Baby toy alternatives

As I wrote the post on managing your child’s toy collection, I realized how many things we used as an alternative to toys. Here are some everyday items in your house that can double as a toy for your adventurous little one. My daughter is fifteen months old right now, a peak time for such alternatives. Admittedly, these solutions may not be right for your older child.

Laundry basket: Our daughter either gets into and out of the laundry basket over and over again or she wants to be pushed around in it as she sits inside. She also torments our cat as it relaxes in the laundry basket. She likes to push the basket around the room and crash into things too. It can also double as a place for all of her regular toys.

Boxes: My daughter loves to throw things into boxes, so before we throw any old shoe boxes away we give them to her to play with until she destroys them.

Measuring cups: This is a nice alternative to the plastic keys she has. From five to ten months old she loved playing with her measuring cups. She doesn’t really like them these days.

Bottled water: Shaking a bottle of water keeps her occupied for quite some time on long car trips. Just make sure the cap is on tightly.

Cups: Nesting plastic cups can keep her entranced for fifteen to twenty minutes, and that is like an eternity for our daughter who is moving non-stop.

Keys: Give your kid a set of keys, but just make sure to remove the door lock contraption from the ring. Kids love pressing buttons and the panic button is usually red which is even more appealing.

Cellphone: Playing with an old cellphone lets her mimic her parents. We removed the battery from an old one and she pretends to talk to someone (most likely Elmo).

Blankets and pillows: They can be used to make tents or tunnels with some help from the furniture.

Obviously, these aren’t going to replace every toy, but they can offset the accumulation of more toys.

24 Comments for “Baby toy alternatives”

  1. posted by Skellie on

    Very nice ideas. I think every parent has had an experience where their child has ignored a shiny new toy in favor of the box it came in!

  2. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    Matt–I like this idea because now when toddlers come into my house to visit, I can bring out some items I already own instead of worrying that I don’t have any traditional toys. This is great!

  3. posted by Anonymous on

    Great site! Be careful with the keys and electrical sockets, though.

  4. posted by Patrick on


    Some good suggestions! Cardboard boxes are great. I covered a shoebox with a brown paper bag and a little bit of gold foil to make a pirate treasure chest. We also have a larger cardboard carton that doubles as a pirate ship.

    Scarves are great too for dressup–they can be dresses or bandanas, or lately, baby carriers.

    I’ve also ended up using old coins and paper money from my grandmother’s travels (much of it is pre-Euro, or pre-pre-Euro currency) for pirate coins and for playing store.

    The other thing I’ve done that’s been very successful is taking an old checkbook wallet, and filling the slots with stickers and old business cards, and tucking some 3×5 cards inside. We bring it with us to restaurants and on plane trips, and pull it out whenever we need to kill a few minutes. It’s been a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

  5. posted by Melinda on

    Don’t forget old remote controls. They can be used as a remote or as a telephone. Also, pots, pans, spoons, and the ever popular strainer.

  6. posted by Anonymous on

    Old cell phones can still dial 911—be careful!

  7. posted by Anonymous on

    Not if you take the battery out!

  8. posted by Chris on

    Another good one is cardboard tubes. They can be used as instruments, telescopes, or just to roll around.

  9. posted by Amy on

    I let my girls have a drawer in the kitchen with old containers from butter, sour cream, etc. that I used for leftovers in a pinch. I also threw in a few other kid safe kitchen stuff. They loved it!!! Eventually it was the drawer for their cups so that they could get water on their own.

    My youngest loved playing with old salad dressing containers.

  10. posted by Kris on

    my boys use cardboard tubes as ramps for the matchbox cars …. they LOVE those things!

  11. posted by debbie on

    Don’t forget “real jobs” like sorting laundry and washing dishes and dusting. When he was little my son liked his own plastic salad spinner for whirling around all kinds of little toys or papers or toy food. And a wooden accordian-style wine rack was a favorite that he used as a scissors truck, or a building for his fire trucks to save people from, or a gate between doors, or to display things, and who knows what other imaginative ideas he had with it. In the bathtub, hands down the favorite toy was my plastic hand breast pump — lots of parts to take apart and put back together and when done right it squirted out a good stream of water. He’s a teen now and I don’t think he ever really knew what that thing was!

  12. posted by Michael Davis on

    So true! Our baby’s favorite toys were a keychain with old keys, an obsolete cell phone and half full water bottles. Thanks for reminding us that “toys” are everywhere.

  13. posted by Caren on

    Our little toddler granddaughter loves to grab keys and cell phones and has old ones to play with. The thing this worrier grandma wonders about though is whether metal keys or the old silvery cell phone or other things she loves to play with and at times chew on might have toxic metals in them. Anyone know about this?

  14. posted by jcat on

    I was actually just about to comment on the question Caren raised.
    A lead specialist once came and spoke to a playgroup I attended, and told us that brass-colored keys have lead in them. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to misplace the handout she gave us…sorry I can’t give any more details. I personally would definitely wash infant/toddler hands after any key play, and definitely avoid letting the brass keys be used for chewing.
    Otherwise though great suggestions; all tried & true at our house (my son is now 2.5), & I definitely second Amy & debbie’s suggestions.
    Matt – love the pirate ideas!

  15. posted by lee2706 on

    One of our nephew’s favorite toys was an empty Gatorade bottle with some crumpled paper inside. Awesome.

  16. posted by Miriam on

    I >loved the little JetDry cages in my gramma’s dishwasher.

  17. posted by Jill on

    my son’s first holiday present was an empty oatmeal container… he thought it was the bomb!

  18. posted by marie on

    Love them all. Great ideas.

    I’d nix the keys, though. Think of how dirty they are — held in your hands after shopping, touching doors, floating at the bottom of purses, inside locks. Plus they are metal and perfect eye poking material (my daughter has been there, done that).

  19. posted by Andamom on

    Matt, I have a 15-month-old as well and he loves everything we have — and finds new uses for his toys. Of course, he loves exploring nature and our surroundings– and so I thought I’d add to your list:

    a) rocks – always different, easy to pick up, covered in dirt (a plus for a toddler), and free
    b) zippers – they are on everything, a generally free, and easy to find
    c) Kleenex or wipes – not my favorite option but a great distractor
    d) chairs – did you know you can push them around?
    e) drawers and cabinets – they open and shut
    f) pots and pans with a spoon – an old favorite

  20. posted by Pamela on

    I found a fairly large inexpensive bucket then filled it with bowls, cups, measuring spoons, funnels, etc. from a dollar store. Many of the items nest together and the whole lot fits nicely into the bucket. Easy, cheap, portable play that’s great to take outside to her little pool.

  21. posted by Jean on

    Do watch out with keys– many of them have illegal and unacceptable levels of lead in them. I never let my kid play with them.

    Other easy stuff– shells, a mixing bowl with a little dish soap and water and whisk to make bubbles, empty shampoo bottles with holes punched in them, dry macaroni or rice in pie tins… my son loves to play with anything “real”.

  22. posted by Sandy on

    PLEASE NOTE that brass keys and brass key rings (those big circles) could contain poisonous levels of LEAD and shouldn’t serve as chew toys.

  23. posted by Blogs » Classic and timeless toys are the way to go on

    […] children’s toy clutter under control in the past and I also recommended some toy alternatives here and there. Simple Mom has a great post on a similar theme, but specifically classic toys. […]

  24. posted by Action Parent » Blog Archive » 10 baby toy alternatives [use what you have] on

    […] laundry basket. On, Matt suggests dumping the clothes so that the baby can climb inside, and if you’re feeling […]

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