are both doctors and the tools of our trade are frequently impossible to wrest from the hands of the children: stethoscopes, otoscopes, reflex hammers, etc.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:27 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Tape measure. Get them one of their very own, because you'll never see yours again.

Wicker baskets. I gave a neighbor a little wicker basket with a handle that had eggs in it. The toddler went nuts. Then she came to my house and saw my collection of wicker baskets (4 for a buck at the thrift shop.) She now has a collection of baskets--some with handles, some without. Her mother says she sleeps with them, puts things in them, stacks them, puts them on her head, and on and on. Flavor of the week.

Bells. I have two inch jingle bells left over from Christmas on a rope. (I also have sheep bells, cow bells, and big pack horse bells.) Oh, the ringing.

Bungie cords. String. Tape. A board with some nails pounded in and a hammer.

If your toddler's good about not putting things in their mouth (or up their nose) under supervision let them put beans, marbles, maccaroni, buttons, etc in plastic containers of various sizes and dump them out again. Best if some are clear and some opaque. You'll be bored before they will. Great for fine motor development. Also, pouring water back and forth in different size cups.

An old dial telephone.

posted by BlueHorse at 11:57 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Coffee cans. I had loads of coffee cans when I was a kid and they were awesome. Especially awesome was that my dad would generally wake up early on the weekends and build something out of them so when I got up there was a castle waiting for me.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:58 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 16-month-old niece loves getting blown on by the hairdryer.

Also popular: coasters, a teapot shaped like a duck with a wicker handle.
posted by mskyle at 8:17 AM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: My boys went through phases with empty water bottles (they make a great crinkly sound and are fun to chew on) but the weirdest one was DVD cases. They carried them around *everywhere*. One night, I was woken up at 3am by a 2 year old frustratedly sobbing because he couldn't get the cover back in the case. Sigh.
posted by pyjammy at 8:24 AM on February 15, 2013

A box and a marker! My dad would draw a speedometer and fuel gauge on a box, and suddenly I had an airplane to pilot for hours!
posted by Turkey Glue at 8:28 AM on February 15, 2013

A pop-out purse brush, the metal lids for frozen juice concentrate with stickers on them,silk scarves, the other kid ( now 3 yrs) loved a plastic hair curler and will wash any dishes!
posted by slothhog at 10:40 PM on February 16, 2013

Best answer: Oh, forgot - the frozen orange juice lids for perfectly into an old tennis ball canister.
posted by slothhog at 10:42 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My kid still plays with a colander and a small mixing bowl in the bathtub. He's far past toddlerhood, but the fascination has been long lived.
posted by kostia at 4:55 PM on February 17, 2013

My son LOVES tupperware. He loves opening and closing cabinets, and we haven't gotten around to putting baby locks on them all, but one cabinet is 100% OK for him, and it's our collection of plastic containers of all shapes and sizes. He can throw them around, stack them, nest them, slide around on them, and sometimes put them back.

He likes the metal mesh strainer, as it can deform. He was fond of plastic/rubber door stoppers/jams early on, so we got a few extra, so he can keep his own.

The newest non-toy toy is a large cardboard mailing tube, which he "loads" with various things, then mom or I tilt back towards him so they crash into him. Hilarious!

He also enjoys pan lids, as they're lighter than our pans. Plus, he can carry them around by the handles, slide across the kitchen floor with them, and such. We plan on buying cheap metal ones from a thrift store, so he can have his own lids, but until then, he borrows the real lids.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2013

« Older Dammit, I freaking need to start cooking some...   |   Are you amazing at Acrobat Forms? Please help me... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.