Baby toy alternatives (part 2)

Cutting back the influx of toys is an ongoing issue for my wife and me. Last summer, I wrote about everyday items that could serve as toys for your little one. While my daughter grows, she’s now two years old, and her taste in toys changes daily I figured I would update the list that I posted last summer.

Paint brush and water: Man, does she love to “paint” the sidewalk or fence with a paintbrush and small bucket of water. She can easily spend a half an hour painting and when she is done there is absolutely no mess to clean up. My mom clued me in on this one.

Laundry time: She loves to help with sorting laundry. So much so that we sometimes give her clothes on non-laundry days to sort through. Match up all the socks!

Magazines: When she no longer wants to look through any of her books, which is rare, we hand her a magazine. She flips through the magazine while looking at all of the interesting pictures and photos.

Household chores: She is really showing interest in everyday household chores. Isn’t this the reason to have a kid in the first place? (I’m kidding of course.) As I mentioned above, she loves to help with laundry, but she also helps with taking out garbage, emptying the dishwasher, watering plants, and wiping up her spills. These are not really “toys,” but my wife and I find it important to have her help out around the home. She’s even starting to clean up her toys without even being asked.

Computer time: She watches us use the computer quite a bit so naturally she shows an interest. Her favorite site is Elmo’s Keyboard-O-Rama.

31 Comments for “Baby toy alternatives (part 2)”

  1. posted by Sarah on

    I’ve got a million of ’em!

    Finger painting with pudding! You can also put the pudding into a ziptop bag, cut a small corner, and let your kids squeeze out the pudding. One of daddy’s old T-shirts (or no close at all) cuts down on the mess.

    We also play with dried rice. I keep one gallon-size ziptop bag filled with dry brown rice that I was never going to use. I pour some into a couple of wooden bowls, some into a metal bowl, some into a plastic cup.
    I give the kids plastic measuring cups, wooden spoons and various non-breakable kitchen tools.

    They will scoop and pour for an hour. They especially like the different sounds made on different objects (for instance, rice sounds different falling on a cookie sheet than it does falling on wax paper).

    I could go on and on, but this is supposed to be a comment, not an essay.

  2. posted by Sarah on

    haha! that should say “no clothes at all.” i blame cold medication.

  3. posted by Springpeeper on

    Good post: these are the best “toys”. Just beware what magazines you give your kids… when my kids were young I unsubscribed to a nice, “respectable” magazine because the ads were too racy…

  4. posted by Melissa on

    The paint brush and water one was a classic! that used to keep my brother and I busy for hours! Treasure hunts are a great idea as well. I made one up for my 6 year old nephew last week and he talked about it for days!

  5. posted by Shay on

    I don’t have kids of my own, but I remember when I was little, I could be amused for hours by the simplest stuff – pots and pans, cardboard boxes (I built a whole little city out of boxes that once held food), oatmeal containers filled with various things, those foil pie pans – oh, and BLOCKS.

  6. posted by Melanie on

    Great suggestions for toy alternatives!

  7. posted by April on

    My youngest child is a little older (she’s 5) but she does some of these things too. She loves to help with laundry. I let her help me sort it and its a great way to teach her the difference between “dark” and “light” and she sorts white clothes and then towels and stuff too. Her reward is that she gets to keep whatever money is left in pants pockets! haha

    She also loves computer time and she has her own Windows log on. So when she gets on the computer, she has her own favorites bookmarked plus she has a special tool bar (called KidzBar) that has links to great sites. She likes to change her wallpaper (last one was Alvin & the Chipmunks, now its Hannah Montana). And she has learned how to type, use a mouse and a touch pad, etc.

  8. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Matt, you are my hero. I am always on my soap box about how kids have WAY too many toys, and the poor little things get overwhelmed just like we do. A few toys and a few fun things around the house are plenty for kids to keep themselves entertained. I also believe that too many toys — especially “specialized” toys that only do one thing — stifle a kid’s imagination. The fewer toys they have to entertain themselves with, the more their natural imaginative side comes out. This is my very UNscientific opinion, but my gut says it must be true!
    Great post and one I think I will piggyback on in my own blog if you don’t mind. I’ll link back here. 🙂

  9. posted by Mary on

    The Italian educator, Maria Montessori researched and documented this stage of life. She observed that children around the age of 2 love doing chores. I taught my kids the Montessori method at home and “practical life lessons” centered around these types of activities. My children loved washing dishes, pouring water, sweeping, etc. She recommends getting real tools scaled to a child’s hand and to encourage them all you can during this natural phase of growth. It always amazed me that the age group for these exercises began at 18 months! If you’ll talk to and interactive with your child as they do these activites, you’ll be amazed to watch their language skills grow too!

  10. posted by Cimbria on

    Check out some Montessori books from the library. There is a ton of stuff in there you and your child might love doing together.

  11. posted by C on

    Is a small child going to realize that an ad is “racy”? Just saying…

  12. posted by Ann - One Bag Nation on

    I’m having trouble remembering a lot of what my daughter liked, but two things come to mind: brightly colored ribbons and the metal tops from frozen juice cans. And of course, anything involving water – stirring, pouring, etc.

    Now she’s an amazing “inventor” who can make anything out of paper, tape, yarn, and recyclables – and she still loves ribbon!

  13. posted by Amy - Green Plan(t) on

    Oh wow, thank you for these! My 19 month old is such a busy thing, and I’m trying to get him off tv (except perhaps Signing Time, which he really enjoys and it’s educational), so finding alternative activities has been too much for my preggy brain lol

  14. posted by [email protected] on

    Every one of my kids loves pots and pans. The cheap plastic ware is a great toy too. Just open up a cabinet and let them play. That is the only way I did all the kitchen work I had to do. Nothing cuter than a kid with a pot on his head beating another pot with a wooden spoon! They love it! That and boxes, the best toys no money can buy!

  15. posted by Geralin Thomas, CPO-CD on

    While this isn’t a toy it was an activity that both of my boys did cheerfully; it was good for about 20 minutes of peace and quiet (important to any parent with toddlers)

    When they were about 3 &4 years old they straightened the fringe on my large area rugs. I would put one boy on each side of the rug and ask them to straighten the strings. Then, praised them for being *so helpful*

  16. posted by Amy on

    Re: Montissori – my 34 month old loves chores! She feeds the dog, wipes off the table after meals, helps with laundry (sorting, pulling things out of the dryer) helps pick up toys, etc.)

    I guess I can stop thinking I’m a superior mother if all 2 year olds do this, though, huh? Rats. Here I thought I was on to something!

    Amy @

  17. posted by Sammy on

    Regarding the paintbrush-and-water – check out a product called Aquadoodle, which is basically a blue surface (either a little pad or big mat depending which one you get)which changes from a light to a pale to a very vivid blue when wet, and dries within about five minutes. Sure, the kid could have “painted” on the sidewalk, but this is useful when we’re stuck inside, and probably a lot better than going through a ton of paper.

  18. posted by [email protected] on

    I should have posted about shaving cream and corn meal. You put shaving cream on a cookie sheet and let them draw. Okay it is messy but they do love it! Corn meal is the same idea. Later it is a great place to practice letter writing.

  19. posted by Lee on

    Although my boys are grown, I loved reading about what these other parents have done to let children help or to keep them occupied in productive ways. My younger one loved the vac, which was taller than he was, so my mother bought him a little one. I’ve been impressed with the testimonials on Flylady about how little children enjoy having one of her dusters as their own and how motivated children are to clean their rooms when they use the House Fairy system.

    My first son had a box that we called “useful trash”. I would ask if an item was trash and he’d tell me that it was useful. He spent many hours making things out of short pieces of ribbon, pretty paper, cardboard, small pieces of nonsharp metal – all things that I would have discarded! It had so many cool things in it that I had to put it away when he had guests as so many kids wanted to play in it.

  20. posted by Colin on

    @ Monica Ricci – While the gut is not often a good guide to human cognitive development, yours is right on: the more structured a toy, the more it turns a child into an agent of the toy rather than building his or her imagination. The same is true of computer software as well, frankly. Just because it’s not physical clutter doesn’t mean it’s not mental clutter.

  21. posted by amy o on

    My kids (5, 4, 2 and a half) played for *months* with a box they could sit in filled with paper torn up from an old catalogue, which they tore up themselves. They took baths in it, stood on a chair and dumped it out for “snow”, got the little handbroom and dustpan and swept up all the paper, and started again… kids who came to visit loved it, too.

    Two toilet paper tubes taped together with colored celopane over the ends makes a really fun pair of binoculars.

    Cat’s Cradle! A piece of string! Would never have made the 11-hour trip from Tokyo by myself with three kids without that…

    Anybody else regularly make long flights with *really* little ones alone? (Great tips, everyone!)

  22. posted by tara on

    My kids help with chores too! They love to pull the clothes out of the washer, put them into the basket, and hand me clothespins (which we use to practice counting) so I can put them up on the line to dry. And they hand me dishes out of the dishwasher and I put them in the right cupboard. I have them help stack the plastic bowls, and we practice counting and colors. I’m going to try the paintbrush and water tonight. We got paintbrushes as a gift but I feared the mess and haven’t used them yet. Great article!

  23. posted by Mom101 on

    My daughter also LOVES keyboard-o-rama. Hilarious.

    Bathtime can also be a good time killer on a rainy day. Sit in there with a magazine, give the kid a few empty cups or plastic containers to play with, and you’re good for an hour.

  24. posted by Cat on

    Thank you for the Keyboard-0-rama link, I sent it to my sister because I am sure my niece will love it. She always as her hands on any technology she can find.

    Lee, I love your ‘useful trash’ box idea. Its a great way to recycle and still get children craft materials! I’ll keep that in mind for when I have my own children 🙂

  25. posted by Ann on

    A shovel, a hose and a pile of dirt. During his preschool years my son would spend hours in the backyard digging holes and filling them up with water. He would get covered in mud and soaked to the bone — and he loved every minute of it. When he was finished I’d pop him in a hot shower. Happiness, pure and simple.

  26. posted by Niobe on

    For computer time, I love baby type:
    It responds to any keystroke and ignores naughty keys.

    As for magazines, I always read the flyers with my 3 year old, and now she knows all her numbers without coaching. Prices are printed in bold font with contrasting colors, and loads of numbers are repeated (.95, .99) etc. and it really helps them learn numbers without paying loads for educational books. Which aren’t bad, but they point is to recognize numbers in all their applications.

  27. posted by ash on


    children may not realize an ad is sexy, but the more they see scantily clad women, muscle-y men, may really start to force them to conform. the world isn’t only full of skinny women, and bulky men. i mean, you KNOW the population is diverse. if a kid only sees a certain kind of thing, they start thinking it’s all that exists. be careful what you put in front of children, for sure!

  28. posted by Alex on

    My oldest would collect rocks from various places, and could spend an hour out on the back deck washing the rocks.

    Another big hit is flat sheets, a classic. Draped over the dining room table, chairs, over the couch and coffee table, they became all manner of forts, castles, etc. A blue one laid flat on the floor became a lake.

    My daughter asked for scotch tape from Santa one year and had a blast making big spiderwebs in the doorways with it.

    The boxes that Capri Sun juice pouches come in make great building blocks– very sturdy.

  29. posted by A on

    When my brother was little, there was a spot in the back yard where no grass would ever grow, and he started digging in it with a little hand shovel. If he was asked what he was digging for, the answer was always “dinosaur bones.” He never found anything but roots from nearby trees, but boy was he determined to keep looking! Hours and hours out there….

  30. posted by Inexpensive Entertainment For Children on

    […] More Resources: Unclutterer has a good article with more ideas like helping with laundry- now that’s a good […]

  31. posted by barackoli on

    thanks for sharing about baby toy alternatives

Comments are closed.