Use simple items around the home to keep a toddler entertained

Parents do not need to spend a fortune on toys to keep their toddler entertained. In fact, many expensive playthings have very poor play value, and small children may get bored with them quickly. On the other hand, many simple everyday items in the home can be used to keep little ones happily entertained for free.

Large boxes are fun to climb in and out of and to hide in, and babies often love boxes more than the gifts inside. With the help of some crayons and a bit of imagination, a large box also offers endless possibilities for preschoolers, perhaps as a pretend car, a puppet theater, a store, or a playhouse.

Chairs can be arranged to make an obstacle course to climb over, under or through, lined up like bus or train seats for pretend play, or covered with a blanket or sheet to make a tent, playhouse, or fort.

The kitchen offers endless possibilities. Spoons or chopsticks can be drumsticks for banging on a cookie tin, pot lid or upside down plastic bucket. A scrunched-up piece of paper can become a ball to throw into a plastic bucket or large bowl. Warm, soapy water in the bowl and a supply of colorful plastic items such as cups, storage containers, and measuring spoons will provide endless fun water play. Or your toddler can go outside to dig in the garden with a spoon and a cup.

There are also some wonderfully creative uses for the food in the kitchen. Staples such as flour, oil, and dish soap supply the basic ingredients for playdough, slime and goop.

To make poster paint mix 3 tablespoons of sugar, half a cup of cornstarch, and 2 cups of water in a pan, then simply stir everything together over low heat until the sugar is dissolved, and add food coloring and a few drops of dish detergent. Your toddler will enjoy using a cotton swab to paint on a plate, which can be rinsed off and reused over and over, or making designs on paper with potato stamps, made by cutting potatoes in half and carving designs into the flat surface.

Toddlers like to experience the feel of different textures and also love sticking things. If you do not have glue and a glue brush, simply mix flour and water to make flour paste, and provide cotton swab applicators, a large sheet of paper, and a variety of small items for making a collage. You can have fun hunting for collage items together. You could look around the house for scraps of different colored paper, small scraps of material, cotton batting, candy wrappers, bits of foil, peas, beans, macaroni, buttons, or pieces of yarn. You could look for pictures in newspapers and magazines, or on cereal boxes and other food packaging. Or you could go outside for a walk and look for natural items such as leaves, twigs, and feathers.

Paper, glue and paint are the basic materials for endless craft projects you and your toddler can do together. Make a paper mask or hat, an egg carton caterpillar, or a toilet roll rocket. Fold a sheet of letter paper in half and make a greeting card. Cut strips of colored paper, glue them into loops, and chain them together to make paper jewelery or decorations for the house. Create paper bag puppets with button eyes, painted mouths and wool hair, and then use them later for a puppet show.

A piece of newspaper can easily be folded into a hat for your little one to decorate, a paper plane for throwing, or a paper boat for floating in the bathtub. Just follow the video links in this paragraph to see how.

Small children love dress-up, and seem to especially like walking around in mom or dad’s oversized shoes.

As the child approaches the preschool years, a box full of old hats, shoes, clothes and beads will be perfect for dress-up and role playing, and simple household items can be magically transformed by a child’s imagination. A piece of wrapping paper, for example, may become a tablecloth for a picnic with pretend food and even pretend friends, or a broom handle can be an imaginary horse or motorbike.

Toddlers have short attention spans and a natural desire to explore their world and try different things. Parents can best support their child’s early learning not by feeling they have to endlessly “entertain” them, but by encouraging free play within a safe environment enriched with textures, colors and smells to feel, see and experience.